Sunday, January 24, 2010

Corporate Political Advertisements

Recently, in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations and unions have the right to spend their general funds on urging a candidate's success or defeat, through advertisements or other means.

One of the majority justices wrote, "No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporation."

This logic follows from the idea that giving money is considered free speech, and by restricting the speech of profit or nonprofit organizations (like the Hillary Clinton movie under the McCain-Feinberg Act) is wrongful censorship. Another majority justice said that, "when a government seeks to use its full power, including to criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information... it uses cenorship to control thought."

But can't advertisements paid for by massive corporations also control thought...and the government? This supreme court ruling makes it possible for corporations to throw millions and millions more dollars at campaign advertisement than ever before, without limitation. What if a politician were backed by, say, Google or Microsoft? Would smaller, less wealthy voices have a chance at being heard, even if they made up a substantial part of the population?

The problem I see with the idea that limitations on corporations is the same thing as "censorship" is that members of a corporation have the same right to free expression as anyone else: they can write a book, letter, blog, or editorial piece just like any other American-- but they have far more money than the vast majority of individuals, and nonprofit groups like labor unions, as well. Additionally, it is estimated that republicans would benefit more from this law change than Democrats because Republicans/conservatives tend to have more corporate backing than liberal or union groups.

Oneopinion piece writes: "If there is one place on earth where people should be free to join together and pool their resources to inform their fellow citizens about public issues, that place is America," because this was part of the "founding fathers' purpose in writing the Free Speech Clause." And it is true that the vast majority of major media outlets are large, for-profit organizations, and limits to corporations' speech could also, as a result, limit the press's speech overall.

But is a corporation really that significantly similar to a person, or even a group of people sharing the same opinion, or a news outlet, for that matter? Do you think they should be given the same rights to "free speech" for politicians as individuals, despite the fact they can't even vote? Should money be considered free speech at all? Do you think this sort of change would make our government more or less representative? Can we say what the Founding Fathers would have wanted in this scenario?

How "free" is free speech, if corporations' spending is unlimited?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Not Fair You're Not Perfect (and it's not our fault they're messed up)

I was flipping channels a few weeks ago and ended up on E! News. The hosts were blabbing about plastic surgery and its pros and cons. I thought they took a rather interesting approach to covering the topic.

When speaking, their presumption about plastic surgery for the celebrity or layperson is that it is a great thing, but any bizarre or extreme example you've seen of it (i.e. Michael Jackson) is simply a celebrity just foolishly doing it wrong because they were out of their mind. Truly, mental instability resulting in odd, permanent body mutilation is kinda horrifying-- nevermind, they referred to it as if it were funny-- a result that couldn't have possibly had any origins in the type of plastic surgery they were talking about.

What made what they were saying more bizarre was that they said that everyone should get plastic surgery, because everyone has the right to look like a celebrity and it is dreadfully unfair that you were not born with a perfect celebrity bod (they said this almost verbatim). Plastic surgery is the solution to all your woes, and not only is a celebrity body the ideal, it also should be expected and normal to make yourself perfect, especially through surgical means. Apparently it's more unfair to not be born looking one way than to be told repeatedly you need to look one way in order to fit the standard.

I think it's really ironic that they would lay the blame for crazy botched surgical changes on individuals that were struggling with body image at the exact same time as sending out the message that having a celebrity's looks is what everyone should be either born with or striving for. I get the feeling that focus on having a perfect body image comes from avoiding insults and scrutiny of the media in the first place.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Selling Ideas

The human mind is a resource, and the exchange of all ideas (including religion, scientific ideas, social norms, concern over a current event, pop culture, etc.) resembles product distribution (and natural selection). The difference between a long-lasting idea and a passing fad relies on a lot of things. A lasting idea needs to reach a lot of people, be repeated, seem useful and beneficial to the host of the idea, be self-perpetuating, be self-reinforcing, be easy to remember, and be clear and memorable enough to spread by word of mouth or through other common interpersonal communication. [link] (Memetic Evolution)

Advertisement exemplifies the "ideal" long-lasting idea: it is broadcast on tv at many times, which reaches a lot of people and repeats; it changes the way we develop and think about products in relation to our identity and worth, which makes them seem more useful; it is often unfulfilling after the purchase or we think it fulfills us, making the purchase of products self-perpetuating; there are creations of new and updated products all the time, which further self-perpetuates consumption; and it utilizes catchy and humorous phrases and imagery, making it easy to remember and spread by word of mouth.

We've all grown up with advertisements ourselves, so we may not think much of the fact that children watch so much tv and advertisement annually. But considering how advertisements are given to people in a way ideal for hammering ideas in to them, their consequences are overlooked far too much.

How can parents stand a chance against advertising businesses if these businesses are, at the root of it, communicating with children more effectively than most other people/mediums can? If the average American child watches 6 hours of tv a day while their parents are busy doing work, perhaps they probably spend more time with the tv than they do talking to their parents. Even if parents don't buy their kids every toy, their kids are still growing up in a society that unhealthily associates success with consumption, and as a result, kids' minds are still being shaped to value the same things to a large extent.

The Normalization of (Sometimes Bad) Ideas

Ideas expressed in blog may not reflect current ideas...

In our class discussions of the uses of children & advertisement, one argument I've been hearing a lot is that the way advertising corporations affect us is normal (even if bad), as it's now a huge part of our society, and as a result it is futile to try and change it.

But let's compare this to the question, 'Are there more women or women in the world?"

To us, the statistic that 100,000,000 women have vanished was shocking, because we live in a society that doesn't have the same disparity between men and women in numbers. If we assume the world has equal populations of men and women, we think that because it is the norm in our society, and we apply that thinking to the rest of the world. Things in the US are the way they are for a reason (like the US having higher rates of eating disorder than other countries), but sometimes we take those oddities for granted because they seem natural to us, hidden in plain sight. We have to be careful not to make the mistake of allowing the similar ideas of normalcy remain about advertising just because it's normalized now.

If you believe that things cannot change because the market has changed, technology has changed, and corporations have become more powerful, that is the acceptance of a new norm. But the only reason an idea becomes and remains a norm is if we accept it as a norm, and the force "selling" that idea successfully convinces us it is normal and unchangeable. Ideas are more easily accepted when the populace accepts the ideas willingly, unlike when people are coerced to believe something. As such, child advertisement is particularly potent because it makes children's brains develop around advertisements. In other words, they have no choice, but they don't realize they're being coerced to think a certain way. Is that really as normal as we think?

The notion we can't stop corporations from taking things a step too far is an idea spread by corporations themselves
. If they have marketed to us our whole lives and donate to schools, of course we think they're normal. But that doesn't mean there can't be limitations on corporations' actions. Before serving their shareholders, corporations are smaller pieces in the larger system of American society. There is absolutely no reason why corporations should be able to dictate what we value at our expense. Instead, their actions should depend on what we want our society's values and norms to be about. The ultimate error is to think that ideas cannot change just because they have been normalized. Unless we all still worship goddesses, or think that gravity pulls objects of different masses at different speeds, ideas can change massively when different ones become more well-marketed, accepted, and useful to us.

Aggressive marketing is no longer useful to us. We now know the negative effects it has on child development, creativity, obesity, and so on. It would be a mistake to think aggressive marketing is useful to us after it's proven to be more costly than beneficial. It is very costly to our society, costing us millions of dollars for health problems related to diabetes and obesity. But even worse is the cost to our minds, causing us to invest in mental inflexibility and docility rather than creativity in an world rapidly increasing in complexity.

Monday, January 4, 2010


In one sense, sales and marketing is about getting people what they want and need. After all, in order to be a successful businessperson, it's best to be flexible to your client's desires. However, I see psychologically manipulative advertisement as a very bad thing, because for the children watching it, associating toys and accessories with social acceptance, fun, and coolness, we create false needs for pointless material items. Increasing the 'nag factor' is essentially the same thing as making children perceive that they need an item so much that they have to nag their parents for it. The greater the need, the more nagging.

As a society, we tend to spend a lot of times on material items, which can be excessive and unfulfilling, instead of more important matters. We also tend to focus more on destinations and outcomes than processes, even though processes and paths are often a lot more important and enjoyable than the results of things. Processes make up the vast majority of life, not outcomes.

A 'nominalization' is a type of word that is made when turning an adjective or verb in to a noun. This conversion has the effect of simplifying a complex process (like "to educate" or "to become happy") in to a single word (like "education" or "happiness"), and as a result leaves a lot of information out.

This isn't a bad thing for words-- it's just a useful function of language. But I think that when we value destinations, objects, and outcomes-- be it through being manipulated in to thinking we need a product as if it will build our identity, or through evaluating the process of education with arbitrary standardized tests, we "nominalize" entire, important processes in our lives. Happiness is simplified to the outcome of consumption, and education is simplified to arbitrary numerical outcomes that don't evaluate the actual processes of learning, but rather discourage good processes of learning.

And as we've talked about in class, we've increased focus on destinations also in a more literal/physical sense-- the amount of walking we do in a week is shocking because we have to drive to a destination and remain there more than ever. This is a result of increased convenience and changed technology-- you don't have to go far to get what you need. Overall, the shift towards the importance of endpoints is interesting.

What do you do after you reach an endpoint (product, wealth, goal, score)? All of a sudden, you need a new endpoint (more product, more wealth, another goal, next year's round of scores). And if you don't reach an endpoint, how do you feel? How much value do you give endpoint-oriented success/failure? If you give it too much value, you may just end up miserable and less productive.