Our discussion on advertising reminded me of the Culture Industry and its role in gender socialization and gender advertising.
Culture Industry is the term first coined by Adorno and Horkheimer is their book “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, published in 1947. The authors expand the ideas of Marx and Weber on alienation and rationalization, they state that alienation underwent a transformation in the 20th century to take a form of the production of culture that is designed to keep us consuming and alienated. The culture of consumerism, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, is designed to make the consumer happy. We produce products that are the same (rationalization idea that was taken from Weber) and we express our individuality by consuming virtually the same products, this leads to lack of fulfillment and keeps us alienated. This lack of fulfillment and the fact the most of the products produced are disposable ensures that we keep consuming. The sameness of the products produced perpetuates stereotypical thinking – we know what we are getting and this eliminated the need for thinking and choice. The culture industry is designed to keep us away from each other (we need to communicate less and less), creates false identity defined by the products we consume and often don’t need.
Although not explicitly stated in their book, the same ideas can be applied to “Beauty Industry” that keeps women focused on how they look and what products they need to buy instead of sexism, patriarchy, and inequality.
Adorno, Horkheimer and other thinkers of the Frankfurt school (writing in 1940s-1960s) often criticized various forms of media (such as film, magazines, visual art) for being the carriers of the Culture Industry and they considered other forms of expression “pure”. For example, in his essay “Note on dialectic” Marcuse wrote the following about poetry: “Poetry is thus the power ‘de nier les choses’ (to deny the things) — the power which Hegel claims, paradoxically, for all authentic thought”. Was he right about poetry being somehow purer than other art forms in that it cannot be corrupted, presented outside of its original context and used for manipulation? I think the world of advertising advanced and polluted all forms of expression.
Below are four examples of Levi’s commercials that use poetry for advertising jeans. You can replace jeans with bras, shoes, lipstick, etc. I chose these because they are very good at what they do – they catch viewer’s attention and elicit a specific emotional state in a way that only a poetry can, by watching these it is easy to understand how we are manipulated by advertising without realizing it.
This commercial for Levi’s jeans features a poem written by Erin Swanson of the Wieden + Kennedy ad agency. This poem was specifically written for this commercial and it does a great job of provoking a state of support, self-confidence, and reassurance (something that we all seek) while attempting to convince us that all these are manifested in a pair of pants we wear.
This is a pair of Levi’s, buttons and rivets and pockets and cuffs, and the thread that holds it together.
When the road gets rough and the sky gets jumpy and the stars start falling on top of your head and the waves start breaking against your legs;
It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your dreams.
It’s the sole in your feet that keep the beat;
You’re gonna be great, you’re gonna be great, you’re gonna be great;
You’re gonna find the cure, you’re gonna be famous, you’re gonna be shameless.
Spittin’ seeds in the wind, tap dancing with your shoe laces pinned, to the back of a bus at the end of the road, at the bottom of the ninth, with a crown on your head
You’re a queen, you’re a king, you’re the solo act in a sold out show at a six-story stadium, and you’re proud, you’re a hero! You got a hero’s grip. Swingin’ by a single stitch. You follow your heart, follow the leader, you’re the leader;
Are you joking, are you breaking, are you shaking? You’re the next living leader of the world. You’re a kid. Holding onto the thread. That holds it together.
This is a pair of Levi’s
2. The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski
This is an original poem written by Charles Bukowski in early 1990s. Henry Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was a German –born American author and poet. In this poem, he tells us to recognize that our life belongs to us and we should overcome passivity and give ourselves a chance. The poem evokes emotional states of hope, positivity, courage, and empowerment. And, coupled with the commercial, makes us associate these feelings with … wearing jeans.
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
3. America by Walt Whitman
Directed by Cary Fukunaga for Wieden+Kennedy, Portland using a poem by Walt Whitman. Believed to be an original wax recording of Walt Whitman reading four lines of his 1888 poem “America”. This poem speaks of qualities that most human beings (and Americans) value and desire – equality, strength, freedom, love, it evokes patriotism and pride. All we have to do is to wear Levi’s jeans and America will be that perfect idealized country of freedom and equality.
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law, and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
4. Pioneers! O, Pioneers! by Walt Whitman
Directed by M Blash for Wieden+Kennedy, using a poem by Walt Whitman. Another poem by Whitman, about pioneers, people that are fearless, that are open to new and exciting possibilities, that are explorers, people that many of us aspire to be. All we need is the right pair of jeans.
Full text can be found here