Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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.

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