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The advertising industry, its profits, the capitalist ideology and the harm it does to the true nature of people (and life on earth).

Have a read over this conversation an American entertainer/comedian was having with Noam Chomsky and take a good look at one of the greatest lies you've been told, by pretty much everyone you know, at one time or other, probably even me, long ago.


(Chomsky on 'what people want' and 'advertising')

"You mention just in passing teenage girls if they have a free saturday afternoon they like to walk around in the shopping mall, rather than going to the library. So I found that very thought provoking. I think that many people and I would have to include myself believe that deep deep down what we all really want is material comfort for ourselves. That this is what we all want more than anything else. We may make an effort and go to the library, we may make an effort and vote, we may make an effort and go to work or even visit a sick friend or say a friendly word to someone who's in trouble but what we really would like to do is sit on a big comfortable sofa and watch an entertaining programme on a big beautiful television set and maybe have someone bring us a hot fudge sundaes or bon bons while we're watching the programme.

"That this is what people - what I'm really like, what everyone is really like. Selfish and really seeking material comfort. And that that is human nature. That is bedrock human nature and I think a lot of our political attitudes come from the fact that we think we can never get away from that, that's what we are. Now do you share that view?"

Chomsky: "Not in the least, and I think there's plenty of evidence against it. There has been a MASSIVE effort for over 100 years to try to convince people that that's what we are. It's called advertising. It's a huge industry, it's dedicated explicitly, openly, if you read the business press 100 years ago when it was taking off, to try to direct people to the superficial things of life, like fashionable consumption. Get them out of our hair by getting them involved in consumption. And huge efforts go into this.

"For example about 20 or 30 years ago the advertising industry realised that there's a sector of the population that they're not reaching because they don't have money: known as children. So then some bright guys figured we can get around this, the children don't have money but their parents do. So what we have to do is direct television programmes for children, and so on, to try to induce what's called nagging. (Laughter) This is literally the case - create nagging propaganda. By now if you look at academic applied psychology departments there is actually a programme studying different kinds of nagging and how you can induce it and if you watch children's television - I've seen this with my grandchildren - two year old kids are looking at things and they're being induced to try and get your parents to get me this thing or else I'm gonna die, you know and so on, and then the parents get it and you throw it away in five minutes.

"But every aspect of our life is devoted to this. My wife and I were taken by a friend a couple of weeks ago to see the pre-season baseball - spring training. And you take a look at the stadium, every inch is covered with an ad. I mean I remember the first baseball game I went to it was in the 1930s, there were no ads. Now every inch is an ad, every taxicab you look at is an ad, every minute of your life is inundated with efforts to turn you into the kind of person you're describing, so is that human nature? I don't think so.

"So take a look at these Trump voters again, so these working class people in let's say rural towns, manufacturing towns in Arkansas, and take a listen to what they're saying. These are men who want to work in coal mines which is not fun rather than to take a government handout. They don't want to sit on the couch and be given a government handout. That undermines their sense of dignity, their self worth, of doing something significant. And I think that's what people are.

"If you go back further there's plenty of evidence for it. There's a wonderful study, a huge study of the reading habits of the British working class in the late 19th Century. Jonathan Rose, very detailed study. What were British workers reading? Turns out they were better educated than the aristocrats. In say Eastern Massachusetts, Boston where I live, an Irish blacksmith, if he could make enough money would hire a boy to read to him while he was working. And I can remember this from childhood in the 1930s, most of my family were immigrants, first generation unemployed working class and they were quite educated, many of them didn't go to school, you know maybe fourth grade, but they read, they went to concerts, they went to Shakespeare plays, they talked about it, they were interested in politics - I think it's taken huge efforts to try to drive all this out of people's heads, I think the natural thing for humans is to want to be independent, creative, I mean maybe you work on fixing up old cars in your garage on the weekend instead of sitting and watching television, whatever it may be, you want to do something that's significant, that's worthwhile, even if it's an ugly horrible job like working on a coal mine instead of taking a government handout, because people I think want dignity and a sense of self worth and a sense of creating and doing something important - that's what we are, and I think it's taken huge efforts, enormous efforts, a huge part of the economy is devoted to trying to drive these things out of people's heads, to make you think that all you want is more commodities and so you should go shopping instead of reading, let's say."

Interviewer: "So that most people, by this account, really have been unnaturally squashed into being something much much smaller than they could be or they should be"

Chomsky: "And want to be. In fact it's pretty interesting - there's good studies of the working class press in the early industrial revolution, in England it's earlier, in the United States it would be mid 19th century, late 19th century. There's a very lively working class press, a lot of it written by young women. Young women from the farms, called 'factory girls' who ran their own newspapers. There's a lot of material on it, it's pretty interesting: what they wanted was dignity. They hated the industrial system because it was destroying their rights as independent people, they attacked what sometimes they called the slogan - they denounced the slogan "gain wealth, forgetting all but self" - in other words the kind of person that you think we all are, that we're taught we all are, that's what they were condemning, we don't want to just gain wealth forgetting all but self, we want dignified independent lives. They regarded wage labour as not very different from slavery. It was such a popular idea that it was the slogan of the Republican party, literally, Abraham Lincoln and so on. Because you're selling yourself, if you're a wage labourer. If you sell something you created, let's say you're an artisan and you make something and you sell it, you're not selling yourself, if you sell your labour you're selling yourself, you're losing your dignity and independence, it's an attack on your fundamental rights.

"These are themes that run right through the spontaneous productions of mostly (what we call) uneducated working class people. It was the same in England before us and I think it's the same elsewhere. You talk about human nature - I think we're talking about something that's constructed and contrived with enormous effort, conscious effort. In the television industry there's what's called content and fill. The content is the ads, the fill is the car chase that you pull off the shelf to keep people watching between the ads. And if you just watch television you can see that the creativity, the thought, the funding and so on is going into the ads, not into the fill. And in the newspaper industry there's what they call the 'news hole'. So you lay out the news paper: first you get all the ads, that's what matters, then there's this news hole where you can put in things to keep people watching. This is literally 100s of millions of dollars a year, a huge part of the economy goes into this.

"An interesting aspect of this which is kind of interestingly not studied very much has to do with basic economics. So anyone who took an economics course or who reads about it knows that a market economy is supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices, that's what we're told our economy is. Turn on the television set and take a look at the content, the ads - are they trying to create informed consumers making rational choices? I mean if we had a market economy, if there was an ad it would be an announcement by say Ford motor company: 'here are the characteristics of the cars we're introducing next year and here's what consumer review says about them.' That would create informed consumers making rational choices. It's not what you see. There's huge efforts to try to create irrational consumers, uninformed consumers making irrational choices, to undermine market economies and to turn people into people who even believe that what they want is to sit on a couch and watch television, but it's not what they want - as human beings."