How Does Advertising Affect Culture?

In Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Neil Postman examines how television has informed public discourse, labelling the medium of television as Americans’ “vast descent into triviality.” It is no surprise that the 1980s gave birth to the popular Canadian board game, Trivial Pursuit, where “intelligence” was measured on the ability to correctly answer questions pertaining to six different categories of general knowledge, much of which was media-based. But this game only evaluated one’s familiarity within a range of topics and limited number of question cards such that trivial and highly mediatized knowledge became conflated with intelligence. Indeed, the way we speak to each other today is riddled with the language of media and television—from advertising to television series, and most everyone pretty much stays in step.

Even the way we acquire language is strongly influenced by television, hence the Canadian accent with which I grew up is hardly present today and the many elderly folks who use “woke” in sentences. Television is an amazingly powerful communications tool and it has allowed us to relay very complex or long-winded ideas in a phrase: “to jump the shark,” “to take the red pill,” “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” and “wax on, wax off.” Even the most resistant to media would have a hard time feigning unfamiliarity with most popularized media tropes down to the referentiality used between advertisements and film. How many commercials have you seen that replicate a scene out of Tarzan, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz? Certainly, today nothing is sacred from how our media infiltrates the everyday. But how has advertising inflected its discourse into our culture?

Read the full article Go back