Friday, October 04, 2013

The "Image"

Advertising creates dissatisfaction.  If one can afford what is being advertised, then one will want to spend some money and experience the joy that the advertisement is promising.  If not, there will be resentment that there is a kind of joy in the world which one is unable to experience.

Similarly, watching mass-market entertainment is a kind of brainwashing which makes us want to imitate what is being shown on the screen.  We see how certain characters are liked and loved, what they do, how they dress, how they talk.  Since we want to be liked and loved too, we want to imitate them.

Media is a way for us to be bombarded with fake images and crafted stories.  The stories are crafted skilfully, that we trust the narrative completely.  It is not easy for a normal person to enjoy a TV show or a movie and at the same time, know that it is all fiction and to defend oneself against the various subtle cues and influences.

Mass-market entertainment and advertising is to show us an alternate reality in which we are happy and loved and are powerful.  Since for most people, the reality is that they are always feeling somewhat less than happy, somewhat unloved, and somewhat helpless, the TV and movies show them that it is indeed possible to change the situation, only if they:

a) Have a good car, or a great gadget
b) Have a relationship with an attractive person
c) Dress fashionably
d) Talk in a constantly witty and sarcastic way
e) Have an athletic body which looks good “on the beach”
f) Have a chic house
g) Travel to nice resorts
h) Eat or drink something specific
i) ...

You get the idea.

All of these changes are about spending money, consumption, or impressing others.

Looking at ads and movies as a way of cultural education is dangerous.  It hardens the idea that “image” is all important.  That one must “brand” oneself, and that validation from others for superficial features (the car, the jacket, the hair color) is what brings real joy.

I am not denying that external validation is pleasurable.  I am arguing against an environment in which validation depends on “image” rather than on substance.

Manipulating how others perceive oneself is what life then becomes.  It is no wonder that such a life feels empty.

If one wins someone's love based on a calculated and cultivated image of oneself, then I claim that this love will feel fake.  A manipulated emotion can never replace a sincere one.  Moreover, there will be a tension between keeping the love alive through the image-projection, and wanting the "real" love which is directed at the real "me".  The lover will be hated for being vulnerable to manipulation even though it was oneself who subjected the lover to this manipulation.

We want love.  We trust the mass media to tell us how to become lovable.  We follow the instructions.  But neither do we achieve the love that our being needs, nor do we know why.  We try to follow the instructions more precisely, ever frantic to catch the nuance of what the TV show is telling us about relationships.

Never once suspecting that we've been played.  So badly played, in fact, that it is perhaps not possible to recover in a lifetime.


Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about Harman is his commitment to finding what is meaningful and what brings happiness, and his commitment to alerting us to the dangers of mass market mentality and consumerism. But my question is this: Is his job only to point out what is wrong with the world, or does he also demonstrate his love and concern for the world by being in his friendships a devoted and loving friend?

Ridhima said...

Very well said

Prashanth K said...

"Advertising creates dissatisfaction" - not necessarily true. The goal of advertising is to create the yearning for the product or service. This is how you create demand and that is fair for the advertisers. But are we swept by it all the time? I, and the people around me that I know, do not immediately fancy a BMW when we see the ad. However an ad of the a "all new", "fresh" toothpaste - well, may be I pick it up the next time. I don't recall anyone getting depressed when that's not available in store.

"Looking at ads and movies as a way of cultural education is dangerous"
"We want love. We trust the mass media to tell us how to become lovable." - It is difficult to believe that people (except the ignorants?) ask of the ads and movies to tell them about tradition, and trust the mass media to tell them what is right.

I have high regards for your ideas and thoughts, but the above do not really qualify for generalisation.