an article was brought to my attention recently that talks about the ethical problems of advertising, it is a british collaboration between the public interest research centre (PIRC) and WWF-UK entitled think of me as evil? opening the ethical debates in advertising, published in 2011.
as george monbiot puts it: ‘this is a fascinating, clear-headed and critically important report. reading it, i’m struck by the fact that nothing quite like it has been written before. why not, i wonder, when this issue looms so large in our lives, and the ethical questions involved so obviously require investigation? i’m delighted that it’s been done at last, and that an urgently-needed debate can now begin.’
i agree that the extremely important issue of for-profit advertising has been almost entirely ignored by the western political class for as long as modern advertising has existed (approximately 100 years), for no good reason, and that it is a good sign that this issue has been raised with an excellent research-based analysis — unfortunately for me, i will fail to be delighted until this urgently needed debate has been had in the global mainstream (not only amongst a handful of academics, ‘liberal’-‘elites’ and advertising industry representatives/apologists), and the vast majority of the general population has decided that unsolicited advertising in the public sphere is a purely destructive force that we must remove from global society immediately.
[this advertising debate being had in the global mainstream? however could that happen when our mainstream is owned and run by profit-mad businesses that deal in the sale of advertising and possess pro-capitalist/anti-justice sentiments as a matter of course? good question astute reader, you may go on and answer that yourself, i’m sure you are capable]
this is from the foreword of the report: ‘[the report] concludes that the potential impacts of advertising should be of pressing concern to a wide range of third sector organisations, irrespective of whether they are working on poverty, climate change, child deprivation and neglect, abuse of human rights, ecological degradation, physical and mental ill health, or failure to place proper value on non-human life.’
that statement matches my personal beliefs: being concerned with all the issues mentioned above (and many more), i decided anti-advertising activism was the best approach for me because it attacked all these problems from their root-cause — the abolition of advertising and the resultant democratisation of our public sphere could strip the illegitimate power of for-profit interests (that has corrupted our democracies for as long as they’ve existed), and bring about the higher rates of political engagement and enlightened understanding that the solutions to all these problems require.
unfortunately the authors of this report (judging by their post-report comments) don’t seem to consider abolition of advertising as a possibility (maybe minimise it for the kiddies), only arguing that we prevent its spread (as if there are many places it hasn’t already spread to) and maybe wind it back a little somehow, and they don’t touch the subject of advertising enabling the for-profit media system to act as grand chairperson of our entire democratic structure — why!?!?!!?!?!
the reports challenges three assertions which it says reflect the main industry response to critics of advertising, the ‘standard defences of the advertising industry’.
the three defences challenged are:
– advertising merely redistributes consumption
– advertising is simply a mirror of cultural values
– advertising is about the promotion of choice
the research-backed demolition of these defences is a good thing, but the defences themselves are responses to very limited criticisms of our culture of advertising: criticisms that only focus on the more obvious and direct consequences of exposure to advertising.
the report rightly criticises civil society organisations (ones that have in the past been critical of advertising) for using ‘the products advertised as their point of departure, attacking the advertising of a harmful product like tobacco, or alcohol, for instance, rather than developing a deeper critical appraisal of advertising in the round.’
in my opinion the ‘deeper critical appraisal of advertising in the round’ carried out in this report omits vital critical appraisal of the fact that almost our entire ‘democratic’ media system is financed by advertising and run by organisations seeking, above all else, to maximise profit through the sale of advertising — the huge conflicts of interest and fundamental structural corruptions of such a media system need to be a part of this discussion, they are inextricably linked and cannot be ignored in an insightful analysis.
seems most western progressives of the highest social accolades are lagging like dunces when it comes to realising the key challenges in furthering global democracy and justice — until the public media-sphere (where our politics happen) becomes a genuinely democratic space, and empowered and enlightened citizens begin to set a truly ‘humane’ agenda (one that universalises the democratic principles that all 1st world countries cynically profess to hold), our global political situation will continue spiralling toward ecological apocalypse, driven by the murderous systemic injustice of every-state-for-itself, no-holds-barred, infinite-growth-model economics.
i am so truly disappointed and utterly depressed, i feel like all my learned elders are nothing but a bunch of brain-dead, gutless zombies — to put it another way, i’m very hurt and dispirited by the lack of complete analysis and bold objectives from the ‘establishment progressives’ and i’m obviously not above lashing out a little.
i wish the criticism was just that our learned elders only flap their mouths, fail to put the appropriate weight of action behind their words, but they can’t even flap their mouths properly — i know some of them can see it, they must, i just want them to come out and say it, embolden their cowed colleagues and bring the fire.
i feel like this issue is a clear example of first-world establishment progressives struggling with their ridiculous position: pretending to be fully against the injustice of capitalism, while never mounting a real theoretical and practical opposition because that would put them in actual material conflict with the system that grants them great privileges (speaking generally here of no particular person).
you might wonder how i allow myself the arrogance and self-indulgence to slag-off the entire entity i have named ‘establishment progressives’, when the successful raising of this issue in the public sphere depends, in part, on the support of those people — i guess i value saying what i feel very highly, and disrespect the act of presenting a pleasant and polite facade out of a manipulative pragmatism.
the establishment progressives should be mature enough to handle criticisms (even if they are put in rude and crude language, unfit for the refined ears of her majesty’s servants), and if they don’t want to see what i’m saying for such petty reasons, fuck them and their huge salaries — also i guess i think none of them will ever read this so it is just a great chance to purge my feelings into this blog like it’s my private diary.
i feel certain that this frustration (and associated ‘uncouth’ writing) is a result of the bitterness i feel that i have to stake my whole life on actions intended to bring this issue into the public consciousness — i wish i didn’t think it was necessary, i resent that i have to do this when others don’t (just because i can’t escape my conscience), i’m disappointed that the generations before mine have built and maintained this system, and that the establishment progressives of those generations can’t even realise the damage that has been done.
clive hamilton, an australian academic (one quoted at the start of this report), has said elsewhere he has faith the younger generations will solve the intractable problems his generation has created — why should we have to fix the fucking baby-boomer mess? and why should we have to do it without the help of previous generations? you’re not fucking dead yet, the least you could do would be to understand the problem properly and speak against it (if not act), and you haven’t even done that.
these old boys could be getting themselves locked up for political actions that would actually be taken seriously, but they’re too busy patting each other on the back for publishing reports that have clearly identified precisely the least important half of a problem, and i’m having to spend my entire young adult life as a miserable, isolated and ignored political idiot.
oh, what i’d give to be delighted like george monbiot claims to be, that’d be jolly good, oh boy i’d be a happy chappy :)
“oh you can’t speak against anything until you’ve got the data and research to back your opinion” i hear the sensible and respectable elder statesmen state — well you can’t collect the data or do the research on a problem until you’ve identified it, and it’s as if the advertising-funded for-profit media (that dominates and grossly deteriorates out public political sphere) has not even been identified as a potential obstacle to democracy.
i can’t tell you how much i look forward to all the days of the same old bullshit that are laid out in front of me! i just can’t wait to get out there and get punished! what joy! i’m fucking delighted!! thanks baby boomers!!