The View from Xmas 1928…er…2007…

The U.S. overclass responded to Vietnam, Watergate, the great democratic cultural quickening of the 1960s, and the economic stagflation of the 1970s by clearing its collective head and tapping a new generation of war-mongering “trickle-down” ideologues to run the state for it.

Ever since, the rich have been dancing from victory to victory, socking away ever-more cash and goodies, and creating new bubbles when old ones pop — as they inevitably do, since new elite “investments” are now usually only loosely related to the employment of proletarians.

The ensuing quarter-century poker game, though, looks like it is breaking up. The red-eyed 4:00 a.m. headache has arrived. Capital has won all the money, and even in the business system’s core selling zones, the bottom four-fifths are simply too broke to borrow any new chips. Banks and “mortgage companies” are unwilling to extend third (sub-sub-prime) “home equity” loans to those needing, once again, to “consolidate debt.” Instead, all the remaining non-elite “equity” is gone and the chits are finally hitting the fan.

Evidence of this barely deniable (hence, in the corporate media, still massively denied) reality abound. The role of this blog is not to dwell too long on the underlying political economy, but simply to pass along a special branch of the evidence on this topic.

To wit: This item from a story on the worsening implosion of corporate ad spending (itself a major indicator of trouble, as BBM growth always, always outpaces the overall economy) in the latest Advertising Age Mediaworks newsletter:

If you’re in the market for good news, keep an eye on venues for luxury advertising. “We’re seeing our bookings coming in earlier than the same time last year,” said Gina Sanders, VP-publisher, Teen Vogue. “There are no huge storm clouds we see. And at this point last year we were already aware of some non-returning business. No such issues seem to be on the horizon.”

“Our fourth quarter was up 17% in ad pages,” Ms. Sanders added. “It’s my hope that that momentum is going to carry forth into the first quarter.”

[T]he trouble with technology and automotive advertising can be increasingly offset by that familiar bright spot: luxury. “There is a new age of affluence out there,” [a Fortune magazine representative] said, citing recent account wins such as Four Seasons and Cathay Pacific Airways. “Fortune is covering the business of luxury, and I think that we will try to capture some more lifestyle advertisers.”[Advertising Age Mediaworks, December 3, 2007]

Translation: Game over. The rich have “won.”

Good luck to them (OK, not really), and to us, and to the billions who will never get a chance to default on a “consumer” loan. We’ll all need it, sooner rather than later.

Emotionomics: A Noteworthy “Revelation” of Market Totalitarianism

Capitalism’s apologists have always painted their allegedly history-ending system as the anti-thesis of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism, of course, is the sort of modern social order in which a ruling elite tries to control all aspects of life among its underlying population, especially via threats and appeals to forms of propaganda-induced unreason.

Capitalism, they say, is the opposite of totalitarian, as it is inherently not just respectful of, but actively encouraging of, the advancement of independent self-interested calculation and free choice among the masses.

Alas, they lie.

As Noam Chomsky says, in the real world, capitalists hate the kinds of competitive “markets” classically assumed by Adam Smith. Those “classic” (and purportedly still-extant) situations are simply not conducive to maximizing owners’ profits, as they tend to require price- and management-minimization. Because of these noisome pressures, amid the Great Depression of the 1870s-1890s, the overclass used its clout to launch the corporate age. Capitalism quickly became corporate capitalism.

By the 1920s, the overclass began to realize that diverting some of its bounteous new corporate cash flows into managing not just workers, but also off-the-job behavior settings could, if well and carefully done, become yet another source of ROI.

In the 1950s, accelerating movement in this direction yielded the breakthrough now known in boardrooms and business schools as “the marketing revolution.” Ever since its consolidation — most especially in the core selling zones created by a combination of early capitalist plunder and employment patterns, mid-20th-century democratic footholds, and the need to bolster the Cold War storyline — corporate capitalists have devoted ever-growing budgets to managing the realm of what we uninformed commoners still quaintly think of as our “free time.”

With this in mind, over the coming weeks, I will help you take a look at Emotionomics, a new book in which corporate consultant Dan Hill reports and muses on the growing practice of corporate “neuromarketing.”

Here’s the overall context:

Described by marketing super-guru Philip Kotler as “a revelation,” the book not only tips the hand of core big business marketing attitudes and methods, but it is indeed a “revelation” — an especially clear, not-for-public ears enunciation of the true voice of corporate capital.

Hill’s core revelation is a naked, un-self-conscious admission of the reality of market totalitarianism at the heart of corporate capitalist normalcy.

Hill, whose “blue-chip clients have included Target, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate, and Kellogg, among many others,” counsels his audience of corporate planners to once-and-for-all stop kidding themselves about the “world’s love affair with rationality”:

Breakthroughs in brain science have revealed that people are primarily emotional decision-makers…Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behavior. As a result, companies able to identify, quantify, and thereby act on achieving emotional buy-in or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that: both workers and “consumers” are objects of detailed, ongoing, essentially emotional managerial control campaigns.

As Noam Chomsky also frequently points out, big business corporations are “unaccountable private tyrannies.” These days, they are also getting increasingly clear amongst themselves about the classical nature of their tyranny: Stripped of the standard self-congratulating, self-excusing managerial jargon, this nature is nothing less than pure totalitarianism.

Beyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters

logo Adbusters is impressive in many ways. It has made some waves, and its founder and CEO Kalle Lasn has some smart things to say, such as calling advertising “brain damage” and “one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world.”

Many of Adbusters’ “spoof ads” have also been indisputably brilliant.

And, as reported in this week’s Advertising Age magazine, Adbusters has also pulled some clever pranks that underscore the purpose and workings of the commercial media. Whenever Adbusters tries to buy airtime on corporate TV for its “anti-consumption” ads, for example, it draws and then publicizes telling (if entirely predictable) replies such as this:

“Suck it up, it’s the real world,” an ABC executive is recorded angrily and loudly rejecting the pig spot a few years ago. “There’s no law that says we have to sell you time.” (Advertising Age, November 27, 2007)

100,000Finally, subscriptions to Adbusters have also now surpassed 100,000, a very substantial feat for a non-capitalist publishing effort.

Analysis

Does all this mean that Adbusters is making progress toward its stated goal, which is “to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”?

Alas, it definitely does not, and here are the major reasons why not: Continue reading “Beyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters”

The “Consumer” Insult & Its Costs

The word “consumer” is a rank capitalist bias. First used in the realm of early bourgeois economics, it debuted as a proffered substitute for the neutral term “product user” in a telling place — the 1898 Sears & Roebuck catalog (see Oxford English Dictionary).

Since 1898, “consumer” has spread like wildfire through our mental world. The effects have been insidiously devastating to rationality.

A typical illustration appears today on the independent socialist website MR Zine, in the form of a poem:

The New Monastics
by Dennis Brutus

Tall black-shadowed cypresses
slender beside arcaded cloisters:
thus were monastic enterprises:
now with our new doctrines
secular-consumerist we bend
with similar devoutness in service
to our modern pantheon —
Bretton Woods, its cohort deities
— World Bank, IMF, WTO —
diligently we recite
We have loved, o lord, the beauty of your house
and the place where your glory dwells”
“Amen” we chorus in unison
as ordered by our Heads of State
obediently we traipse to our slaughterhouse
directed by our Judas-goats
Mbeki’s herds tricked out in shabby rags
discarded by imperialist gauleiters
who devised our Neepad subjugation

ActionAid Economic Justice course,
Kenyan School of Monetary Studies
Nairobi, November 26, 2007


This poem by Dennis Brutus was posted to Debate, a discussion list of the independent left in Southern Africa, today.

I replied at MR Zine as follows:

Here you see the logical effect of the word “consumer.” It turns the problem into “we,” to the complete delight of the overclass, who disappear in its generalizing, mis-directing wake. Every time somebody chalks corporate capitalism up to “consumerism” or “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” a Robber Baron laughs his/her ass off… “Consumer” is an insult, a capitalist bias run rampant and roughshod over our discourses. It blinds us. The correct term, if and when you need to denote the targets of corporate marketing as such, is “product user.”

If humanity survives the twenty-first century, the triumph of the word “consumer” in the twentieth century will be seen for what it was and is — a consequence and key indicator of market totalitarianism.

A New Phase in Iraq War Marketing

“LeftI on the News” nails the latest reports, per The New York Times, that the “major” Democratic Party candidates are now “seeing the progress” in Iraq. Check out their post here.

bio of jkgAs I wrote in a comment over there, the real story is best clarified via the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith’s under-appreciated book, The Culture of Contentment, in which Galbraith explains the actual roles and methods of the two wings (Republicans and Democrats) of the Business Party that runs our state on behalf of corporate capital. As Galbraith argues, the Republicans are actually a far superior political party, judged in terms of honesty about stated goals and actual behavior.

Here’s what I wrote over at LeftI, with Galbraith in mind:

Excellent analysis [of the “seeing progress” news]! And it confirms something that the sea of confused liberals (for whom I have much sympathy) have spent 6 years missing: Our system works very well at achieving its clear #1 priority, which is serving the corporate overclass. Analyzed correctly, Cheney is one of history’s best politicians, a true hero for his constituents. He got elected behind the “compassionate conservative” Monkey-Man and then quickly proceeded to do what it took to stick a permanent U.S. military base in the ME, with (at least possibly) a new sweetheart deal providing special control over the largest untapped oil reserve in the region.

And, truth be told, the Democratic Party, having finished jettisoning popular constituencies under Killiam Klinton back in the 1990s, accepts and will preserve this huge victory for the corporate class, from which it draws its advertising budget in exchange for preserving the illusion that corporate capitalism is at all compatible with civilization and human decency.

Of course, Peak Oil and the final round of poker in our winners-took-all pseudo-economy may soon cause the Money Holders some grief in other ways, but Cheney has simply delivered the goods, and the mighty Dems are now ready to step in and drape it all in a show of reluctance and embattled principles…

The role of the “New Democrats” is, as it always has been, now (after the new increase in overclass power) to run a new kind of political marketing over the top of the new corporate victories. “We would love to leave Iraq completely, but how can we, since they continue to kill one another? We must uphold our humanitarian values!” Nobody seriously believes either Monkey-Man or Cheney knows what a non-financial value is, let alone cares.

a friend of the war criminalsBut Killary Klinton has just the right credentials to sell this soap for 4 or 8 years. Plus, she’s a girl, and we all know girls are born to care!

P.S. Note how Killary packages herself as a tough-ass Tomgirl — the boy’s dress-shirt, the lezzish hairdo! — when she visits the troops. This is only natural since both she and her “husband” Killiam are 100% given to the methods and principles of modern marketing, as handled by the “consultants” they have at elbow 24/7.

If you listen, you’ll be able to hear dear Killary’s “hearty laugh” as she reaps your vote next November.

Unilever Runs on Lies

Unilever, the multinational mega-corporation that markets the utterly horrendous, unneeded, and wasteful Axe Body Spray, is under attack from feminists and parents. Seems that, at the same time it’s peddling Axe via waves of super-sexist mind-conditioning campaigns targeted at teenage boys, it’s also trying to curry favor with women and girls by running “viral” marketing videos suggesting Unilever favors mass appreciation of “real beauty,” a.k.a. females who are sane enough to found their self-esteem on something more substantial than how closely they resemble the “aspirational” super-models and man-chasing bimbos portrayed in most corporate advertisements and commercial media.

Caught playing it both ways, Unilever made this statement:

The Axe campaign is a spoof of ‘the mating game’ and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally.

This is the most howling of lies, the exact diametrical opposite of the truth, which is that Axe’s entire “brand strategy” is to further commodify teenage boys’ self-interpretation by training them to think that using Axe will raise their chances of getting into girls’ (a.k.a. dimwitted vagina-bearers’) pants. By thus worsening the already awful post-feminist, Britney-Lindsay-Paris-and-Hillary Duff ideological climate, Unilever is selling perfume to boys, who would obviously laugh in your face if you tried an honest approach.

Unilever is not unique, of course. Studied, systematic, multi-layered dishonesty is absolutely essential to all big business marketing. If you bother to look, you see that the art and science of is now the rapidly-expanding stock-in-trade of big business marketers everywhere.