Adversiting: the Biggest Mind-Fuck Ever

In Ruckus [Vol. 7, Iss. 5, March 2004]

An average of three-thousand commercial messages a day. Never before in the twisted and irredeemable history of mankind have our minds been confronted with such a gargantuan experiment in psychology as advertising. Never before have our little brains had to digest, sort, filter and discard such a constant barrage of non-information. Or, more accurately, ‘anti-information’. Let’s face it: advertisements are mostly lies.

You probably don’t even notice the way the volume jumps up 20% on your TV each time the ads come on, or the way the colors suddenly become more saturated and brighter (just like that new brand of washing powder you’ve really been meaning to try out!). Your kids, on the other hand, probably are paying attention. A suite of psychological research has shown convincingly that children – under the age of eight or so – are totally incapable of distinguishing between what constitutes advertising and information. Surely our friends in the PR departments of McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Marlboro would never think to take advantage of that, now wouldthey? Advertising, you may be thinking, is simply part of WesternLife™.

But there are many kinds of ads, in many shapes and sizes, and all try to pass themselves off as information. Walk around Yangon, the capital of Myanmar (formerly Burma) at any hour on any day, and you’ll find yourself confronted every five blocks with ear-splitting propaganda exalting the all-round goodwill and general excellence of the corrupt military dictatorship. Outside
Myanmar’s cities, large billboards have happy feel-good slogans like: “People of Myanmar, Unite and Crush All Those who Oppose Our Union!” At least the citizens of Myanmar, thanks to the foresight of their unelected leadership (the elected one is always either in jail or under close house arrest) don’t have to worry about printer cartridge and viagra® spam in their e-mail, since the country boasts exactly zero-point-zero civilian internet connections.

The coin landed trademark-up further north, in the isolated mountain kingdom of Sikkim, where television was introduced in 1999. Lie back and relax. 100% non-interaction guaranteed. Soak up the steady stream of pictures and sounds. Ahhhh, the ultimate source of unidirectional ‘information’ flow. And you wonder how most of the world ends up with such a distorted view of what the Western life – our life, the real life, the good life – is like. “Since 1999, we can watch MTV and many series from America and that tells us a lot about other young people around the world” said 24-year-old Zangmo Tsering, a girl in tight-fitting western clothes, sipping imported beer, that I met outside a nightclub in the tiny Himalayan state. I could barely hear her over the steady ‘oomph’ of raging Dutch techno music in the background, while Kangchenjunga – the world’s third-highest mountain – loomed impassively and undeterred overhead.

Of course, the very same media that are used to subversively and overtly manipulate the minds of the oppressed and consumers alike are also the very same stuff that revolutions, free and critical thinking, and your copy of Ruckus are made of. This is exactly the question we tackle in this month’s issue: where does information end and the mind-f@#king begin?

Is eternal vigilance, then, the true price of ‘freedom’? Is that the lesson to be learnt from the past century, and even more strongly the beginning of the present one? You would do well to note the quotation marks™. They are forever becoming harder to spot.

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