Amidst a growing income disparity in the United States and increasing animosity towards corporations and the political and social influence they exert, I feel that those involved in the advertising of these corporations receive an unwarranted amount of scrutiny. This ill will seems reflective of the larger anti-capitalist sentiment that would culminate in the Occupy movements of the earlier part of the decade. This isn't an article meant to defend any particular position on the political spectrum but rather to contextualize the work of contracted labor in a system which is now and for the foreseeable future capitalist and which extends a great deal of freedom to the market. As it turns out my father is a creative director but he only advertises boring products, retirement packages and the like. No, I'm talking more about the wrath incurred by those who advertise things such as fashion, fragrances, beauty products, cars and hard alcohol. I highlight these types of products as their advertisements attempt to show us how one should look, what one should have and how one should live.
What brought this topic to mind was a Zen Pencils comic based on a passage from the artist Banksy's book. The comic portrays a man who finds himself constantly accosted by advertisements for big name products. He becomes increasingly angry in each panel, as the passage remarks upon the feelings of inadequacy invoked by the advertisements of large companies. The passage then speaks to the legal devices which allow the advertisers to act with impunity. I guess the existent false advertising laws are insufficient to both Banksy and Gavin Than, the creator of the comic. The Lanham Act of 1946, the principal trademark statute law of the United States, makes liable "Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact." In short, it is incumbent on the advertisers to accurately portray what the product is and what it does. But does this entail a realistic representation of the figures in commercials or, for that matter, a realistic portrayal of the circumstances which may surround the use of a product? I'm inclined to say no.
We live in a world today wherein now, more than ever before, we are constantly exposed to sales media. It appears in newspapers, on billboards, television, our phones -- in fact it seems the only time we aren't subjected to advertisements is in our sleep and I'm sure someone's working on that. But how much influence do these adverts have over us? How much influence should we allow them to have over us?
Advertisements undoubtedly exert a degree of influence on the public, it's why cigarette advertisements were banned from television, but I believe the extent to which we allow them to affect us as individuals is incumbent on us.
A quote commonly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt reads, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Admittedly this quote may not be easily implemented, but its notion is solid. We needn't become angry with the advertisers, as in the comic, rather we shouldn't allow them the power to make us feel badly about ourselves. It's a known fact that fashion and beauty advertisers use Photoshop. Meghan Trainor, of All About That Bass fame, knows -- "I see that magazine workin' that Photoshop, we know that sh*t ain't real." So if we can all acknowledge that the photos used in these advertisements are touched up, shouldn't we agree collectively to consider them as, well, fictional? And I don't mean to regard them as lies but rather to regard them as we do the activities portrayed in the movies or a television show, with a suspension of disbelief. When we see a man or a woman with impossible proportions in an ad we should take it in the same way we watch a character shoot webs from his wrists. Do you lament that you can't swing through the skies of Manhattan? Actually maybe you do. I do. Not the best example but you get my point. The people charged with crafting these ads are charged with the task of creating a world that is far more interesting than our own, a world where everyone is impossibly good looking and knows exactly what to say, where the lighting is always perfect, where people just laugh with alcoholic drinks in their hands but never take a sip and never get drunk. Not to mention, they all have soundtracks. You don't have a soundtrack, though it'd be cool if you did.
So it comes down to a matter of responsibility. It is our responsibility as real people to tell those among us who are most easily influenced, young or young at heart, that these things aren't real. It's our responsibility to tell them that they are wonderful the way they are and that they should change only as they see fit. We need to do this in the same manner that parents eventually tell their children that Santa Claus isn't real. We needn't become angry with the advertisers or even the corporations behind them for that matter just as we needn't become angry with the screenwriters or special effects producers. Rather, we should assume the role of the architects of our own self-perception. In doing so we can take advertisements as they are, not as indictments upon us but as mere glimpses into an inconsequential world.