When I was a little fellow I learned it was a crime to boast about oneself. So when our family bought a television I was horrified: the advertisers were boasting about their products! They were outrageously, blatantly bragging about how good their products were! I felt ashamed for them, and protested to Dad. When he agreed with me I made a mental vow to hold those advertisers in contempt. If they were going to boast about their products, I would shun them!
That experience must have been a strong one because that contempt has not left me. It has been dulled somewhat, but it’s there. It’s why my car is thirty years old and why my house is uncluttered. I do my best to avoid advertisements and have no compunction to buy ‘things’. What a beautiful day it was when I could buy a television with a remote control! I have been muting advertisements ever since.
For some reason I assumed all of us held advertisements in contempt. After all, advertisements are loud, boastful, manipulative and deceptive. Everyone knows that. Yet two things puzzled me: if all of us know that advertisements are to be avoided, why are advertisements successful? And why do people choose to wear clothes with the brand name displayed? Don’t they realise they are advertising the company? Don’t they realise they have been tricked into a brand loyalty that gives the company free advertising? How could the those people be so naive?*
Only two years ago I realised that most people don’t think the way I do about advertisements. The revelation occurred when I went to a pub to watch my beloved Hawthorn play. There were thirty people watching the match with me, and when the advertisements came on no one muted them!! Huh? Wha . . .? Those thirty people had been coming week after week and not one of them had ensured the ads were muted!
I’m still gobsmacked to think of it.
If you watch commercial television and don’t mute the advertisements, those advertisements are feeding your soul crap. Insecurities within you are being reinforced: about your status, body image, happiness, financial position, and likability. Even worse: advertisements also reinforce our attitudes about how things should be. Remember the section on status? In which we saw how a society can hold wacky beliefs lasting for decades, even centuries? Well, advertisers aim to reinforce those stupid beliefs if they can make a dollar out of it. We soak up the message because it feels comfortable, so then our wacky beliefs are cemented even further. As a result, we severely limit ourselves and don’t even know it.
‘ . . . the automatic cultural man – a man as confined by culture, a slave to it, who imagines he has an identity if he pays his insurance premium, that he has a control of his life if he guns his sports car or works his electric toothbrush.’
Earnest Becker in his book, ‘The Denial of Death’
My mother kept a budgerigar in a birdcage, and some nights she would place the cage in the lounge room and release the bird. It would fly up to the curtain rod and perch there, but ten minutes later it would return to the cage. It was so used to being caged it felt uncomfortable with its freedom.
I remember reading about an elephant that had been chained to the same spot nearly all its life. When it was finally released it stayed by the chain.
Many of us are like the budgerigar and elephant: we feel so comfortable with what we know – good or bad – that we cage ourselves by unquestioningly abiding by the ways of society. We have our freedom but don’t even know it, so bound are we by society’s paradigms.
‘Some men avoid developing their own uniqueness . . . They are inauthentic in that they do not belong to themselves, are not their own person, do not act from their own center, do not see reality on its terms; they are the one dimensional mean totally immersed in the fictional games being played in their society, unable to transcend their social conditioning: the corporation men in the west, the bureaucrats, the tribal men locked up in tradition – men everywhere who do not understand what it means to think for himself and who, if he did, would shrink back at the idea of such audacity and exposure.’
Earnest Becker again, in his book, ‘The Denial of Death’.
We need to do everything we can to free ourselves from constricting beliefs, and one big way to do that is to avoid commercials.
Admittedly, if everyone were like me we would still be living in caves. But that’s beside the point.
Avoid advertisements when you can. Mute them always. Avoid the commercial radio stations that do and say anything to get you to listen, just so that they can sell advertising blocks. Shun the websites with intrusive pop-up ads. Ignore the magazines peppered with articles and ads designed to solve a problem you didn’t even know you had in the first place.
Choose wisely all the information you feed yourself. Be the gatekeeper. You’re the boss, and you have a duty to yourself to feed your soul the right stuff. Advertisements ain’t it.
* I now understand that brands are a tribe for some people. They willingly advertise the product because their brand loyalty lets them feel connected with the company and its consumers. That I can understand, because when I meet another Hawthorn supporter I feel an immediate bond with them, because they are part of my ‘tribe’. The person might be the biggest boofhead you could meet, but I still feel that bond. I guess if advertisers can create that same fellowship, they can trick the consumer into advertising their product.