Before the advent of the technology that so isolated us from Nature’s wonderful, erratic unpredictability, and led to the immense accumulation of goods that exploded into consumerism, we humans had to be more aware of our relationship to the natural world, and to our vulnerability. The current state of the planet’s environment shows how, in our headlong search for personal happiness, that awareness has been lost.
In Aotearoa-New Zealand, we live in a society that offers an endless stream of technology-enhanced consoling conditions that do provide brief glimpses of happiness. Thus it seems that conditions could satisfy us, if only we could increase our personal control over them – get them “right” for us.
Advertising arises from, and adds a powerful force to people’s chronic doubt that any living human can exist already fully realised in true unconditional happiness, in the midst of life’s ever-changing conditions. In unenlightened society, such a glorious existence is only permitted for other living creatures, or for the long-dead unfathomable wise ones of mythology and legend. Each culture cherishes fantastical ideas about how such fully-functioning beings would be.
Part of the scene that greets the Adept practitioners of Life, fully realised in their Divine human condition, who come to awaken people from their seeking, is this fundamental disbelief in true humanity.
To reveal to people that in Truth they lack nothing to be fully human, these Ones compassionately ask people to observe their lives and find out what they are already devoted to; what they are already sacrificing themselves for; what they are already prepared to spend their Life force on.
Those who take up this enquiry may find that many childish tendencies underpin our daily practices. This investigation into advertising and consumerism considers one of those tendencies.
An anthropologist, examining modern advertising would surely conclude that today’s humans have as strange and strong a belief in magic as did cultures of long ago.
Today’s advertising routinely shows people physically, emotionally and socially transformed through magical potions in food and drinks; instantly manifesting erotic relationships through the spell of perfume; safely participating in impossibly dangerous behaviour through the wearing of a magical talisman such as a watch; achieving sexual pleasure through mysterious herbs in shampoo or soap; fantastically communicating with inanimate objects; freely travelling in outer space – and readily participating in supernatural realms, all through the possession of objects.
Depictions of belief in magic are repeated in almost all of our entertainment media, and delivered so skillfully that although we may smile at “others” being taken in, we too are being manipulated by this to buy, buy and buy in our consumerist society.
Leading advertising executives explain to their staff that advertising is simply a fantasy factory, creating and then mirroring people’s dream worlds, including their nightmares. Advertising’s stated aim is to satisfy what people are dreaming, and to use this understanding to sell products.
Over the past 60 years, surveys repeatedly show that people in the United States perceive social values such as having rewarding relationships as their “key happiness factors,” rather than material objects. Thus the advertising industry has adjusted its message to promote the fiction that rewarding relationships will magically arise out of possession of more consumer goods. Meanwhile, consumers are encouraged to believe they “freely” choose to buy.
The Media Education Foundation (MEF), a long-term U.S. critic of the electronic media, notes that the values of societies, formerly passed between generations by face-to-face storytelling, are now provided by advertising. Television, in particular, has become the electronic storyteller of the minority or “developed” world, consistently repeating its message that the consumption of goods and services will make people happy.
Such commentators as the MEF may vigorously question modern consumerism, yet few people question the underlying belief that happiness is an object, a condition or a state that can be achieved by our own efforts, whatever form such efforts take.
It is a rare person who comes to see how illusory this belief in self-effort is. Even more rare is one who is then attracted to what they perceive as the source of happiness. Yet even that ultimate source can be seen by the unhappy as an object, outside and beyond us, reduced to something else to seek.
Governing organisations in society, especially the state, encourage us to “transcend ourselves” in work, and through tightly-controlled methods, to become useful economic units. Enticed by vague and little-understood future promises, most succumb to this demand. That fact that paid work gives those of us in the minority world the ability to become lifelong consumers, is chiefly of benefit to the 200 corporations who, according to John Pilger, now control the world economy.
In intimate relationship with global money-lenders such as the World Bank and IMF, these corporations are understood to directly and indirectly control entire nations’ decision-making processes, through the machinery of debt coupled with a demand for cheap consumer goods for the minority or “developed” world.
Pilger has also reported on the handful of individuals with a combined wealth exceeding that of all Africa; of General Motors with resources larger than the gross national product of Denmark; of the time when Tiger Woods was paid more to advertise Nike than combined wages of the entire labour force producing Nike products, and more. That the promotion of Nike had more economic value to the company than the products manufactured, hints at advertising’s power.
Sut Jhally, Professor of Communications at the University of Massachusetts, and founder and director of MEF, has critically researched and written on advertising for more than thirty years. In his documentary, Advertising and the End of the World, he speaks about advertising dominating communication in our print and electronic media. He shows how, not satisfied with using movies, sport and social events as vehicles to promote goods, marketers representing these powerful multi-national corporations, now ruthlessly invade even the world of the new-born. Using products such as Baby Einstein television, advertisers play on people’s fears that even infants are not good enough and must be subjected to television programmes proven to be not only ineffective but developmentally dangerous. In the United States, he writes, marketers already legally broadcast their advertising throughout children’s school days.
The advertising that so exploits people’s seeking for happiness, has also captured our most creative human talents. Musicians compose jingles for television commercials and ring tones for telephones; poets write advertising slogans and artists create the commercial images that insinuate themselves into every area of our lives.
To begin to wake up, and rather than criticise the media, go deeper and question our willingness to be consoled by such childishness is no small thing. Yet how else can we see, each in our own case, what we are doing, and in that moment begin to understand the insanity of seeking personal happiness through such illusory means.
In Truth, could we but awaken to the unutterable mystery of our simply appearing here, clothed in these bodies that we scarcely understand, sustained and animated by the wild and glorious Life Force that moves freely in and out of all life forms, we would surely laugh at the notion of needing any other “magic” to amaze us.