Are you immune to received images?


Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Warner Bros., 1971

From Monthly Review:

It was a half century ago, in 1963, that I first entered the world of commercial advertising. Only then did I personally grasp the nature and power of moving-image media. I realized it’s possible to create and project purposeful images into millions of brains at the same time, and to get people to view and believe things in the way you wanted them to. I loved that at least, at first. It was lively and fun and brought a sense of omnipotence.

Advertising people don’t talk about it much, but as a group they generally accept that if they had sufficient funds, they would have the ability to enter and redesign human consciousness according to commercial intention, and that the whole process of injecting imagery has transformative capabilities. And since it can also change worldviews, the process should ultimately be understood as potentially deeply political, with great powers of persuasion and influence, concerning not only products but also political philosophies and choices. Neil Postman was right in Amusing Ourselves to Death: “Advertising is the most important subject we don’t discuss and that we do nothing about.” This is especially so now that advertising has taken on such a huge role in political campaigning and the information movement.

Most people, especially if they are well educated, still believe that advertising (or television, for that matter) has no effect on them or on their beliefs. Their intelligence protects them against invasive imposed imagery, even when an image is repeated a hundred times in their heads. People believe in their immunity even though the imagery does not actually communicate through the language of logic or contemplation. Images ride a freeway into your brain and remain there permanently. No thought is involved. Every advertiser knows this. As a viewer, you may sometimes say, “I don’t believe this,” but the image remains anyway.

My late partner in the advertising business, Howard Gossage, spoke frequently to audiences about “the dirty little secret” among advertisers: that their silly superficial meaningless trivial imagery nonetheless goes into your brain and doesn’t come back out. “It doesn’t matter how observant or intelligent you are,” he said. If you are watching television, you will absorb the images. Once the image is embedded, it is permanently embedded. You cannot get rid of it.

“If you don’t think so,” said Gossage, “how come if I say ‘Jolly Green Giant’ most people will instantly get a picture in their heads of this huge green character wearing green leotards, selling peas?” Of course you do. Well, actually, maybe you don’t. Gossage was speaking in the 1960s.

But contemporary examples abound: How about images of a giant gecko? Did you think of Geico insurance? How about the Taco Bell chihuahua? Or Ronald McDonald? Or the Energizer Bunny? Or that M&M candy that doesn’t want to be wrapped around a pretzel? Did you know you were carrying all these images around in your head?

The effects of this stream of invading images apply as much to noncommercial images as they do to commercial—Donald Trump? Glenn Beck? Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Sarah Palin? Oh God, get those people out of my head.

“Privatization of Consciousness”, Jerry Mander, Monthly Review