These paragraphs are excerpts from a paper I wrote in college about media’s effects on our body image. It was a book review I wrote on Jean Kilbourne’s “Deadly Persuasion.”
I am staring at my wall right now. I have this cute ad hanging up that says, “Eat Good. Look GREAT.” On the one side is a picture of a beautiful woman dressed like a seductive devil holding a huge slice of cheesecake. On the other side is the same beautiful woman smiling like an angel with a “Pure Protein” power bar. My roommate wrote next to it, “I’ll take the CAKE!” with a smiley face.
I am not exactly sure what this ad is promoting – the cake or the protein bar. But whichever it may be, it is not merely promoting that product. Rather, it is also sending a powerful, subliminal message that there is something wrong with us that can be fixed with a product, therefore making the manufacturers and advertisers of that product rich off our imaginary faults. Apparently we, like pawns, are willing to ignorantly, blissfully buy into the idea of a simple solution for problems we are sold….
Even so advertisers have used the mass media to get inside us, as it were, and influence the way we think about ourselves. It reminds me of pawns in a giant game of chess – the consumers being moved whichever way the great players of advertising so desire….
After taking over our mass media and gaining a significant foothold in our lives, the next step for advertisers is to create needs where there were none, in order to offer a solution for imaginary needs. As Kilbourne wrote, “it has become crucial to create artificial needs in order to sell unnecessary products” (“Deadly Persuasion” page 71). Perhaps the most potent need created is that for image. Advertisers create an illusionary, perfect image, which the consumer believes is possible to obtain through buying the correct products.
After they have manufactured an illlusory image and broadcast it throughout society, the advertisers create products which will allow the consumer to botain this unattainable perfection. After successfully creating a need, the advertisers have a huge money-making opportunity to fulfill that need through products of their choosing.
One of the most obvious examples of this need for image is found in women’s quests for a perfect outward appearance. Women across the nation are brainwashed into believing they must be perpetually young and thin, with a flawless complexion, in order to obtain the heavily advertised image of perfection. When I look around and see heartbroken women searching for yet another product to give her that image, I know that the deadly game of chess is already underway. Advertisers want us, as the consumers, to believe that perfection IS possible if we just try hard enough and buy the right products. And then, as our lives are crushed in an effort to reach manufactured perfection, they prosper with their billion-dollar industries. And so the diet and cosmetic industries strike it rich each year from women desperately trying to attain something completely manufactured and unattainable.
Why don’t we see right through this scheme? Why are we convinced that we must obtain this image? Because we believe what we have been told: that we need the image in order to be loved. The advertisers hit on the core desire of our hearts and create artificial means to fulfill those longings, which is why many people buy into their propaganda without thinking twice.
Advertisers offer products as a way to meet our relational needs… Recently I was watching a TV show that made this concept crystal clear to me… One lady, upon losing her job and feeling as though her life was falling apart, walked away from a conversation she was having with her husband and said, “I’m going to go talk to my food.” I was shocked to hear that and see such blatant irony on a TV show… That was exactly what Kilbourne (in “Deadly Persuasion”) wrote about. People are sold products to fulfill their desire for relationship – safe products that won’t disappoint them, leave them, or hurt them.
Yet this mentality comes with a twist of irony, as Kilbourne points out with her ever-present humorous sarcasm. Turning to a product for relationship actually shuts the true relationships out of our lives. The woman on the TV show WALKED AWAY from her husband and their meaningful conversation to “talk to her food,” which, of course, will never talk back… Ironically, the product sold as our simple solution for relational needs ends up isolating us….
Do we really believe that these products are offering a quick, painless fix? Society has become so lazy that we think every solution should be quick and easy… Advertisers do not sell us a depressing image, otherwise no one would buy into it… Mass media has created an expectation that all of life should be perpetually entertaining and fun. Everything from dire news to schoolwork to our jobs to our home life should be constantly exciting and enjoyable. Even so, ads are created as though in an entertaining, beautiful, amusing, easy dreamworld, so far from reality it is hard to understand why we ever believe it….
When a society is convinced that life should be effortless, perpetually enjoyable and fun, they turn to products for their answers. And then their lives can become like pawns in the hands of advertisers. If ads say all you need is this shampoo, this foundation, this diet patch, or this alcohol, consumers will snatch it up desperately.
The way in which society responds to advertising reminds me of the warning in Ephesians 4:14, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” If I could change the words to better apply in this scenario, I would say, “I wish that our society would no longer be like ignorant pawns, moved wherever the advertisers wish, swayed with every offer of a new product to help solve an artificial problem, no longer persuaded by deceitful promises that will not be kept or by slogans that are lies.”
It is a sorry state in which we find ourselves, so easily influenced by people we have never even seen, by promises we know will not be kept, by images we realize are computer generated….
Seeing the reality and irony of the situation…made me quite depressed… My mind was bursting with the questions, “So what now? What do I do with this? Is there hope, or is this all we are left with?”
I am exceedingly grateful that Jean Kilbourne…proposed several solutions…such as education…, encouraging public health leaders to become involved, using counter-advertising (to provide correct information and de-glamorize products), limiting TV-watching in our homes, and banning political advertising, among other things. She also suggested media education and media literacy…
I realized from this book that we must become aware of the effects of advertising, spread the awareness, and begin to take back our lives and not be swayed by illusionary images of perfection. We must realize the impossibility of attaining the image propagated by advertisers, recognize the lies behind the promise of products meeting our needs, and realize that there is no simple, easy solution to life’s problems. If we fail to do these things, we will remain as mere pawns in the multi-billion dollar game of “Advertising Chess,” as I would call it.