It's not enough any more just to buy a product. The advertiser wants more. The advertiser wants to be your friend. The advertiser wants you to believe they love you. And in return, the advertiser wants you to love them, and their product. They want your gratitude and your obedience. Instead of loyalty to friends, family and community, loyalty is now to the corporations and to corporate products. When you buy a product, your purchase encourages you to join the product's tribe. We all want to belong. It's a primal instinct. But this emotional confusion about where the lines end between a product and a consumer results in kids who wear corporate logos plastered all over their bodies like gang colors. Results in corporations having the legal rights of people. Results in urban youth killing each other for brand-name shoes. Status is based on what you own instead of who you are.
The thing about all of this confusion between a person and a product is that the engine of devotion in human nature was never meant to be sliced up, dissected, bought and sold. It was meant to provide a sense of cultural unity that would allow for people to feel like they had a reason to bond together. Community relies on that bonding instinct; without it, we'd all be individual predators marking out and violently defending our territories against each other.
? guage n a l nd of e e h T
Corporations do not require their consumers to be literate. Many large corporations no longer include words in their logos- not even their own brand names- because of their international dealings. They only need bright, splashy icons- simple pictures that can speak beyond the limitations of any one country’s language. This ‘iconization’ of communication continues with Apple’s products- the iPod Touch (tm), the iPad (tm), the iPhone (tm) and its competitors (tm). Some say this is bringing radical equality to consumer electronics- allowing the skilled and unskilled equal access to the power of technology. From another point of view, there’s no difference between a minimum-wage exploited worker at a fast-food company pressing pictures on a register to create an order, and a jetsetting lawyer or doctor thumbing through icons on their smartphone to make appointments.
Do you recognize these logos? Can you name the companies they represent? Should we be letting corporations colonize our heads with their images?
"Intellectual property" has become one of the hottest behindthe-scenes legal issues of the decade. It's a good bet that Andy Warhol's famous appropriations of corporate packages, labels, and celebrities would today land him in court, instead of in galleries. Corporations believe their products are not meant to be commented on- only consumed. Once a product is assimilated into the culture at large, many people view it as open to artistic commentary. It has become myth; transcending commerce. Modern corporations take a dim view of this idea, and decry any public commentary or unexpected use of their products as injurious to their sales. Then they bring out the lawyers to try and crush such commentary. Here are just a small sample of such companiesthere are many more.
Only cons umption i s allowed MATTEL – regularly attacks artists who attempt to satirize or comment on their trademarked plastic doll. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/28/national/28barbie.html http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/property00/respect/csbarbie.html http://www.barbieslapp.com
NINTENDO – aggressive and regularly litigious; also censors games that it imports into the US. http://www.gamersgraveyard.com/repository/oddities/nintendosuits.html http://www.filibustercartoons.com/Nintendo.php http://www.crockford.com/wrrrld/maniac.html
DISNEY – A long history of suing artists- while stealing or adapting the works of other artists without credit. http://www.postgazette.com/magazine/20000702EpcotSide7.asp http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/DisneyLawsuit/DisneyLawsuit.shtml http://reason.com/archives/2004/12/01/disneys-war-against-the-counte
or sale Mythology f
In the ancient world, humans had gods for entertainment. The gods were things of fun, providing excitement, inspiration and amusement; the old-world equivalent of soap operas or daytime TV. Writers and artists reinterpreted the gods as culture changed so that they could continue to be relevant. The gods were public-domain; free for all, belonging to all, of meaning to all. Today, our gods belong to media conglomerates. When creators die the rights to use their visions remain in the immediate family, who want to continue exploiting them, or slip into the obscurity of some corporate rights-holding house, buried and invisible until the company decides they are worth 'exploiting' again. Only rarely now can a character like a "Buffy", a "Batman", or a "Captain Kirk" enter to the public domain or become the property of the people- even though the 'value' of this character derives exclusively from what the people invest in it. Stories are now kept like horses in the stables of commercial enterprises that criminalize their reuse. Disney has fought for ownership of ideas to be extended from 50 to 75 years plus the lifetime of the originator- all in an attempt to colonize and corporatize the public domain for the profit of shareholders.
The c onsum er as crimi nal The whole concept of rights-holding is to secure a mental 'plot of land' against invaders and guarantee a perpetual return of money for the work. It assumes the consumer is a criminal, or a potential criminal. Pay attention to the language big companies use about us today: "pirates", "thieves", "infringers". It's as if they resent us somehow.
So which is it? What relationship are we supposed to have with our media? The creativity of slaves, passively moving from one product to the next- yet willingly giving up our time and energy to improve someone else's brand when we become 'devoted'? As long as we continue to delude ourselves with manufactured mythologies we'll never have a sense of our own identity, because we've been splintered according to the fashion of the moment and the market.
The ideal marketing strategy uses metareference and people who are hungry for connection and meaning to drive itself. An example that worked extremely well for its market was Cartoon Network's Toonami architecture (now evolved into the "brand" of Adult Swim). Nobody knows how to sell better to any group than members of that same group; Adult Swim is run by smart 30-something 'youth marketers'. It was absolutely brilliant because the presentation made you feel like you joined a tribe. You were the 'Toonami Faithful', guarded over by a wry little robot that knew exactly what you wanted to see. They borrowed credibility by using Peter Cullen, the actor who performed the voice of "Optimus Prime" from Transformers as an occasional announcer. Many boys in the 80's, suffering from latchkey child syndrome, came to view this fictional character as a father figure. (Maybe he was safer to believe in than their real fathers.) Many of us who grew up in that era have invested a curious weight in this character, and so using "his" voice automatically triggers the earlier associations.
your country the channel is This is where we are now, culturally; marketing archetypes feed off earlier implantations, creating a weird resonance between past and present, blurring the lines of distinction between memory, product, and self. Somehow Transformers became a bonding glue, a shared commercial story, and calling on that now, 30 years later, stirs strings of a kind of meta-nationalism. Our collective group of stories is our country, Cartoon Network has those stories, so Cartoon Network is our country. Meanwhile, in the real world, most young adults can't name their congressmen.
The powers-that-be remember what happened when the youth culture looked around and noticed the Vietnam War was going on. That lesson was never forgotten. Instead of being politically conscious, socially conscious, or personally conscious, we play video games, watch TV, or waste hours on the internet - and we’re encouraged to do it. Videogames typically consume 90, 100, even as many as 150 hours to complete. Box sets of TV shows on DVD can comprise 40 or 50 hours of material. What remaining youth centers exist are more like concentration camps- addons to zerotolerance locked-down schools. Youth must be contained and redirected at all cost; must be kept away from political and social action. What little time we have not being indoctrinated by the school system or the workplace is spent lost, dreaming in these fantasylands of other people's mythologies. There's nothing wrong with occasional escapism, but there are deeper questions worth asking.
what are we tryin g to esc ape? Are we hiding from racism, drugs, disease, pollution, taking responsibility for our lives? From the fact that the corporations moved in and took control of society and we didn't protest? We have created an environment that is so repressive to youth right now, and it’s so difficult to say what you feel at any age, that it’s no wonder most people give up and sink into the oblivion of media fantasies. We don't know who we are, how we got here, or why we stay. The black void howls when we dare to look. So we fill ourselves with empty mental calories that are always at our beck and call, 24/7. We can't identify with other people. How can we? The only thing we have in common as a shared history or shared culture is entertainment, the lowest common denominator.
some thoughts on time spent
5 or 10 minutes clicking channels may not seem like much, but consider doing it every day for a year. 5 minutes a day... multiplies by 7 days... equals 35 minutes a week.
35 minutes a week... times 4 weeks in a month ... equals 140 minutes a month. 140 minutes a month... times 12 months in a year... equals 1,680 minutes a year. 1,680 minutes a year divided by 60 minutes an hour... means 28 hours a year.
we do? so what can
Here are some time-tested basic strategies for reestablishing control over your personal relationship with the mass media.
TALK BACK TO THE T.V.
It doesn't have any feelings you can hurt. Talk back to it! If you can't comfortably talk out loud to your TV yell at it in your head. Everything on the screen can be picked apart, questioned, mocked, and dissected. Look for plot holes. Diagram character motives. Notice product placements and keep score of how many brands you see. Watching TV is designed to make you passive. Don't fall for that.
Ask yourself why at all times. If someone says this is the best (product) you've ever used, ask "Why?" If someone tells you an object or idea can change your life, ask "How?". If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
Good luck out there! I hope you've found this little booklet helpful in some way. Never forget that the media in all its forms can not exist without your cooperation!
We're selling our future and the future of our culture to profit mongering conglomerates. They don't care if we get involved in politics, don't care if our cities collapse, don't care about anything - except money. Profit is the only goal. Your love, your attention, your devotion; these are merely tools to the end of acheiving profit. Don't play their game.
A zine about media (12 pg b&w)