9 Agt 2006

Advertising and The End of The World (2)

Challenging media

Writer & Editor: Sut Jhally
Assistant Editor: Sanjay Talreja
Line Producer: Kim Neumann
Featuring an interview with Sut Jhally Professor of Communication,
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Media Education Foundation © MEF 1997


There were a series of surveys done in the United States in 1945 called the “Happiness Surveys.” In these surveys what the researchers wanted to find was how people thought about their own subjective happiness. And what they found was, despite the fact that we have gotten richer in that time, that we have access to far more commodities, that our standard of living is undoubtedly higher, the number of people who have reported themselves as very happy has remained remarkably stable. So we have access to more wealth, but are no happier as a society. Why should that be?

Well, when you start to look at the whole issue of happiness and satisfaction more closely, it actually starts to become clearer. There are other surveys that have been done that are called “Quality of Life Surveys.” People are asked about what they want out of life, and what is important to them and people normally with non-material answers. That is, on the whole, people do not normally say, “I want a big house or a BMW.” What people say they want is a level of autonomy and control in their lives, they want to feel good about themselves, and be valued for their own properties. They want good selfesteem. They want warm family relationships. They want leisure time that is free of tension and stress. They want romance and love. They want warm and close friendships. That is, people reply with the social elements of life.

If you were to divide up the elements of satisfaction into social values and material values, and social values included things like love, family, and friendship, and material values included things like economic security and success, what the research reveals is that social values outrank material values in terms of what people say they want. Now, that’s not to say that material values aren’t important, of course they are. But, above a certain level of poverty and comfort, material things stop giving us the kind of satisfaction that advertising insists that world can deliver.

It’s one of the great ironies of our market system. The market is good at providing those things that can be bought and sold, and it pushes us, via advertising, in that direction. But the real sources of happiness, social relationships, are outside the capability of the marketplace to provide. The marketplace cannot provide love. It cannot provide real friendships. It cannot provide sociability. It can provide other material things and services, but that is not what makes us happy.

The advertising industry has known this since at least the 1920’s, and in fact, have stopped trying to sell us goods based on their material qualities. If you look at advertising at the end of the nineteenth century, and the first years of the twentieth century, you can see that advertising talked about the properties of goods, what they did, and how well they did it and so on.
But starting in the 1920’s, the advertising industry shifts into talking about the relationships of objects to the social life of people. They started connecting commodities, the things they have to sell, with the powerful images of a deeply desired social life that people say they want.

No wonder then that advertising is so attractive to us, so powerful, so seductive, because what it offers us are images of the real sources of human happiness: family life, romance and love, sexuality and pleasure, friendship and sociability, leisure and relaxation, independence and control of life. That is why advertising is so powerful. That is what’s real about it in one sense.

The cruel illusion of advertising, however, is in the way it links those things, which we want to a place that by definition cannot provide it-the market and goods. The falsity of advertising is not in the appeals it makes, which are very real, but in the answers it provides. We want love, and advertising points the way to it through objects.


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Lalu kita belanjakanlah uang kita demi kebahagiaan itu.
It seems, everybody happy...
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