A fairy story: ‘Once upon a time there was a Man who lived in Scarcity. After many adventures and a long journey through Economic Science, he met the Affluent Society. They married and had lots of needs.’
A ban would be aesthetically, culturally and environmentally right. But it’s what it says about us that matters too. It would be a sign of collective and democratic power over the market. It would be a signal that says the public interest trumps private interest. That the freedom to be fully human, and not just be subjected to an endless onslaught of adverts, should come first. That we are citizens more than we are consumers.
Advertising… conducts a subtle game of instrumentalizing unhappiness and dissatisfaction with capitalism as a motivation for consumption. This was witnessed as early as the 1920s, when American marketers targeted a growing collective sense of ennui and alienation from urban-capitalist existence, a feeling that more innocent, dependable relations were being lost. The images used to sell products during the 1920s and 30s were specifically drawn from a social ideal of traditional family and community life that industrial capitalism appeared to be destroying. By the 1960s, advertising was tapping into frustrations with bourgeois and bureaucratic routines, speaking to the counter-culture even as it was first emerging. Advertising, like management theory, is fuelled by a critique of the dominant normative-economic regime within which it sits, facilitating safe acts of micro-rebellion against the macro-social order. It acts as capital’s own trusted moral and artistic critic in order to inspire additional psychological engagement on the part of ordinary worker-consumers. Dissatisfaction is reduced to a psychological tendency to be fed back into processes of production and consumption.
What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.