Culture’s eclipse

In the cities in which we live, all of us see hundreds of publicity images every day of our lives. No other kind of image confronts us so frequently. In no other form of society in history has there been such a concentration of images, such a density of visual messages.

These words were written in 1972. Their author, postmodern critic John Berger, hoped to reveal the incredible psychical power that advertising wielded over his age. Yet, read today, Berger’s statement sounds like an indictment of 2014. All modernized societies now swarm with advertisements—and not hyperbolically. Advertising punctuates websites, television and radio stations and print publications. The world beyond media is a confusion of billboards, flyers, noise pollution, bumper stickers and even litter proclaiming some product or brand. In the reader’s Tumblr feed, this very introduction appears amid, and is perhaps sandwiched between, advertisements.

But to suggest only that late modern culture is inseparable from advertising would be grossly to understate the situation. It is more accurate to say, with Berger, that advertising is our culture, that late modernity does not generate but is generated by advertising. Any attempt to pursue a reality beyond the one enclosed by advertising is immediately devoured by advertising—even used as an advertisement. An encounter with advertising comes to seem as natural and obvious as a breath of air. A step back is necessary. In fact, advertising is the sinister process of commodifying the universe, so that all things become products for purchase by insatiable consumers.

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Thus, it is with special interest that we look at advertisements. The image of the future is pressed into service not simply because of its color, allure, or fantasy, but because we have become accustomed to seeing the future in commodity terms. What we will be in the future, these advertisements say, is what we will buy in the future. The future is going to be better, we believe, not in any abstract or humanitarian sense, but because there will be more to buy in the future. Increase in material abundance is assumed, and assumed to be good.

If the future is inherent in advertising in these broad cultural terms, it also provides the psychological frame of reference for the individual. As a system, advertising basically plays only one note. In the words of critic John Berger, it ‘proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.’ Advertisements ‘speak in the future tense, and yet the achievement of that future is endlessly deferred.’

Taken from Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (1984) by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan.

Generation Y

Generation Y has problems.

Generation Y cannot find a job. Generation Y cannot break in. Generation Y has discovered that cash is the key to every door. Generation Y feels pressured to “make it” but cannot endure the rat race. Generation Y is starting to realize that it shouldn’t try to “make it”. Generation Y has seen the man behind the curtain. Generation Y knows that it has been brainwashed by advertising and mass culture. Generation Y has been co-opted anyway. Generation Y cannot break out.

Generation Y feels empty.

Generation Y has been taught what to think but not how to think. Generation Y has been told to memorize answers but not to ask questions. Generation Y has not been told how to live. Generation Y is trying to learn. Generation Y wants something new but can’t find it. Generation Y rejects old methods but can’t escape them. Generation Y is tired of consumerism but continues to consume. Generation Y has seen the nihilism at the end of modernism.

Generation Y feels empty.

Generation Y feels like no one has its back. Generation Y has no role models. Generation Y does not know what stability looks like. Generation Y acts out. Generation Y has addictions that it cannot control. Generation Y wants to feel secure. Generation Y has been depressed before. Generation Y has had breakdowns before. Generation Y takes medications that do not solve its problems. Generation Y is lonely but cannot connect. Generation Y is a shaken soda bottle. Generation Y needs a friend.

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