No Escape From the Huckster

A few years ago, I watched a movie in Leicester Square in London. I was shocked to be bombarded with advertising before the show began and I remember thinking, “How wonderful it is that when we go to the movies in the States we are not assaulted by product advertising.”

So much for my foresight.

Nowadays, in America and probably many parts of the world, going to the movies before the feature comes on has become an annoying and aggressive assault on your nerves, eyeballs, hearing and intelligence; of course, the bottom line of all this hullabaloo is aimed straight at your pocketbook.

But wait, as they say in those TV “come on” commercials, let’s double the bottom line and reveal the real skinny on this assault.

There is no place on earth to escape this relentless all-encompassing tsunami of huckstering that has engulfed humanity.

Believe me, I understand advertising and every other lure out there in the zeitgeist designed to draw our attention to products, political candidates, ideologies and whatever. The objective is always the same. Surround us with messages. Make us buy. Make us believe.

I am not against advertising per se; I used to run an advertising agency myself. I understand the game plan, understand that consumerism makes the economy go round and round, understand that for businesses to survive their goods and inventions need to be sold, and understand that most of us are on the lookout to make our lives easier, to live longer, to see our kids make it in this ever more competitive world. But where is the balance? When is enough, enough?

I understand, too, that we, us, you and I, have been parsed, analyzed, slotted, and sliced and diced by an army of demographers, poll takers, profilers, psychologists, statisticians and battalions of information gatherers whose motives are to invade our brains, our fantasies and desires, our sex lives, our opinions, our habits and our preferences. Like fly fisherman searching for the trout’s current appetite for a particular aerial bug, the persuasion industry’s sole goal is “match the hatch.”

The objective is to get into our minds, into our pants, our digestive systems, our taste buds, our “characteristics,” our motives, our secret desires, and hopes and dreams, and induce us to recognize logos, embed them in our memory and motivate us to make judgments based on the familiar, the recognizable, the brand.

There is no escape. Soon every inch of blank space, every document, every building, arena or park we encounter in our daily lives, will be covered with some paid commercial or political message. It’s already happening.

Even in the wilderness our clothing and backpacks are festooned with advertising logos. No sports event is exempt, no mode of transportation, no movie is immune to product placement, no live event will escape. The Olympics is awash with it. As for the Internet, it is beyond hope. Every time we click on something, we are recorded somewhere, our resumes recycled for future exploitation. Not only is Big Brother watching, so are his siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. There is no place to hide.

We are being slotted into infinite subdivisions based on all those things that make us think of ourselves as unique. To people selling products and ideas we are merely a demographic, a statistic, a number, a unit, a target for pollsters and a sub-category of a sub-category of a sub-category. Worse, we are human media. Every time we wear a logo, we become unpaid media.

Are we, after all, sheep to the slaughter, birds of a feather, and therefore, transparent and easily manipulated? Perhaps our sense of personal freedom is an illusion, and we, like everybody else, are in our so-called category.

God forbid that the political punditry is right. Do we really boil down to a statistic, a number, a unit, bloodless and mindless?

Despite this indignant rant, my advocacy speaks to compromise and reason. Surely, it makes sense to create advertising free zones, to lighten up on the huckstering, to allow us space for reflection, contemplation and silence. My own modest defense, as much as possible, is avoidance, and to conceive and muster small acts of personal rebellion like refusing to answer polling questions, hanging up on all robo calls, deep-sixing all the garbage in my mailbox, silencing as many TV and radio commercials as I can, and searching for logo-free clothing. Still, it’s like facing a round of buckshot with a slingshot.

That said, let me put on my Polo t-shirt, my Calvin Klein briefs, my Levi’s jeans, my Gucci loafers and pop over to Starbucks for a latte.