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    • The Lack of Belief In Good
      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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The Marketers and the Marketed

Remember when “rant’ was a term? Someone would write about something they didn’t like, or something that bothered them, and it was called a rant. Somehow that sounded pejorative, as if it implied that the person was going too far, being too loud, even becoming irrational. But I remember once chatting with an employee at Dutton’s Books, a bookstore where the people who worked there actually knew about books. And I was talking about some trend I didn’t like, and wondering if I should write about it, but maybe no one would want to hear it; and she said, “Oh, everybody likes a good rant!” And maybe they do, or maybe it has become passe’, but I will do a little rant now, about commercials.

They are everywhere, even more than they were when the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick wrote a short story in which the protagonist was in a world where people were inundated with commercials. They were on the television, of course, and on the radio, and in the newspapers. But now there were airborne vehicles, maybe like the drones of today, where ads were streaming on banners, or broadcasting to the people walking around who could not escape from therm. There were people who would knock on your door, and deliver a commercial message. Everywhere you went, or tried to hide, the commercials were there.

So finally the protagonist was able to convince his wife to take advantage of the new opportunities to escape the planet and go to Mars to live. That was the story, the best part of which was the way in which Dick portrayed a world where things had become so commercialized, that all of life seemed like an unending series of advertisements, where vast numbers of people would try to get you to buy their products.

That story was probably written around the 1970’s, and it was not one of Dick’s greatest stories, but it was memorable. And in many of his great novels, there were parts which were in the nature of rants, declamations against aspects of the world which he did not like.. Well, it seems as if we are getting closer to the reality of that story.

Where can we go as a haven from being marketed? Yes, a mountain cabin, perhaps, or a remote beach. But in the hurly-burly of the world, the place about which Wordsworth once wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” it becomes increasingly difficult to evade it.

It used to be that something like twelve minutes out of every broadcasting television hour was allocated to commercials by the FCC. But then it increased, to where it is now something like 20 minutes of commercials each hour on some major networks, maybe fifteen minutes or so for some show. Now, one can of course mute them, or walk out of the room, or talk and share with a person you are watching with; but even so, it is disconcerting to have the show constantly interrupted by commercials.

It can break the flow so much, that it almost ruins the drama you might be watching, or the rhythm of the sporting event. Yes, there are these computer networks where you can stream shows, but though I do not use them, I imagine that they come with their bracketing commercials before and after the shows,, or maybe they even interrupt to put some in? Perhaps not, but of course they are pricey to subscribe to, sort of like the freeways where you can avoid most of the traffic, but you have to pay a substantial fee.

And the commercials seem increasingly invasive, as compared to the irritating but trivial jingles we grew up on. Many of them are by pharmaceutical companies. The ads are almost all the same: a person or a couple is shown looking very sad and concerned. Then the announcer tells about the pill or drug they are selling. The person or couple is then shown looking happy, playing with their children or grandchildren, the sun is shining. Then the announcer describes the possible side effects, which are numerous and often dire. This is not to say that people should not try a medication or drug, but the commercials are unsettling, and in some sense seem inappropriate, particularly insofar as versions of them run every hour of the day. And then there are the ones which try to bilk elderly people out of their home equity, or to pay large amounts for some extra and mostly worthless insurance. I would ban those, but we live in a free market society, we are told.

When we all used to go to movie theatres, we noted how commercials insinuated themselves into the experience. If you sat down fifteen minutes before the movie, you would be subjected to at least five minutes of ads, sometimes disguised as some kind of preview. One would like to think that you could escape the marketing in that milieu, but you cannot, not completely. At least they don’t show them over the closing credits.

And we now have what Philip Dick did not have, which is the internet. I am certainly not a master of internet browsing, but I know that everywhere you look, you see ads. YouTube used to be a place where you could watch some music videos or live performances, but now you must wade through commercials. They even throw them in several times during a longer performance. You can avoid these by subscribing to a plan where you pay a monthly fee, but that is like the toll road, once again. You can avoid at least some of the commercials flung at you, if you are willing to pay up. Those who cannot or do not want to, have to see the commercials.

And even in the few information sites I look at, the screen is filled with ads. In the upper right corner in the upper left corner, sometimes in the middle. You have to try to X them out, and at least for me, that is not always so easy, they block the screen. Yesterday, I just wanted to read a brief discography of the lesser known but very good British group Beaumont, and there must have been at least three ads for the site, or related sites, that you have to navigate through just to see a paragraph of background or list of songs.

Now, it is certainly true that most entities are not inclined, nor are they obliged, to provide things for you to read or watch, for free. They want or need to make some money to support what they do. So I am not demanding that all the internet ads go away, but I do note that the number of them are increasing, and that it can make it laborious and not very rewarding to want to read a few articles, or look up something. Maybe if I were more adept at “surfing,” I could avoid most of this, but perhaps not.

In a larger sense, do you share the feeling that increasingly, people are being viewed simply as marketing targets? You have money, they want some of it, and they are going to keep trying to find ways to get you to give it to them. It is not a pleasing concept. We do not want a world where everything comes down to marketing, and trying to get you to pay for any bit of information or entertainment, or to be subjected to incessant ads and slogans and enticements and unnerving messages, just to be able to read or watch something.

I had previously mentioned a short story by the British writer J.G. Ballard, “The Subliminal Man.” The story described a Britain where companies had created subliminal advertising, which the government had then banned, because of the pernicious aspects of it. But companies were losing money because of the increased need to keep selling products on a daily basis, so they were trying to return to the subliminal messages trying to induce people to keep buying, even if their product was working well. The drama was whether this could be stopped.

Is that where we are headed; not necessarily, but possibly, with subliminal advertising, but certainly the increasing inundation in every aspect of our lives, by marketers and their ads, searching for new ways to invade the rest of our lives? What we can do about any of this, is problematical, but we can turn some of it off, and look for things which offer calm and pleasure without the intrusive drumbeat, and without the sense that we are seen only as pockets from which other people want to extract our dollars and cents.

We are not cash machines; it is essential to maintain our humanity, and to interact with others in a way that does not become a solely mercantile exchange. Some pessimistic or cynical people see the entire world in that way, ,people engaged in various exchanges, where anything provided comes with a price. That is something that we must strongly resist; and value those who do not affix a price to what they give you, in any aspect of life.