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July 2004, Volume 11 Nr. 13, Issue 134
  
Advertising, Paranoia and Frugality

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

A few years ago I returned to the downtown Jersey City neighborhood where I lived as a child and young adult.  Jersey City is the home of the Statue of Liberty.  The city is located directly across the Hudson River from the location of the World Trade Center towers.  My childhood home was one of many row houses with stoops that served as launching points for stoop-ball.  The middle of the street was the infield and the sidewalk on the other side was the outfield.  A home run was a pop fly that went across the street and over the roof.  In my youth the brownstones were occupied by working people.  Today, the brownstones are gentrified inhabited by professionals making six-digit incomes.  Instead of the salt of the earth living in my old neighborhood: the Sabrett roll, Matzo, noodle, hot dog and pencil makers, and clean-fills, there now reside the Wall Street class: the brokers, agents, insurance salespeople, underwriters, etc., who commute to New York City daily on the PATH subway.  Gone is the middle class family that could afford a car, house and college education for their children on a single worker income.  Instead, there are yuppies struggling to make ends  meet even with two or more income households.  

Jersey City rent is "a relative bargain of space" with monthly rates for "Studio, $900 to $1,200; one-bedroom, $800 to $2,000; two-bedroom, $1,250 to $4,000; three-bedroom, $1,200 to $8,000."  Home prices begin for a "Single-family house, $109,000 to $345,000; one-bedroom condo, $65,000 to $203,000; two-bedroom condo, $60,000 to $223,000; three-bedroom condo, $219,000 to $407,000"  ("Close-up on Jersey City, Village Voice, May, 2003).  My parents paid $150/month for the same downtown boxcar apartments.  They both worked hard and eventually bought their house for $25,000 in cash.  My father, Jan, was a loafer at the local Sabrett hot dog and hamburger roll bakery.  A loafer stands on his feet in front of a very hot commercial oven and pulls out a dozen loaves of bread at a time in two trays, one in each hand.  Hard work.  Hard on the body.  My mother was a clean-fill on Wall Street who worked 5 p.m. to midnight.  Jan made $6.00/hour and belonged to the International Bakers and Confectioners Union.  Stanislawa made much less and was a shop steward for her union.  Union membership guaranteed Jan time-and-a-half for overtime which he gladly accepted, double-time-and-a-half during holiday weekends.  He proudly carried his union book.  I got that good habit from him and my union activism from my mother.

Similarly, a few years ago I also returned to the virtual neighborhood where I resided as a child and young adult.   For 18 years our family did not watch television eliminating it completely from our lives.  Our children grew up without TV's influence.  Television returned to our home a few years ago with the installation of satellite TV.  The availability of Free Speech TV with Democracy Now! and Link TV prodded us to give them a try.  We did.  Like the old neighborhood, the virtual community of commercial TV is forever altered.  Today's visual landscape affects people's perception of reality much more  than ever.  The FCC mandate that broadcasters serve the citizenry disappeared with deregulation.  

The advertising that I remember from almost two decades ago has been supplanted by a quantum leap in sophistication and obsession.  It is as if Phil Specter's "wall of sound" had come to television viewing, enhanced and extended by today's excessive decibel bass pounding and volume.  Advertising is now perfidious and deceptive to the core.  It is in-your-face, blatant and capacious with its lies.  Such advertising cannot sustain neo-liberalism.  There is a limit to how much advertising people can take.  People will put up with only so many lies and narcissistic appeals to their base instincts.   I call this  paranoia of purposeful product placement, a "wall of deception".  The volume of the wall of deception can be cranked up until people become deaf.  What's that you say?

Marketing Ineffectuality

For the first quarter of 2004, advertising in the U.S. rose more than 7% over the previous year (preliminary, Nielsen Monitor-Plus).  The top ten companies spent $4 billion alone;  Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp., Walt Disney Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, Time Warner Inc., Ford Motor Co., Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and PepsiCo Inc.  The advertising barrage favored cars, prescription drugs, movies, food, department stores, telephone services, direct response products and furniture (Nielsenmedia.com).  Most advertising is now on TV, a video landscape very different when Mr. Roger's Neighborhood first aired in 1963 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.   

While I remember minimal TV advertising impact when I graduated from high school in 1966, today the average graduate will have seen 360,000 commercials.  This becomes two-million by age 65.  The graduates in my high school class saw no commercials that correct for limp dick syndrome nor for 24-hour feminine hygiene protection nor for removing ugly scum rings from the toilet bowl.  Today we do.  Sixty-six percent of UStatesians today watch TV while eating dinner.  Bon appetite!  You have to give the marketing pros some credit for making inroads.  They have changed eating habits across the country.  Viagra, Kotex and TV dinner, an uplifting lifestyle.  

What do the statistics suggest?  While different analysts will arrive at different conclusions, the ever-growing number of people that tune-out or use advertising as an impetus not to buy is growing.  Only 1-2% of the UStatesian  population does not own a television.  Many mute commercials.  They see them as  aggravating annoyances and invasions of privacy.  I am one those people who upon seeing a commercial wants to shoot my television.  Our son is faster on the remote's mute trigger than Donald Rumsfeld is with a fabrication.  Unfortunately, you still have to look at the commercial to know when to "unmute".  Muting does not produce complete silence as some of the commercial may still be heard.

Advertising As Searing Nausea

When a commercial attacks me, I use a mantra of memorization, searing into my mind that here is one product that I will not buy.  The branding associated with my nausea easily permeates the limbic system.  It is fight or flight time.  My mental mantra  becomes: this is a Madison Avenue lie produced by the sacks of manure that want me to buy something I do not want nor need.  Their hands are reaching out into my pockets.  Slap.  I smack that hand and send it on its merry way with a gag reflex that would scare a gastrointerologist into retirement.  Call it a severe frugality, a  happy astringency toward impulsive and compulsive shopping. 

While the average U.S household has lots of stuff around us we don't really own it.  We are product wealthy and assets poor. We have no savings and mortgages that we will never pay off.  And, we are depressed.  Major depressive disorder affects approximately 9.9 million American adults.  Our market-hyped needs put us on the never-ending quest to feel and look better.  We're never good enough nor have enough.  We're told to drive a bigger SUV, to uplift our state-of-mind and to super-size everything including our private parts.  We buy stuff thinking we will be satisfied, but we seldom are.  So, we buy more.

Advertising as share of television programming time continues to increase.  It takes up  15-23 minutes per viewing hour.  No fool would spend billions on marketing if it were ineffectual.  Or would they?  Perhaps the Madison Avenue mob of marauding managers has little option?  And the worst is yet to come.  The pompous promoters will soon have to contend with a wave of new technology allowing viewers to fast forward and skip over commercials.

Fear of Frugality

As a consequence of being bombarded by advertising a backlash is occurring that makes commercials easier to ignore.  Madison Avenue fears rising frugality as consumer's control and negate what they are being told to think.  There is a spreading immunity  sweeping over the population.  Soon, the younger generation may be spared from a lifetime of mind-share marketing. 

At a recent public event, a colleague was surprised to learn that I own only one pair of shoes.  My red pair of basic canvas sneakers serves me well.  When they wear out I will buy another pair.  What more do I need?  No amount of slick Rebok or Nike advertising will get me to buy more pairs of shoes, certainly not one of their branded imports made in southeast Asian sweatshops.

The growing consumer frugality movement has led to the production of "uncommercials".  Produced by Adbusters magazine, uncommercials have been denied air-time even when their producers are willing to pay the major network's going rates.  Freepers espouse competition, but stifle it when confronted by it.  If Freepers  believed in their sacred system, Adbusters uncommercials would be welcome.  There would exist unfettered and equal access to market share.  Yet, Adbusters is denied the purchase of air time, often at any price.  Blessed be (selective) freedom of speech as defined by the free marketers.  If simple uncommercials can undermine neo-liberalism,  advertising is doomed.  Culture jammers and corporate executives alike know this.  

Shannon Renfro (Univ. of Texas, journalism) describes uncommercials as "spoof ads that satirize the popular ad campaigns used by large companies such as Absolut Vodka and Marlboro".  I particularly like the Camel cigarette uncommercial where Joe Chemo in is in a hospital bed, I.V. in place.  Joe is suffering from cancer.  Uncommercials are "humorous as well as thought-provoking."  The "sin" that keeps uncommercials off the air  it appears is competing against the so-called free marketer on its own turf and beating them.  In the 1960's, paranoia was counterculturally defined as "looking into the mirror and seeing a police car" (Crosby, Stills and Nash).  Today, Madison Avenue paranoia is looking into the television screen  and seeing an uncommerical, or worse, seeing no commercial at all.  How dare Adbusters present  spots that make the citizen think?  How dare  uncommercials suggest that consumers think before they buy?  How dare Adbusters  challenge impulse shopping?   How dare culture jammers reveal that a wall of deception exists in the advertising we watch?  Ah.  Scire emptor!

Consumers are slowly awakening to the revelation that they are being constantly lied to.  As more people become world citizens their sensibility toward how and what they buy increases.  Frugality is inversely proportional to corporate profit.  It is anathema to impulse shopping.  "By sowing frugality we reap liberty, a golden harvest."  (Agesilaus)  

Savings, An Un-UStatesian Activity

When I was a young man, people were encouraged to save.  Opening a savings account with a few dollars and steadily contributing to it, garnering a reasonable interest of 3% or more was good enough for most people.  In 2003, the average national passbook savings account paid 0.60% interest.  The message is clear.  People are foolish to keep their money in a savings account.  Put another way, invest it or much better to spend it.  In other words, the money will lose value due to inflation and taxes on interest.  Put the money into a financial instrument instead.  This orchestration of interest rates compels investing through institutions that make money off money and then, hopefully, give back  a profitable cut.  Invest, play the game or get screwed.  Of course, the more one has to invest the better the rates, breaks, wheeling and dealing.  A diversified portfolio is the capitalist's best friend.  The system encourages investing in someone else's potential wealth accumulation for the purpose of reaping personal wealth accumulation.  Money hidden in a mattress or wasting away in a savings account is "un-American".  

Bypassing the plastic is also "un-American".  It is easy to acquire multiple credit cards.  It is easier than ever to spend money one does not have though at the usurious payback rate of 15-21 percent compounded daily.  The advertising tells us to go platinum!  2004 sees a total national household debt of $9 trillion.  20% of this debt, or $1.8 trillion, is at  variable rates.  In mid July, interest rates are expected to rise by 1/4%, just one of many increases yet to come.  This modest rise increases the collective debt by $4.5 billion. ("Families, Deep in Debt, Facing Pain of Growing Interest Rates", New York Times, June 28, 2004).  The credit card offers just keep coming.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his daughter Martha, June 14, 1787, wrote, 

"Never spend money before you have it. The rule which I wish to see you governed by through your whole life, of never buying anything which you have not the money in your pocket to pay for. Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want."


(My three year collection of accumulated credit card offers. "Charge it!" by the millions.)

Given a choice between a savings account that loses value due to inflation versus investing it in the corporate-greed capitalist system, I choose the former.  I prefer the  mattress.  I prefer to be without credit card.  I choose the freedom of simplicity, integrity, anonymity and a non co-opted free conscience to the maximum extent that such is possible.  I do not need a prospectus nor an annual report.  Nor do I want to play the game that imprisons me to the digital ticker tape, broker, agent or on-line value aggregator of my combined assets and/or wealth.  In a society where one's value is calculated as one's net worth and where success is linked to possessing more stuff, I choose less.  If that makes me "un-American" then so be it.  

Goebbels on Madison Avenue

We are about to be sold another bill of goods.  The recent Stock Market up-tick is reviving talk of privatizing some or all of Social Security.  Recently, Alan Greenspan concluded that the Bush regime's policies are leading to disaster for Social Security.  How are we going to pay for the war in Iraq and its reconstruction?  How are we going to do that and fund the Social Security benefits of the baby-boomer generation?  The Bush plan is bankrupting SSI and placing into unrecoverable indebtedness every government sponsored entitlement program possible.  The military with its lucrative corporate contracts is excluded.  The Messiah then will be, again,  the financial markets.  The same markets that during the bust of the 1990s suffered a colossal carnage of $8.4 trillion.  The Bush neo-con plan is to destroy the stability of Social Security by raiding it and replacing it with the vagaries of Wall Street.  The notion of a guaranteed and stable monthly Social Security check will be a thing of the past.  

With privatization of Social Security we can expect a mandated portion of our paychecks to head to Wall Street where it will be fair game for manipulation as investment potential for the wealthy, until the bubble bursts again as it surely will.  The bigger the bubble the bigger the bust.  Big investors will do fine no matter what.  As for the rest of us, forget about it.  There will be less and less.  The spin to sell the public on privatizing Social Security will soon pick up the pace.  We will be barraged in the media by multiple reasons to accept Social Security privatization.  To be convincing, the spinmeisters of Madison Avenue will once again use the marketing techniques of advertising:

The effective advertiser must be a master of the art of speech, of writing, or journalism, of the poster and of the leaflet. He must have the gift to use the major methods of influencing public opinion such as the press, film and radio to serve his ideas and goals, above all in an age of advancing technology... On the one hand successful advertising must be a master of these methods of political opinion, but on the other it may not become stale in using them. It must fine new ways and methods every day to reach success. The nature of advertising remains the same, whatever the technical means, but the means nonetheless are becoming ever broader and far-reaching.

For Madison Avenue moguls the paragraph above is gospel, a playbook for successful marketing of products, services, ideas, opinions, programs and political campaigns.  The word "advertising"  appears four times.  Substitute the word "propaganda" for "advertising" and you have an exact quote by Joseph Goebbels who was Hitler's Minister of Propaganda.  Goebbels was describing the nature of propaganda.  He further stated that effective "propaganda has to limit itself to a very few points and repeat them like slogans until even the very last man is able to understand what you want him to understand." How  interchangeable the words "propaganda" and "advertising" are.  

Slogans such as, "Army.  Be all you can be", are very effective when repeated over and over again.  The advertising wall of deception includes exciting music and graphics in a fast-paced adventure video.  If we add one more word to the slogan, however, the impact changes dramatically - "Army.  Be all you can be.  Dead!".  What are the odds of an uncommercial based upon this slogan ever being aired at any price?  And what of free speech?

A recent successful example of repeating a lie often enough until the masses accept it as truth is the U.S. government's linking of September 11, 2001 to Iraq.  It didn't take long for the majority of UStatesians to believe that the perpetrators of that great tragedy were Iraqi.  It matters little that out of the 19 hijackers not one was an Iraqi.  Goebbels would be proud.  

On March 10, 2004, George W. Bush gave a campaign speech.  Fred Barnes of Fox News stated, 

... the president isn't the best public speaker in the world.  But his use of the word 'terror' 277 times in the speech - and that's stand-alone use not including phrases like "war on terror" or "fighting terror" - made the case for Bush's solid, assured leadership.

We see how solid this leadership really is with the US death toll in Iraq approaching 1,000 and the Iraqi civilian casualties over 10,000.  

Repeating the phrase "social security is broke", "private retirement accounts will fix it" thousands of times and there you have it.  Soon we will all believe that the only way to save Social Security will be by letting Wall Street manage our retirement investment accounts.  

On February 15, 2003, ten-million people world-wide and one-million in New York marched in opposition to impending war on Iraq.  Herr Bush's advertising campaign has failed.  It continues to fail as a majority of UStatesians now believe that the Iraq war was not worth fighting.  That number will increase as the failures become more well known and the lies of this regime reveal how the people have been duped.  This administration has failed.  Neo-liberalism has failed.  It is time for frugality.  Bring it on.

Today the world is the victim of propaganda because people are not intellectually competent.  More than anything the United States needs effective citizens competent to do their own thinking.

-- William Mather Lewis

What really matters is whether the alphabet is used for the declaration of war or for the description of a sunrise.

-- Fred Rogers

2004 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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