Battlepanda: Emotion Delivery Services


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Emotion Delivery Services

Ah, academia. Home of thought-provoking absurdities. James Twitchell puts forward the weirdest defence of the advertising-consumerism jugganaut I've heard in a while:
[T]hey are doing what most people want, loading value into things. You may not like the amount of money they make or you may think the process is environmentally wicked, but aren't they delivering what people want and need?[snip]

You see it as power coming from outside in. As if these corporate interests are over there doing things to us. I see it in a contrary way. I see a great deal of advertising and commercialism as being the articulated will of consumers rather than the air pumped out by commercial interests. Let's take an example where you seem to hold all the cards. Take De Beers' diamonds campaign. What is more ridiculous than the browbeating of men into buying utterly worthless hunks of stone to make Harry Oppenheimer and his descendants wealthy? Here's this company saying that if you want to be successful in courting women, it requires two months of your salary. Isn't this an example, from your point of view, of power from the outside compressing human freedom and desire? Yet as hideous as it is--and I think it the most hideous of advertising campaigns--there is something in it that speaks deeply to human beings in moments of high anxiety--namely, how to stabilize a frantic period of time. You stabilize it by buying something that all logic tells you is ridiculous and stupid, at a time in your life when you are the least able to afford it, when it is the most wasteful expenditure, and the cruelest exploitation in terms of how these stones are mined. And they're completely worthless. I mean, at least Nike makes good shoes! You would say, "Boy, I rest my case," but I say, "Is there any other explanation?" The explanation, I think, is the need to make ceremony, to fetishize moments of great anxiety. You can actually see them colonizing these moments later in life; now they're saying the ten-year anniversary or the twenty-year anniversary demands a whole new panoply of these otherwise worthless stones.
So, basically, lets say an ad executive at JIF sees that people crave family closeness. They come up with an ad with a Dad bonding with his little girl over a folded over piece of bread loaded with JIF peanut butter. It's obvious that they're selling that warm, fuzzy feeling, not peanut goodness. Most of us would call it a mild and innocuous fraud, but Twitchell would argue that everybody wins. JIF sells more peanut butter, the consumer gets an extra-peanut burst of well-being in each slice, as if love can be transmogrified and ingested in peanut-butter form.

Damn. That's almost as crazy as Catholicism.