In the first of my most recent three rants, I speculated that the free web, combined with the nonpaid freedom of public relations, may have sounded the death knell to that old hidden persuader, advertising. In the wake of social media and guerilla marketing, the asymmetric had at last overcome what the Euro pomos have been calling the hegemonic, the demonic — the American!
Fredric Jameson, JP Lyotard, Guy DeBord, M Foucault, P Virilio — children of structuralism, poststructuralism, phenomenology and existentialism. Advertising: At the foul heart of what my onetime instructor Philip Roth liked to call “the American crap,” after a class discussion of Lolita and Genet.
But I digress, which if you’ve read Cather in the Rye you’d know is how the prep school masters permitted Holden Caulfield to be humiliated — as soon as his class participation went off topic his craven classmates were supposed to call out Digression! (the bastards!).
Holden’s dream: To catch the sweet little kids before they fell off the edge of the cliff of innocence.
For the Euro pomos and other, less articulate cadres, advertising the American crap was the horrid mission of the United States in its muscular, strutting post-World War II triumphalism. Worse, even, after the Marshall Plan to rebuild its enemies, the obnoxious Americans had not only put a lock on economic and military dominance — they had also cornered the market in international charity and forebearance.
Little holier-than-thou Fauntleroys! How the Euro pomos loathed the barbaric, unlettered, Bible-thumping rubes! It was so nauseating, at least for the most discontented of the European literati. And even Sartre’s exposure of antisemitism would be eventually turned upside down by the Lyotards and Saids, as well as by the American, Noam Chomsky.
Today, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust,” at least according to a rightwing talkshow host who regularly rants on AM radio.
Advertising: That evil institution was the snake in the garden of consumerism. Advertising in the post-WW II era of American muscle-flexing. The pure products of America go crazy — isn’t that a close paraphrase of WC Williams? ee cummings hated consumerism, advertising. A generation or two later, Warhol embraced it, adored it, and as St Paul had grasped the message of the Sermon on the Mount, in I Corinthians 13, Warhol’s love unpacked the seriality and eliptical nature of American consumerist ideology, with its soup cans and Marilyn Monroes and Roger Marises. There was a certain gorgeousness in all that overdoing, all that redundancy, all that contentless passage of time, as in the 8-hour film he made about sleep.
For Guy DeBord, America was — is — the “society of the spectacle,” a lustful but not slothful gluttonous demon proseletyzing through TV commercials, brochures, billboards, movies (but oh how Truffaut and his pals loved the American movies!) sitcoms, kiss-kiss and bang-bang, as Pauline Kael would so vividly explicate.
Two of my wonky colleagues in the communication world took exception to my advertising-is-dead posts. In their comments, they point out that advertising isn’t dead — it’s simply one of the tools of influential mass communication, on the same team as public relations.
Well, of course. Advertising isn’t dead. Just ask your stooped-over primary care physician whether advertising is dead. Consumer demand for prescription drugs went through the roof when the packaged-goods brand managers and advertising geniuses realized that if TV commercials could sell underarm deodorant and laxatives, then why couldn’t it sell Rx drugs to remediate new-fangled-sounded conditions like erectile dysfunction and fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome.
Poor old family physician: She works nights, pays extortionate malpractice premiums and gets a salary not worth writing home about. She is beseiged by her patients who, following the drug companies’ call-to-action, ask her about Cialis and Lipitor.
Advertising — dead? Not for the healthcare economy, which we are told these days is one-fifth of the U.S. GDP.
Sure, it’s dead for the Mom and Pop enterprises, crushed under the heel of Wal-Mart Nation. For Ma and Pa Kettle and their little startup business, the free web is the only way to go. They have no marketing budget, for crimminy sakes. Hey –you. Girls. Get over here. Want to make some money in the marketing business? Slip into these wolf costumes and do some running and tumbling in Harvard Square. When people ask you what the hell you’re up to, show them these — our products, these organic frozen pizzas with our web site stamped in red.
Guerilla Nation! Perusasion Nation
That’s our cultural emotional zipcode.
Advertising moribund? Think again. We are all “Mad Men” now.