Archive for April, 2009

Protein, pastries, and Plato.

April 28, 2009

Under the terms of my month-long advertising purge, I can no longer drink milk or eat peanuts. I have also been forced to break my longstanding Subway sandwich habit cold turkey (ba dum ching).

At this point, I’m tempted to shield my eyes every time I pass a billboard, just to preserve a few pleasures. Over the weekend I was walking in my Brooklyn neighborhood with my love when I saw a hand-painted sign announcing that there would soon be a flea market.

“Ooo, let’s go,” said my part fashion-queen, part shopaholic, all butch companion.

“I can’t go now that I’ve seen that!” I wailed, pointing to the sign.

“But that’s not advertising,” she objected. And after a few moments of further deliberation, I was sure she was right (whew! now I can continue my hunt for the perfect sailor dress under $10). What I wasn’t sure about was precisely why this wasn’t advertising. Today I referred to the trusty Oxford English Dictionary, where “advertise” is defined as:

To give public notice of, to make publicly known, or call attention to, by a published announcement in a journal, by a circular, etc., as ‘to advertise the resolutions of a meeting’; and with various elliptical constructions, as ‘to advertise goods (for sale), a child or ring (as lost),’ etc.

Highly unsatisfying. Advertising is much more than a public announcement, and journals and circulars aren’t the half of it. And the phrase “various elliptical constructions,” while humorous, does little to convey the power of slogans (not to mention images, music, etc) routinely used to sell products.

I found this somewhat more thorough definition in the Answers.com Marketing Dictionary:

[To] appeal to a mass audience through the communications media for the purpose of calling attention to a product, service, idea, or organization so as to arouse a desire to purchase or patronize, to give information or to modify the thinking about, to promote the concept of, to motivate behavior toward, or otherwise to persuade the general public to buy, approve, or support the product, service, idea, or organization.

Yes. Advertising seeks to modify our thinking and our behavior. It is not an educational announcement (like the flea market sign), because it’s aim is not merely to inform. It’s aim is to persuade, to create a new understanding, a new reality — one in which the product is irresistible.

To get a little philosophical on your proverbial asses: advertising is rhetoric.

Did anyone else love Plato’s Gorgias as much as I did? In these dialogues, Plato explores the difference between philosophers (who seek truth) and rhetoricians (who seek to persuade, irrespective of truth). Plato likens rhetoricians to pastry bakers: both produce something that is compelling to the senses but which has no real substance or value — no truth. Plato (or Socrates, the real-life character in whose voice Plato writes) felt that rhetoric was a destructive force — one which was chipping away at the foundations of democracy in Athens — and he committed himself to maintaining “purity of mind and soul.” It was Socrates’s insistence on truth that led to his eventual execution.

You read it here first, folks: no pastries = death.

On that note, I’m off to lunch, to find food I can still eat from a restaurant or grocery I can still eat from. Wish me luck!

Advertisements

How my mother made me love my body.

April 23, 2009

My mother’s mother was anorexic.  As my mom grew, her body became a site for my grandma’s own disgust and self-hatred.

My mom could never eat little enough or wear girdles tight enough to please her.  My grandma’s stinging criticisms and insults diminished my mom’s ability to enjoy food.  Made her worry more, enjoy her body less.

My mom pledged to break the cycle with her own daughter.  Though she dieted constantly and continued to revile her own body, my mother told me I was beautiful throughout my childhood.  And not just that I was beabodyutiful now, at a certain moment, at a particular size and shape — but that I had always been, and would always be, beautiful.

I didn’t believe it, of course.  Our culture scrutinizes women’s bodies, and I scrutinized my own.  I hated my thighs.  I hated the shape of my hips.  I hated my small breasts.

I became transfixed by the images of women I found in magazines.  I wanted to unlock the secrets of their beauty.  At one point, I literally measured the dimensions of these models — both their bodies and their faces.  After careful calculation, I concluded I wasn’t beautiful — no matter what my mother told me.

Over the years, I have slowly, slowly become comfortable with myself. Being femme and performing femininity has allowed me to see my body a site of creativity and social commentary; sex has played a complicated but ultimately essential role in establishing my body as my home.  And my sense of my own worth and my own beauty has increasingly come to rest on my internal values rather than on external sources of validation.

Ultimately, this is what my mother taught me: bodies are beautiful because they are human.  Because everyone scars differently.  Because there are twenty-six bones in a foot.  Because you sing using muscle.  Because of the mystery of an itch, and the relief of scratching it.  Because round and flat and light and dark and large and small can all be gorgeous.  Because they’re even more gorgeous if you use your hands. Because contractions are shapeshifters that bring pain, laughter, and ecstasy.

Because we live here.  Because we love here.

Thank you, mom, for this gift you have given me.  I take care of my body, tend to it as carefully as you do your garden.  I give it air, good food, water, touch, light.  You once carried my body in your own body, gave me life.  It is with joy that I am in your debt.

On Skittles and consumer consciousness.

April 20, 2009

It was the day after tax day and I was in need of a good sugar high.  I was just about to tear into a package of the new “Crazy Core” Skittles when I remembered: Taste the rainbow.

My experiment this month — to not purchase anything I’ve ever seen advertised — is proving to be rather galling.  A large proportion of the products I routinely buy — everything from toothpaste to facial cleanser to toilet paper — I have seen advertised.  Seriously, try to find a single brand of deodorant you haven’t seen promoted, pushed, and propagandized!

In resisting the siren song of Victoria’s Secret sales (30% off any item — why now?!), I debated whether my experiment covered only the specific items I’d seen advertised (i.e. the Perfect One™ bra) or the entire brand.  Ultimately, though, I knew that every advertisement creates an image of both the particular product and the company as a whole, so I decided that if want to do this thing right, I will to have to avoid the whole shebang (or shebrand).  Sadly, this eliminates many of my clothing shopping options — perhaps I should look into some creative alternatives such as the one shown here?

skittles-prom3

An experiment.

April 15, 2009
Dentyne does its part to fuck with the minds of Millenials.

Dentyne, doing its part to fuck with the minds of Millennials.

I was sitting on the subway this morning, once again trying to ignore the advertisements for beer (you’ll be sexy if you drink this), candy (you’ll have more fun if you eat this), and gum (you’ll be less lonely if you chew this), when I decided my project for the month:

I will attempt to not purchase anything I have ever seen advertised.

One tricky part will be trying to remember what I’ve seen advertisements for and what I haven’t.  After all, Advertising is everywhere.  Ads on television.  Ads on the radio.  Ads flooding your mailbox.  Ads in magazines and journals and newspapers.  Ads on billboards above roads and factories and empty fields.  Ads painted onto the sides of skyscrapers.  Ads dancing and blinking and popping up and invading every corner of the internet.

But even if I don’t succeed at the task, I think the process will help me gain awareness of what I purchase and what goes into each decision.  I don’t really believe that pure freedom exists in consumer societies, but I do think that we can create room for awareness and defiance.  That is the goal of my little experiment.