I’m reading (laboriously) Americana, the first novel published by Don deLillo after he quit writing copy at Ogilvy and Mather New York, and started writing about the stuff more immediately around him: television, consumerism, screens, images, America.
On particular passage gave me pause:
“The TV set is a package and it’s full of products. Inside are detergents, automobiles, cameras, breakfast cereal, other television sets…”
“How does a successful television commercial affect the viewer?”
“It makes him want to change the way he lives.”
“In what way?”
“It moves him from first person consciousness to third person. In this country there is a universal third person, the man we all want to be. Advertising has discovered this man. It uses him to express the possibilities open to the consumer. To consume in America is not to buy, but to dream. Advertising is the suggestion that the dream of entering the third person singular might possibly be fulfilled.”
Funny – de Lillo wrote this in 1971, but it still takes my breath away in (ooh, hey!) 2010.
So is that how advertising works? By inventing an imagined subjectivity – a “he” or “she” you can adopt in place of your (distasteful, probably needy, inarticulate, smelly) “I”?
I’m not sure it’s this simple. But it definitely does seem to me that when you watch, or read, or listen to commercials, you automatically become part of an audience that’s all about your shared ability to buy stuff, and that’s a kind of liberation.
I’m not sure where that leaves us, but for me it’s food for thought on an exhausted, slightly hungover, humid new year’s day.