When the Consumer Becomes the Consumed

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Jerry Mander is founder and distinguished fellow of the International Forum on Globalization, and was called “patriarch of the anti-globalization movement” by the New York Times. His early career was as president of a commercial ad agency, and then later, non-profit political advertising with Public Media Center, which concentrated on environmental and anti-war work. His previous books include Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978), In the Absence of the Sacred (1991), The Case Against the Global Economy (1996)and Alternatives to Economic Globalization (2002). This article is reprinted from Chapter 10 of his new book, The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (Copyright © 2012 by Jerry Mander).

Is advertising legal? Most people agree that it is an uninvited intrusion into our lives and our minds, an invasion of privacy. But the fact that we can be aware of this without being furious, and that we do little to change the situation, is a good measure of our level of submission. There is a power relationship in advertising that is rarely, if ever, looked at, and yet it is a profoundly corrupt one. Some speak; others listen.

A. J. Liebling famously said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed, but only if you own one.” Freedom of speech is also guaranteed. But only if you have a few million dollars for an effective media strategy. Soapbox oratory doesn’t sway the public anymore. But the powers of advertising go well beyond the amount of money spent. The true power is in the nature of moving-image media, projected for hours every day into human brains. It’s a form of intrusion we have never before in history had to face. Even now in the Internet age, the powers of television and advertising are undiminished and insufficiently examined or discussed.

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