How to Kill Our Common Sense
For a long time, I´ve held the idea that We the Species were fairly fortunate that all the majority of advertising was meant to do is sell stuff.
Because of the relentless assault on our senses from practically every angle imaginable, the names and associated IP are imprinted indelibly in the minds of billions: Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple, DisneyMarvelABCESPNStarWars...buy it, eat it, watch it, wear it, use it, love it, all time every time, never miss a chance to do it.
YOU. NOW. GO.
With zero lol, you couldn't forget the McDonald´s jingle if you tried...much capital was invested ensuring that. If you´ve ever idly wondered why pro athletes (rightfully) command such high salaries for their talents, it´s because they produce advertisement delivery platforms, the content that goes between commercials.
For this consumer, the approach calls to mind being installed in the Catholic Church as a child. You see, I mostly lived in my head for the first decade and a half or so, resulting in some crystal clear recollections of having some of the earliest girders of my worldview tilted into place. Oh yes, that´s me, the freshly shorn half-pint with an oversized grin plastered on half the head ballooning out of his little uniform shirt. Slacks ironed ever so crisply, taps clicking reverently on the marble floors of the gilded cathedral towering contemptuously over some shithole residential area.
The only thing more vivid than the memories of the scenery are my memories of the service itself.
Even to this day, some 20 years removed from my last scheduled appointment at a religious service, I remember my lines in the Eucharist as well as I do my Social Security number...fitting in a way, since they
were both effectively stamped on my person at birth:
"...and also with you."
"...we lift them up to the Lord."
"...it is right to give Him thanks and praise.”
(If I had learned to say the same kind of stuff in Arabic as a child, it would probably be called ¨brainwashing,¨ but I probably shouldn't post that...it's why I put it in parentheses, these words don´t count.)
Even today my natural speech patterns--the unfiltered, offhand verbiage that I employ in my everyday life, I mean, who the fuck actually talks like this in their speaking voice--include direct references to the Christian faith and its storyline savior, like ¨Jesus Christ,¨ ¨oh my God,¨ and ¨2020.¨
Suffice it to say, the advertising stuck in my mind.
Today, I would not describe myself as religious, not even a little (after all, [gestures broadly at everything]), but my mind, the actual processor that synthesizes information to inform the decisions that keep me alive, carries a thin coat of Christianity for which I have not quite found the turpentine. That´s some wild shit, if you think about it.
Now, I always preface these grand unified theories with the caveat that my life has only recently entered its 4th decade, which means I have only 32+ years experience breathing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has more expertise in the field of medicine, and specifically the study of infectious disease, than I do in literally any human activity...people still do not take him at his word, so I suppose I don't expect you to automatically accept any of my evaluations.
I get that now.
...but having typed all that, it is my firm belief that we are vastly underestimating the effect that ideological advertising run amok is having in our society.
Between agents of chaos like the minds behind QAnon and massive social media psyops like Parler, to the lukewarm mitigation efforts of mainstream information outlets and oh right, a crumbling education system that leaves many of its products without functional critical thinking tools, the cracks in the dam that keep our world from being inundated in idiocy are growing unsettlingly fast.
This fully formed marketplace of bad ideas is filled with dangerous, broken toys that drip with corrosion and stab at the mind with rusty points. The scraps and shards of twisted truth are the building blocks for elaborate systems of flawed belief, as proud and strong as they are loud and wrong. Here we have a significant contingent of countrymen who believe that President Donald John Trump, a man who walks in on teenagers dressing, has publicly expressed a desire to bang his daughter, and boasts of grabbing women by their genitals, is working tirelessly in secret to #savethechildren.
That is about as insane as literally believing that once upon a time a hundred year old man used his own two hands and Stone Age technology to build a giant boat that save two of every Pokémon from a global flood. It is demonstrably false. Show me a single living Pokémon. You can´t...checkmate.
And yet there are those who believe it with all their heart. Would die--have died--in its defense.
Indeed, the very foundations of understanding are damaged; we no longer agree on the color of the sky.
Fact is, this isn't something we get to turn off overnight, by the flip of a calendar, or...possibly...ever.
These are people that had fully formed adult lives when the Internet came out...there are people who went from a 9-5 and mortgage payments to chasing down a politician´s tour bus like a teenybopper in just a few years of running with the wrong crowd.
Still, given the effectiveness of a well-designed ad campaign, it´s easy to understand how the post-truth mindset, potent and pervasive, has captured the imagination of an population: effective advertisement. Those sketchy sources on social media. Those targeted YouTube ads. The cool little logos and catchphrases. Guerilla marketing campaigns in their rawest form.
Even a bad idea promoted well can crawl into every wrinkle of your brain, each little deposit spawning its own disturbing permutations like a virus mutating in the body, a torturous chorus echoing in a person´s every thought, word, and deed. A killer hook, if you will. In a world where we can customize our content to our interests, it also becomes possible to funnel ideas directly to a segment of society. To reinforce them at every juncture, to make them part of our very processing. To put an idea at the core of what it means for a person to live. To remake a mind in a defined design.
That shit does not scrub off easily.
One thing I quickly understood from years of watching pro wrestling--or reading ¨1984,¨ if that's a more scholarly-seeming cultural reference--is that things do not necessarily need to be as they appear as long as there is shared belief among all parties involved.
The idea of a thing is what makes a human being´s heart beat faster. Advertising is all-consuming.
To be sure, this truth could not have come into full bloom could not have come at a more inconvenient time.
With threats to our civilization from COVID to climate change to crony capitalism and every form of instability and peril in between, drastic changes in the direction of the society we share will require we all take the wheel and steer in the same direction. At the moment, we have a lot of work before we can even agree that there is a road.
Hell, a car.
I don't mean to say that social media, our ability to advertise ideas across continents and cultures, is an inherently bad thing...in fact, it still has the potential to be the most beneficial discovery in human history.
Much like nuclear power, a similarly high-risk, high-reward resource, the Internet and the cultures it contains could develop into a singularly illuminating resource...or actual cancer.
Which way that goes is entirely up to us.
Lord have mercy.