The hyperbolic nature of Marshall
McLuhan's statement, "Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th
century" does not take away from the truth it calls attention to. Nearly
everything around us is based on that boundless web of forces called
advertising. As the most prevalent form
of contemporary advertising, commercials are the dominant artistic genre of the
20th and the 21st century. Look around: chances are you are surrounded by commercials
more than by any other cultural artifact. The average person is exposed to
3,000 commercial advertising messages every day (in comparison to 650 in 1985).
By the age of 35 we are exposed to about 150,000 thirty second commercials. As
a culture we watch more commercials than we read books, visit the theater or go
to the movies.
In a world where culture has
migrated onto the net, the primary form it takes is that of the commercial–
one could actually say that we are creating an online culture based on advertising.
Conversion in a Consumer
"No group of
sociologists can approximate the ad teams in the gathering and processing of
exploitable social data" wrote McLuhan in his 1964 book, Understanding
Media, introducing the notion that in a new world of hyper capitalism
advertising is more exacting, powerful and far reaching than the academic work
of legions of researchers and experts. Advertisements affect society much more
directly and efficiently than academia because the commercial are more in synch
with the playful irreverence of electronic culture than that of the often arid rationalism
of the academy.
And so we have reached the
current situation where what we call culture is the thin veil of
commercialization that we feel the necessity to apply to even the most
ordinary, everyday products. Popular
music and television shows are concocted by advertising agencies in order to convey
commercial messages in a more effective manner.
It is difficult to talk about
(mass) culture in isolation from advertising. Advertising is our culture.
According to McLuhan
commercials are meant for unconscious, subliminal consumption. Douglas Rushkoff
furthers this argument when he writes that TV is a technology for programming
people. When we watch television we let the mimetic objects which are being
omitted from the TV set run in our consciousness like code sections running inside
a computer. Words, voices and symbols which come from within the screen are put
in the center of our attention; they become the center of our world and act as
a consciousness transmission. Television is a sort of hypnosis.
Commercials are in that sense
the essence of TV in its purest form: precise 30 second messages which are aimed
to create a chirurgical intervention in the viewer's consciousness, catalyze a
process of conversion and bring him to action. The decision to migrate from one
product to another is conversion's correlate in the consumer world and
commercials are the attempt to refine that great mystical experience into a
short passage of media revelation.
Pills of deception
consciousness in an effective way but these consciousness forms have negative
consequences because they are based on ulterior motivesgreed based motives of
obtaining more money.
In order to be successful, commercials
base themselves on the endless fostering of discontent. This discontent is
normally rooted in the recognition that the consumer lacks something, that he
or she is unhappy or alternatively could be happier if only he or she buys
The commercial will teach you
about the incompleteness of your situation which will manifest itself in more and
more ways while always demanding more and more STUFF from a wide variety of
corporations aimed at recreating a lost sense of wholeness: i.e., the idea is
that youll feel happier once you purchase a car, a house, a candy bar, a tech gadget,
a Pilates class, new clothes, etc.
But despite these obvious adverse
psychic effects we gulp down endless amounts of these poisons. Commercials,
after all, are the price of admission into our commercials based culture yet all
the while we tell ourselves that commercials do not influence us.
Media is second-hand
After discussing all these
evident shortcomings of the commercials, its time to get back to the positive
side of this whole story, to the great untapped potential of this medium which
is implied in some of McLuhans statements.
Terrence McKenna was no less a great provocateur than McLuhan and as well he
was perhaps the greatest savage among the philosophers, not only due to the
bulk of mind altering substances he consumed but because his theories are jungles
of tangled, maniac, carnivorous ideas.
One of these wild proposals
was that the human race could no longer allow itself to have an unconscious.
According to McKenna, the idea of having an inaccessible part of our psyche that
cannot be controlled is an unthinkable situation in the current state of our
technological evolution. He argues that the supposed need for such a part is
based on a series of lies which our culture has to rid itself of as soon as
possible. An unconscious is tolerable when hunting wild boars in the forest but
not when you hold the keys to weapons of mass destruction which have the
capacity to annihilate the planet in a single moment.
According to McKenna, the
media is a visual illustration of our collective unconscious and divulges the
structure of that unconscious, thus creating the basis for making it shared
consciousness. McKenna believes that television's visual language of cut and
paste composition is influenced by psychedelic experience. These experiences are then retransmitted into
mass society through television, making it a source of second-hand psychedelics.
Advertising the divine
"If God manifested
himself to us, he would do so in the form of a product advertised on TV" (Philip
Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik
depicts a world undergoing a process of deterioration and degeneration which
can only be stopped using a consumer product in the form of ornately striped
Dick understood the deep
force and meaning which commercials carry in our culture very well. Ubik
is full of commercials bearing cosmic messages. Each chapter in the novel
begins with a commercial for a mysterious consumer product called Ubik, and
each advertisement exposes Ubik as a totally different form of product. At one
time Ubik is salad dressing, at another it is a detergent; it appears as a
medicine for the stomach, as a shaving blade, as a brassiere, as a hair crème,
etc, etc. Ubik is a sort of master-product which symbolizes humanity's never
ending wish to appropriate the world. The Ubik spray which appears near the end
of Dick's book is a spray which can give life to anything it is a spray which
fulfills the part of God fighting the devil which destroys the world.
Ubik equates the way modern
consumers seek salvation from consumer products to seeing salvation from God.
In a godless world we go to consumer products so that they will fix the biggest
conflicts in our life. God's part in correcting the world has been privatized
to numerous groups of consumer products collectively called "Ubik."
Real advertisements for
divine light are advertisements which will not emphasize that which is lacking
but the abundance coming from within. Such advertisements for God would
concentrate not on consumer products but on the process of creation. A pursuit to create such commercials stood in
the basis of the 4th episode of the intergalactic masters course.
In this episode which deals
with the effects of media the Intergalactic Underground tried to disclose a few
of media's influences and create a preliminary attempt at creating a divine
commercial for some kind of Ubik, in this case a coke composed of light.
While this specific attempt
was somewhat underdeveloped, it is a proposition for others who might wish to
continue and develop this notion of a new kind of commercials. Commercials
which will not sell you products, but sell you to yourself. These new
commercials will expose the inner areas in the inner mall of consciousness and
inform consciousness consumers about the products which exists within.
By working from such a model
we would be able to create creative and sincere commercials which will act as
transformative media pills. Imagine a world surrounded not by advertisements of
things you can buy, but by psychedelic commercials which call you to explore
your inner life. Such cultural artifacts can then function as the building
stones of a new media-ecology which will sustain man's effort of cultural and