Television commercials frustrate me. I don’t even own a television anymore, but I still stream football and basketball games on my MacBook, so I can’t escape all TV ads.
The culture we choose to allow around us teaches us what “normal” behavior is like in that culture. We’re rarely conscious of this, but culture shapes what children will become and it reinforces those cultural norms for adults.
Before mass media existed, we learned from the behavior of family, friends, associates and strangers around us. But once mass media arrived, that role was increasingly filled by movies, popular music, television shows — and now by social media.
Television commercials are one of the most important components of that culture. Huge companies pay smart and talented people a lot of money to manipulate us — to make us want to give them our money. They don’t necessarily intend to define what the culture is, but they do. In part, they define the culture and, in part, they also reflect what certain cultural elites force them to project.
Since I avoid most of what popular culture has become — because I believe the culture has become dangerously dysfunctional — it’s often jarring to encounter it. And I’ve been feeling that way lately when I see the “normal families” in these commercials.
When I was younger, I watched television just as much as other typical Americans. I saw enough programs — and watched enough commercials — that I wasn’t as aware back then of just how much these commercials shape our views of the society around us.
But now that I see so little of this mass medium, what I do see strikes me as artful dishonesty. Even the commercials feel like a contrived effort to reflect a reality which doesn’t exist and never will exist. Those ads feel like a balancing act by ad execs to placate “social justice warriors” while still finding a way to manipulate people into spending money.
The families in commercials rarely feel like real families to me. The still image above is from a commercial I saw today for a financial investment company. The beautifully shot scenes are supposed to reflect the good life experienced by a typical family which has let this company manage its money.
But the people feel like a collection of actors whose ethnic looks are balanced in a way to avoid looking like any particular kind of family. There’s nothing wrong with ethnically mixed families — and they do happen — but there seems to be a conscious desire to show anything but typical families.
Are they white? Asian? Hispanic? If you look at the commercial, you see different actors who are kinda, sorta everything possible in a vaguely light-skinned group of people.
And I’ve noticed an odd tendency — especially from high-end auto brands — to cast their family members with black actors and instruct them to imitate what they assume rich white suburban people must act like.
These sorts of commercials end up seeming like a parody of rich white people — played by black actors — acting in ways that I’ve never even seen from the real-life rich white folks I know. But such commercials allow the companies to say, “See? We’re diverse. We’re not just assuming the people who can afford our vehicles are white.”
I’m all in favor of companies marketing toward whoever their customers really are — rich or poor, white or black, straight or gay — but there seems to be a bizarre effort to mix and match what we see in ways that will be acceptable to political activists, not necessarily to real customers.
More and more, the families I see — and the groups of friends I see — in television commercials seem more like conscious efforts to dictate what political activists on the left want reality to be. What I see doesn’t reflect much of the reality I see in the real world. It feels jarring and it feels wrong. It feels like an attempt to shape a society through social and political pressure from unaccountable activists.
I was telling someone last week that I’m still not sure what I am, but he initially understood me to say that I don’t know who I am. To me, those are two very different things.
I’ve spent years thinking deeply about who I am. The question is actually very complicated and I suspect most people never give it serious thought. But I feel confident that I know myself to a decent degree.
What I’m still not clear about is what I am — by which I mean, what am I in relation to this culture in which I live?
What role do I play in this society? Where do I fit? How well do I integrate into what is normal in my culture? And do I want to integrate into that culture?
To use Howard Bloom’s memorable categories — from his book, “The Lucifer Principle” — it’s clear that most people in every stable culture are “conformity enforcers,” but that’s not me. I’m among the much-smaller group that Bloom terms as “diversity generators,” which he says are necessary to keep societies from stagnation. (He also points out that most diversity generators are ultimately going to fail, but the few who succeed will change everything.) But how do I specifically fill that role? That’s the part I’m still working out.
I don’t like the people I see in a lot of television commercial right now, because these characters feel dishonest to me. The roles feel forced. They don’t feel like reflections of reality as I understand it. They seem like reflections of the reality which political activists want to manipulate us into becoming.
More and more, I understand why some groups with values which are different from this dysfunctional culture try to keep their members from interacting with modern mass media. It’s not necessarily because they’re bigoted rubes who are stupid and backwards. Some of them might be, but for many of them, the issue is far more basic.
They have a vision of truth which they want their members to accept and emulate — and they’re smart enough to understand that their members will always gravitate toward emulating what’s modeled by the dysfunctional mainstream culture if exposed to this powerful medium.
Do you want to be like the mainstream culture? Do you like the values that are increasingly infiltrating from the political and social left? Is this what you want your children to believe and how you want them to behave?
If you keep allowing the mass media of this dysfunctional culture to have access to you and to your children, you’re going to be assimilated or destroyed. An individual can choose to become what the culture dictates — or he or she can consciously choose different values instead.
I’m not comfortable with the values and the direction of this dysfunctional culture. I’m still trying to figure out precisely how to effectively oppose that dysfunction and how to promote a healthier alternative. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I am in relation to the powerful forces that are pushing us off a cliff.
But I’m absolutely certain that if you continue to pollute your mind with the mass media of this culture, you will be assimilated by an evil which you won’t even recognize until it’s too late.