11 Agt 2006

Advertising and The End of The World (4) - Tamat

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


The destructive aspects of capitalism, its short-term nature, its denial of collective values, its stress on the material life, are starting to be recognized by some people who have made their fortunes through the market. The billionaire turned philanthropist, George Soros, in a recent article talks about what he calls “The Capitalist Threat.” And culturally speaking, advertising is the main voice of that threat. To the extent that it pushes us towards material things for satisfaction and away from the construction of social relationships, it pushes us down the road to increased economic production that is driving the coming environmental catastrophe. To the extent that it talks about our individual and private needs, it pushes discussion of our collective issues to the margins. To the extent that it talks about the present only, it makes thinking about the future difficult. To the extent that it does all these things, then advertising becomes one of the major obstacles to our survival as a species. Getting out of this situation, coming up with new ways to look at the world will require an enormous amount of work, and the situation I know appears hopeless. But remember that creating and maintaining the present structure of the consumer culture takes enormous work and effort.

The reason that consumer ways of looking at the world predominate right now
is because there are billions of dollars being spent on it every single day. It’s not simply erected and then held in place. It has to be held in place by the activities of the ad industry, more and more by the activities of the public relations industry. They have to try really hard to convince us about the value of the commercial vision.

In some senses consumer capitalism is a house of cards. It is held together in a fragile way by increasing resources, and it could just as soon melt away as hold together. It will depend if there are viable alternatives that will motivate people to believe in a different future. If there are other ideas as pleasurable, as powerful, as fun, as passionate, with which people can identify. I am reminded here of the work of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian progressive who was fighting Mussolini’s fascism between the wars. The phrase he used which I think describes our current situation was “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” “Pessimism of the intellect” means recognizing the reality of our present circumstances, analyzing, properly understanding the vast forces arraigned against us, but insisting on the possibilities and moral desirability of social change- that’s “the optimism of the will.” Believing in human values that will be the inspiration for us to struggle for our survival. If we wanted an image of this I think of that Chinese man who stood in the way of the tanks that were on their way to Tiananmen Square. Taking a stand in the face of the most incredible adversity. I think the question we all need to ask ourselves is if we believe in the future, if we want to create a humane and peaceful world for generations to come, what stand are we willing to take?

Because advertising seems to be about such trivial things it is easy to dismiss as mundane or vulgar. But if it is now occupying the main parts of our culture, and is influencing how we think about ourselves and the world, then the stakes are simply too high for us not to engage with it. We have to insist on alternative values that will provide a humane collective solution to the global crisis. We have to ensure for our children, and future generations, a world truly fit for human habitation.

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