Turn on your television and, if you are one of the unfortunates who forgot to TiVo your favorite shows, you will be subjected to the most aggressive advertising in the history of mankind. Not only will you be bombarded with the passive advertising we are all subjected to by covert product placement in the context of the story itself (“Look, they’re going to Tiffany’s to buy a wedding ring. How cute!”), but you will be blasted into your recliner by a cascading variety of ads designed around the predicted audience for the show you’re watching.
Like golf? Well guess what kind of commercials you are going to see? Ads from investment banks who want to manage your money, ads from Rolex, ads from Jaguar, and ads from the competing triumvirate of drugs pitched to successful captains of industry in their waning years – Viagra, Lipitor, and Levitra.
Collectively, the message espoused by the ad industry could not be cruder, but we’re so used to getting pounded on the head by the capitalism stick that we think it’s perfectly normal for ad companies to unceasingly pitch these products. The Platonic ideal of the man who watches The Masters is a 48-year old who vacations in Aruba and Vail, has four watches collectively valued at $62,000, drives three cars (sports car, family car, plus a Range Rover for the wife’s trips to Neiman’s), sports a 2-handicap, enjoys handmade shoes, whiskey, and Havanas, is casually athletic without really trying, knows the difference between starboard and port and can tack into the wind, and prefers Kiton suits over Brioni every day. In the mind of the average creative director this hypothetical viewer is someone who closely resembles an aging James Bond, and who wants to retain his competitive edge as the puling youngsters try to push him out the door or off the cliff. Thus big pharma hits us with the blunt end of the bully stick, urging this idealized consumer to get regular blood work, take a magical cholesterol pill, and to make sure he remains Alpha in the eyes of his woman by being ready at a moment’s notice to perform après ski sexual acrobatics.
I admit that I am generally anesthetized to this sort of marketing, but lately it has seemed to me that part of the reason I am so comfortable with this apparent collaboration between the viewer and the advertiser is that I have been sucked into the whirlpool of consumer desire along with everyone else, and that all my worldly needs have been tidily calculated by the marketing gurus who record my every internet purchase, ISP query, and visited URL. The concept of personal advertising to a known viewer at a known address is, frankly, already possible. Part of me wonders if I went across the street and turned on my neighbor Steve’s television whether his channel 1641 would show entirely different ads.
At the utmost end of my paranoia I wonder what exactly it is that these companies are creating. A new, more credulous type of human? An even more materialistic version of modern man, who thinks all his woes can be cured with one Prozac, one Lipitor, one Viagra, and a communion wafer washed down with a nice Chianti on the flight to Mazatlan? Clearly, no one has thought out the implications of advertising and television as the primary forces that shape society. School means nothing compared to what advertising and television teach us. Every life lesson laboriously parsed for you by the frumpy homeroom teacher in 3rd grade will be undone by the 6 hours of daily sitcoms viewed by the average American child. The 2,000 years of knowledge imparted by your philosophy degree simply dissolves in the insidious glow of the TV screen. It’s “Goodbye, Marcus Aurelius” and “Hello, Spartacus.”
If you wonder why corporations fight like angry junkyard dogs over the most trivial of intellectual property rights, and why they spend years and millions on name brands and marketing, wonder no more. They do it so that they can control you. Work for IBM, buy Microsoft, invest in Pfizer, take Advil, drink Coke, do it for Nike, watch House, wear Prada, eat at Hell’s Kitchen, wake up in Paradise Island. Everything you can name, you can own. So we are named as passive nonentitites — consumers — and owned by the corporations who spin us fantasies and feed us soma.
If you don’t believe me, go watch How TV Ruined Your Life and let me know if it enlightens you. Of course, that’s a TV show too, so caveat emptor, Roman.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.