At first I was amused by this power, then dazzled by it and fascinated with the minutiae of how it worked. Later, I tried to use mass media for what seemed worthwhile purposes, only to find it resistant and limited. I came to the conclusion that like other modern technologies which now surround our lives, advertising, television, and most mass media predetermine their own ultimate use and effect. In the end, I became horrified by them, as I observed the aberrations which they inevitably create in the world.
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At first I was amused by this power, then dazzled by it and fascinated with the minutiae of how it worked. Later, I tried to use mass media for what seemed worthwhile purposes, only to find it resistant and limited. I came to the conclusion that like other modern technologies which now surround our lives, advertising, television, and most mass media predetermine their own ultimate use and effect.
In the end, I became horrified by them, as I observed the aberrations which they inevitably create in the world. They felt that while advertising was already a lucrative field by the time I was seeking a way into it in the late s, it was still very chancy for Jewish boys.
They were certainly right about that. Security was their primary value: all else was secondary. Both of them had escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe. Lower East Side. Scant schooling. Street hustling. Hard work at anything to keep life together.
Early marriage. Struggling out of poverty. Curiously, success came to him during the Depression. He founded what later became Harry Mander and Company, a small service business to the garment industry, manufacturing pipings, waist bands, pocketing, and collar canvas. He was beyond draft age and so was free to do a successful trade in servicing the manufacture of military uniforms.
After the war, the business grew in new directions as the economy spurted forward into an era of rapid growth. I had planned something much flashier for myself, something with greater glamour. It was snobbery, I suppose. Since so many of the images were from the ads of the period, the world of advertising seemed appropriate. There was something about that life-style, those big cars, the great white yachts, the polished people on them and the life of leisure and pleasure: The Dream.
More, I wanted to help create those images, to be around models, artists, photographers and writers whom I imagined to be the sleek and sophisticated people. Despite some early setbacks, such as that Park Avenue experience, by much of my dream was realized. By then I had already concluded a successful career as head of a theatrical publicity agency and joined a celebrated San Francisco ad agency, which became Freeman, Mander and Gossage.
We concentrated on so-called class clients. Triumph, Land Rover and Rover cars. Eagle shirts. Paul Masson wines. KLH audio equipment. Scientific American. Advent Corporation. Alvin Duskin dresses.
Random House publishing. Ours was the most elegant office in town. At some point, not very long into this new career, I began to realize a kind of hollowness in myself. I caught myself smiling pasty smiles. I noticed that despite all this I was not having a good time. I think I hit an emotional bottom in while cruising through the Dalmatian Straits, observing rocky cliffs, rolling seas, dazzling sky, and colors as bright as a desert.
Leaning on the deck rail, it struck me that there was a film between me and all of that. I knew they were spectacular. But the experience stopped at my eyes. I felt nothing. Something had gone wrong with me. I remembered childhood moments when the mere sight of the sky or grass or trees would send waves of physical pleasure through me.
Yet now on this deck, I felt dead. It was that nature had become irrelevant to me, absent from my life. Life moved too fast for that now. If one seeks critical moments to explain later acts, even the writing of books, then perhaps that was one such moment for me. Engulfed by the Sixties One of my partners in the ad agency was Howard Gossage, a genius of sorts who for years before he died in agonized about the absurdity of working in such a profession.
He would rage about the function itself, speaking of it as an invasion of privacy on an order far more extreme than the merely rude telephone solicitation, the door-to-door salesperson or even the computer file on your credit. It was an invasion of the mind, which altered behavior, altered people. Advertising expresses a power relationship, Gossage said. One person, the advertiser, invades; millions absorb.
And to what end? So that people will buy something! A deep, profound, and disturbing act by the few against the many for a trivial purpose. Still thrilled by the life I was living, such considerations did not at first seem all that significant.
But the period was the s. While I was showing clients through my paneled offices, a lot of people only slightly younger than I were lying about on the floors of San Francisco auto showrooms, restaurants and hotels, demanding that these places hire blacks. Across the Bay in Berkeley, students were stopping classes to insist upon participation in university policies. Thousands of others were standing in front of trains carrying war materials for Vietnam or blocking entryways to draft induction centers.
Living in the Bay Area in those years, one could scarcely avoid reflection and even involvement in these goings-on. In my own case, the involvement soon became direct.
Since I had been a publicist, I knew many reporters and had a feeling for the nuances of influencing media. Because of that, and through friendship with a number of politically inclined actors in a satirical troupe called The Committee, I began to meet many protest leaders and found myself serving as a part-time media advisor for some of the demonstrations.
Instead I hosted evening meetings in my office to discuss what was happening. The main concern was how to influence the press to carry stories emphasizing issues rather than disruptions or violence. Here was a typical problem: A group of demonstrators would occupy a hotel lobby, demanding that blacks be hired at front-desk jobs, rather than bussing dishes in the coffee shop.
Yet it was clear to me that these demonstrations were not counterproductive. They produced the first news stories ever on such subjects, leading slowly to reforms which might never have happened otherwise.
Obviously the media needed awakening quite as much as everyone else did. Another realization was dawning upon me. As I commuted mentally between the interests of the demonstrators I talked to in the evenings and the interests of my commercial clients, I grew more and more impressed with the effect that the mere possession of money has upon the kind of information that is dispensed through the media.
My evening clients, speaking of social issues, needed to organize hundreds of people into confrontative acts which could get them extensive, if often unfavorable, coverage. Or, if they chose less confrontative routes, they could spend weeks of time and all their hard-won nickels and dimes to organize press information programs which would, at their most successful, net them a few inches in the back of the newspaper. Meanwhile, any of my daytime clients, speaking for commercial purposes, could and did buy advertising space and time worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Then they would do it again the following week. Now, however, I was beginning to pay attention to an obvious, yet little noticed, aspect of this situation. Ordinary people and small businesses, even those which are successful by most standards, can rarely afford any advertising beyond the want ads, or a small local retail display. Only the very rich buy mass national advertising. And they do this to become richer. What other motive could they possibly have? People with money had a billion-to-nearly-zero advantage over people without money.
The rich could simply buy access to the public mind while the not-rich had to seek more circuitous routes. Twenty-five billion dollars is nearly as much as the whole country spends on higher education every year. I began to realize that a distortion was taking place in the quality and kind of information offered to the public.
As an advertising executive, I was instrumental in furthering this distortion. The ecology movement pushed me over the edge. Our agency was hired first by the Sierra Club and then by Friends of the Earth and other organizations. Unlike most other do-good groups, these at least had a little money to buy an occasional one-shot ad on some critical issue. This ratio was relatively small, only 6, to 1, which may help explain the early success of the environmental movement.
I found myself writing ads about keeping dams out of Grand Canyon, halting the overdevelopment of cities, stopping the development of SSTs, and urging people to stop buying and wearing furs.
The ads attacked the prevailing lifestyle of the country, which certainly included my own. They spoke of an inevitable conflict between corporate growth and the health of the planet. They encouraged a habit of mind which could grasp the interrelationships between all natural systems, including humans.
They described a growing environmental destruction which reflected itself in individual lives as well as in economic policies. As I wrote these ads and thought about them, it got harder and harder to separate my new perspective from an awareness that it was in conflict with our corporate work.
On Tuesday, I was writing about the impact cars and other technologies had upon the environment, and on Thursday I was promoting the sale of cars.
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
David Kubiak. Archived from the original on Retrieved They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. Communication Booknotes.