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Published on December 17th, 2013 | by Mark Bou Mansour
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We critiqued the concept of consumerism last Monday using Marcuse's theories, arguing that consumerism serves as a totalitarian form of political dominance by imposing a one-dimensional universe via the creation of false needs, social dominance over all aspects of life, and pacifying of economic inequalities through consumption of material goods. We’re going to see these processes in action by dissecting the UK’s favorite holiday advertisements. Also, if you want to look at the practices of greenwashing and personification employed by major corporations in their advertising campaigns to manipulate their public image then be sure to check out Ben's blog here. I have a third-season-Jamie-Lanister relationship with really good ads – I realize that at their core they are pure evil ploys to get me to buy things, but I’m intrigued and sometimes identify with their stories, messages, and presentation. This may become evident below.

The major corporations that take part in the annual multi-million holiday advertising battle have put out their Christmas adverts once again this year. The Metro’s online survey polling which advert is best has been taken by nearly 3000 people as of current writing, with the John Lewis ad ‘The Bear and Hare’ taking a whopping 44% of the vote.

The advert is a story of a bear who’s never seen Christmas but, with the help of the bear’s friend, a hare, and a John Lewis alarm clock, wakes up from hibernation to see a wonderfully glowing Christmas morning. Beautifully animated by the team which brought us The Lion King and other Disney classics, the advert is a prime example of the consumption machine’s ability to absorb the inner aspects of life. The advert is full of feelings, subtly/evilly captured by the animators, of caring, love, and friendship. At the end of the commercial, the viewer is encouraged not to buy a clock for a friend, but to buy that warm fuzzy feeling you get inside your stomach at the end of the commercial, that same feeling the hare gifted the bear. The ad captures how material products have become embedded in the communication process of emotions and meaning between people.

Next up, with roughly 20% of the vote is Tesco’s ‘Forever Young’. The ad provides a narrative of a couple’s life through a montage of home footage filmed during Christmas, beginning with their first Christmas together in their small house before they had children and spanning to their Christmas with their children and grandchildren in their newer much bigger and fancier house. Warm fuzzy feelings again, I know. But this commercial is such an excellent example of a one-dimensional universe, it’s diabolical. Within a minute and thirty seconds is compacted a standardizing summary of what all of life is supposedly about –get married, get kids, get a career, get a bigger TV, bigger car, bigger living room. The commercial further fosters this one-dimensional life of work and consumption as the only meaningful way to live.

This fostering of a one-dimensional universe is also evident in the Sainsbury’s ad ‘Christmas in a Day’ (which isn’t in the Metro survey). The ad is a trailer for a 50 minute film directed by the Oscar-winning Kevin Macdonald, who directed ‘Life In a Day’, and produced by Ridley Scott. The film and commercial are created from crowd-sourced footage, and are meant to show how hundreds of individuals spend their Christmas day. The advert ends with a clip of a family filming a Christmas morning video to send to their dad stationed in Afghanistan. The dad then walks in during the video to the surprise of his family. This tear-jerker is then followed with the caption “The moments that make Christmas special. Brought to you by Sainsbury’s”. Here we have both private experiences and inner feelings absorbed into the consumption cycle. Sainsbury’s is not selling you groceries, their offering you special moments.

In third place on the Metro’s survey with 18% of the vote is Marks & Spencer’s ‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle’. In this ad, Rosie Huntingtun-Whiteley goes on a journey through several fairytales and classical films like Alice in Wonderland, Rid Riding Hood, and the Wizard of Oz. Although credit must be given to the superb sets and visuals, the advert relies strongly on sex appeal with Huntingtun-Whiteley traveling on a flying carpet in underwear –the best way to travel on a moonlit December night. Again, this is the consumption machine reaching into the bedroom and substituting the focus of sexual desires with material goods.

The final ad we’ll look at is the Royal Mail’s ‘We Love Parcels’, ranking in 6th place with 4 percent of the vote. The ad presents a montage of postmen delivering parcels to several people across the UK as a choir sings a great rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” in the background. This ad is a great example of how consumerism integrates class inequalities. Regardless of the wealth of the house or individual the postmen deliver to in the commercial –whether it’s a house with its own electric powered garage door, a big-windowed flat on a pristine street, or a small apartment in a multi-unit housing complex- the recipients in the advert are all equal in their ordering and consumption of products, and of course are all equally loved by Royal Mail, which is really all they need.

Now that we’ve ripped apart the adverts we so cherished we can see how these ads reinforce a one-dimensional universe and system of social domination –as so often happens when you invite a radical leftist to the party. Is there then a way out of this? Marcuse holds social dominance to be so extensive he believes that a working class so integrated into the system via consumption has no chance to bring about change. The only potential for change comes from groups marginalized to the edges of society but even then he tends to be pessimistic. But we must always end on a hopeful note.

Interestingly, Marcuse tends to be a bit more optimistic in his Eros and Civilization. To brutally simplify, Marcuse combines the ideas of Marx and Freud. He takes from Freud the theory that the history of Western civilization is a history of repression of basic human instincts, particularly sexual urges, and that this overt-repression has directed energy towards ‘progress’ where work is constantly at conflict with pleasure. He then shifts Freud’s contention that work has historically been at conflict with Eros, or pleasure, to the contention that alienated labour has historically been at conflict with pleasure. Meaning, the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, and those better off can have sex whenever they like whereas sex is allowed for the workers only when it does not interfere with production. Thus, a socialist society to Marcuse is also a non-repressive society where sexual desires are not suppressed. What then is Marcuse’s solution, writing in 1955? A sexual revolution –which also tends to happen when you invite a radical leftist to the party.

How then do we bridge these two ideas? With philophically derived advice: Go out this holiday season and buy repressive commodities to gift to people since you can’t really escape the consumption machine and because you’ll be considered an oaf if you don’t. But just be sure to find yourself with someone under a branch of mistletoe somewhere along the way.

Food for Thought:

Holiday advertisements put to the test:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/christmas-videos/10492632/Battle-of-the-Christmas-adverts-put-to-the-test.html

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self

Major Works by Marcuse:

Eros and Civilization
One-Dimensional Man
An Essay on Liberation

 

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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Jingle Tills: Consumerism, Marcuse, and 2013’s Top Holiday Advertisements – Pt 2

We critiqued the concept of consumerism last Monday using Marcuse’s theories, arguing that consumerism serves as a totalitarian form of political dominance by imposing a one-dimensional universe via the creation of false needs, social dominance over all aspects of life, and pacifying of economic inequalities through consumption of material goods. We’re going to see these processes in action by dissecting the UK’s favorite holiday advertisements. Also, if you want to look at the practices of greenwashing and personification employed by major corporations in their advertising campaigns to manipulate their public image then be sure to check out Ben’s blog here. I have a third-season-Jamie-Lanister relationship with really good ads – I realize that at their core they are pure evil ploys to get me to buy things, but I’m intrigued and sometimes identify with their stories, messages, and presentation. This may become evident below.

The major corporations that take part in the annual multi-million holiday advertising battle have put out their Christmas adverts once again this year. The Metro’s online survey polling which advert is best has been taken by nearly 3000 people as of current writing, with the John Lewis ad ‘The Bear and Hare’ taking a whopping 44% of the vote.

The advert is a story of a bear who’s never seen Christmas but, with the help of the bear’s friend, a hare, and a John Lewis alarm clock, wakes up from hibernation to see a wonderfully glowing Christmas morning. Beautifully animated by the team which brought us The Lion King and other Disney classics, the advert is a prime example of the consumption machine’s ability to absorb the inner aspects of life. The advert is full of feelings, subtly/evilly captured by the animators, of caring, love, and friendship. At the end of the commercial, the viewer is encouraged not to buy a clock for a friend, but to buy that warm fuzzy feeling you get inside your stomach at the end of the commercial, that same feeling the hare gifted the bear. The ad captures how material products have become embedded in the communication process of emotions and meaning between people.

Next up, with roughly 20% of the vote is Tesco’s ‘Forever Young’. The ad provides a narrative of a couple’s life through a montage of home footage filmed during Christmas, beginning with their first Christmas together in their small house before they had children and spanning to their Christmas with their children and grandchildren in their newer much bigger and fancier house. Warm fuzzy feelings again, I know. But this commercial is such an excellent example of a one-dimensional universe, it’s diabolical. Within a minute and thirty seconds is compacted a standardizing summary of what all of life is supposedly about –get married, get kids, get a career, get a bigger TV, bigger car, bigger living room. The commercial further fosters this one-dimensional life of work and consumption as the only meaningful way to live.

This fostering of a one-dimensional universe is also evident in the Sainsbury’s ad ‘Christmas in a Day’ (which isn’t in the Metro survey). The ad is a trailer for a 50 minute film directed by the Oscar-winning Kevin Macdonald, who directed ‘Life In a Day’, and produced by Ridley Scott. The film and commercial are created from crowd-sourced footage, and are meant to show how hundreds of individuals spend their Christmas day. The advert ends with a clip of a family filming a Christmas morning video to send to their dad stationed in Afghanistan. The dad then walks in during the video to the surprise of his family. This tear-jerker is then followed with the caption “The moments that make Christmas special. Brought to you by Sainsbury’s”. Here we have both private experiences and inner feelings absorbed into the consumption cycle. Sainsbury’s is not selling you groceries, their offering you special moments.

In third place on the Metro’s survey with 18% of the vote is Marks & Spencer’s ‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle’. In this ad, Rosie Huntingtun-Whiteley goes on a journey through several fairytales and classical films like Alice in Wonderland, Rid Riding Hood, and the Wizard of Oz. Although credit must be given to the superb sets and visuals, the advert relies strongly on sex appeal with Huntingtun-Whiteley traveling on a flying carpet in underwear –the best way to travel on a moonlit December night. Again, this is the consumption machine reaching into the bedroom and substituting the focus of sexual desires with material goods.

The final ad we’ll look at is the Royal Mail’s ‘We Love Parcels’, ranking in 6th place with 4 percent of the vote. The ad presents a montage of postmen delivering parcels to several people across the UK as a choir sings a great rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” in the background. This ad is a great example of how consumerism integrates class inequalities. Regardless of the wealth of the house or individual the postmen deliver to in the commercial –whether it’s a house with its own electric powered garage door, a big-windowed flat on a pristine street, or a small apartment in a multi-unit housing complex- the recipients in the advert are all equal in their ordering and consumption of products, and of course are all equally loved by Royal Mail, which is really all they need.

Now that we’ve ripped apart the adverts we so cherished we can see how these ads reinforce a one-dimensional universe and system of social domination –as so often happens when you invite a radical leftist to the party. Is there then a way out of this? Marcuse holds social dominance to be so extensive he believes that a working class so integrated into the system via consumption has no chance to bring about change. The only potential for change comes from groups marginalized to the edges of society but even then he tends to be pessimistic. But we must always end on a hopeful note.

Interestingly, Marcuse tends to be a bit more optimistic in his Eros and Civilization. To brutally simplify, Marcuse combines the ideas of Marx and Freud. He takes from Freud the theory that the history of Western civilization is a history of repression of basic human instincts, particularly sexual urges, and that this overt-repression has directed energy towards ‘progress’ where work is constantly at conflict with pleasure. He then shifts Freud’s contention that work has historically been at conflict with Eros, or pleasure, to the contention that alienated labour has historically been at conflict with pleasure. Meaning, the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, and those better off can have sex whenever they like whereas sex is allowed for the workers only when it does not interfere with production. Thus, a socialist society to Marcuse is also a non-repressive society where sexual desires are not suppressed. What then is Marcuse’s solution, writing in 1955? A sexual revolution –which also tends to happen when you invite a radical leftist to the party.

How then do we bridge these two ideas? With philophically derived advice: Go out this holiday season and buy repressive commodities to gift to people since you can’t really escape the consumption machine and because you’ll be considered an oaf if you don’t. But just be sure to find yourself with someone under a branch of mistletoe somewhere along the way.

Food for Thought:

Holiday advertisements put to the test:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/christmas-videos/10492632/Battle-of-the-Christmas-adverts-put-to-the-test.html

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self

Major Works by Marcuse:

Eros and Civilization
One-Dimensional Man
An Essay on Liberation

 

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Mark Bou Mansour

has studied critical political theory and philosophy over the course of his undergrad and Master’s program, effectively turning his brain into mush. He now finds everyday things utterly fascinating and everywhere he looks he sees grand historical forces at play contingently shaping our worlds. Recently, he has taken a liking to shiny things like smartphones, computers, and web 2.0.



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