Advertising stole my humanity!

Capitalism is out of control with sexist ad execs, mix tapes by irrelevant hippies and the inevitable, horrible cloning of "The Bridget Jones Diary."

Published June 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The Village Voice, June 2-8

"Women Are Easy" by Mark Boal

What richer subject matter could exist for the restless media critic than the inner workings of advertising? It's ubiquitous; only fishy-pale sewer dwellers can avoid the incessant hawking of goods on billboards, bus ads, magazines, television and radio. It's art -- well, at least some of it is; increasingly ads are making their way into MoMAs across this continent and beyond. And, when you take it apart, it's inherently insulting: What good, rugged American relishes the idea of her personal impulses being processed and generalized into "marketing research," and then thrown back in a congealed package, not unlike processed meat? Not I! Certainly not you!

The dehumanizing nature of advertising is at the heart of Mark Boal's article on how the ad industry insults progressive women like me, maybe like you. (I haven't got the data -- yet -- to say what gender you are.) Boal's premises are basic: Networks assume women are easier to sell to based on assumptions from the days when chicks stayed home to mop floors and watch soaps. They assume men go ape-shit for violence and sports and that women lap up comedies and dramas -- and that the fellows control the money for big purchases like, say, cars.

Boal's point is well-made, though it meanders a bit from its focus as he stops to bask in the glories of behavioral science. What ruffles my feathers a bit is that he relies on the same kind of behavioral studies and statistical sum-ups the advertisers do; only, he interprets them differently to prove how, as a whole, the advertising industry is so backwards-thinking it can't read its own marketing research properly. This fire-with-fire strategy works like a charm, but it doesn't make me feel any less like a discarded lump of target-audience Spam.

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The Stranger, June 3-9

"Why Artists Should Stick to Art" by Everett True

With nothing but pure intentions, I'm sure, Everett True sets out to review EMI U.K.'s Songbook series -- basically a collection of mix tapes by '60s artists, writers, hipsters and so on. What he ends up doing is ranting and raving like a lovable lunatic. I haven't read this meaty a boomer-bashing rant since "Generation X." "Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is a sad fuck who stopped bothering to live out his dreams sometime in 1972," True writes. "It's like these pathetic ex-hippies believe the times of their lives were the best possible times anyone could ever have. How '60s!" he continues. How can you disagree? OK. OK. In all fairness, you can't blame a bunch of counterculture revolutionaries whose moment has passed from cashing in -- "money for nothing," man -- on a cheesed-out marketing scheme such as this one. And True isn't behaving much better than Thompson's generation did toward their predecessors. But with the idealism-bloated gut of the boomers dangling out for the world to take pot shots at, how could True not take a swing, convoluted and misdirected though his aim may be?

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Willamette Week, June 2-8

"The Jones Clones" by Valerie Cashman

4:52 p.m.: I can barely keep my eyes open as I scan the Willamette Week for some interesting tidbit to throw into my column.

So far today I have eaten the following: One cup microwaved coffee, one-half bowl of corn flakes (I'm such a fatso, I used whole milk); one glass of orange juice, a ham sandwich (more fat, aaargh!); I smoked three cigarettes.

He hasn't e-mailed me back, yet. Is he in a meeting? I don't know. What does it mean? Men! What is a woman supposed to think about men????!!!!****

Then I came across the most horrible news ever. "The Bridget Jones Diary," which may be the stupidest, most insulting book I ever tried to read (got to Page 15 and sold it to a used bookstore), was so wildly popular that it's not only being made into a movie, but it's spawned a litter of wannabes. Worse yet, the author of the piece, blinky-eyed Valerie Cashman -- I mean, like, whatever kind of name is Valerie -- is all excited about this, like it's some kind of good thing that women reduce themselves to neurotic, binge-eating, male-scripted "Ally McBeal"-like stereotypes.

6:05 p.m. Spent two hours pacing my highly fashionable loft, diddling my nipple piercings before heading out to drink 3 gin and tonics in a row (!), so upset was I over the whole Bridget Clones phenom. Feel fat and bloated. I think I'll go puke now.

"Gehry Whirl" by Bob Young

Although Bob Young's article, based as it is on rumors and buzz rather than fact, is a bit premature, he is right to be excited about the possibility of Frank Gehry-designed low-income housing. It sounds like a dull subject but the implications are profound.

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Tuscon Weekly, June 3-9

"Court Warrior" by Tom Danehy

"She's Eagle Woman, Native American Basketball Player." And this is a very annoying, borderline condescending profile of her.

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The Dallas Observer, June 3-9 and the Austin Chronicle, May 21-27

"Nothing Ventured" by Stuart Eskenazi and "The Can't-Miss Kid" by Robert Bryce

I've got $20 riding on George W. Bush for president in November 2000. I'm not a Republican; I'm just a cautious gambler, and I know a good candidate when I see one. Is it foolish to be placing bets on a presidential election before the primaries have separated the candidates from the losers? Not if you read Robert Bryce's thorough introduction to an Austin Chronicle special section, "The Coronation of George II." Bryce looks at all the factors -- the money, the issues, the wife (Hot damn, if she isn't a passive babe!), the marketers -- and concludes the man's a shoo-in. This article is interesting because alternative weekly political writers tend to be born-and-bred Democrats, not given to optimistic forecasts about GOPers. Stuart Eskenazi, by contrast, describes the candidate Bush as a do-nothing governor -- full of ideas, but afraid of controversy. Though boring as hell to read, Eskenazi's article is important background reading for those who base their votes on more than commercials and perfect teeth and don't mind a slight left-leaning slant. I say we pay attention to these folks. After all, they're from Texas, and have seen Bush's handiwork firsthand.

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Boston Phoenix, June 3-9

"Folk Tales"

Oh my God! I've landed an interview with Ani -- gasp, pant -- DiFranco. I'm so excited I think I'll toss all my critical faculties out the window! Who cares that she's been milking the same shtick since she was a teenager? Who cares that all her recent albums sound like they rolled off an assembly line? She's a goddess! She's so cute and little! She can do no wrong! I think I'll go ask her all the questions she wants to answer and agree with every word she utters. Pant pant.

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Nerve, May 27

"The Not-A-Man Empire" by Jane Czyzselska

The author of this intriguing essay attends Turkey's first "Man for a Day" workshop in Istanbul. Instructed in the ways of cross-dressing, she explores the city as a man.

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L.A. Weekly, June 4-10

"Star Power" by Christine Pelisek

So you know those stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that are the perennial focus of tourist snapshots? They cost $15,000 a piece, up from $10,000 last year -- and the celebs have to pay for the privilege! Christine Pelisek gets all in a huff about the $150,000 Hollywood's Chamber of Commerce makes each year off of these puppies, and seems to pity the movie stars -- poor, poor Demi Moore! -- for being charged this exorbitant fee. Like making millions of dollars for a couple months' work doesn't justify a little milking by profiteering city bureaucrats? Like being so egotistical that you want your name on a star for the world to worship at doesn't deserve just a little financial punishment? Like fame shouldn't be bought? Methinks Ms. Pelisek has lived in Los Angeles a little too long.

"The Pedestrian Always Rings Twice" by Peter Hartz

Pushing the pedestrian signal more than once does you no good, foolish walker. The signal is only sent once, so save your finger for better things -- what exactly those things are, I'll leave to the fondlings of your imagination. Peter Hartz takes readers behind the scenes of Los Angeles' automatic traffic-control center. As one who loves to understand the mechanisms behind everyday occurrences -- and not just in advertising -- I can only applaud this fascinating piece, and highly recommend D.J. Waldie's poetic "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" to fans of the urban-planning genre.

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Because I know you cannot get enough information about the glorious world of advertising, not to mention consumer culture, I offer this selection of further reading.

"Space for Sale" Advertisers run amok in public spaces! How much is too much? (by Jason Gay, Boston Phoenix)

"Beyond the Pleasure Principle" Adbusters' "Buy Nothing Day"? Pure capitalist hype! (by Ana Marie Cox, Feed)

Beer Frame: The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption Paul Lukas spends a lot of time in supermarkets in order to write this hilarious zine, which deconstructs "the details of consumer culture -- details that are either so weird or obscure that we'd never see them, or so ubiquitous that we've essentially stopped seeing them." In the March 1998 issue, he takes a hard look at "New and Improved" labeling, the John F. Kennedy 50-cent piece and Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy salsa.

Top Ten Censored Press Releases of 1998, No. 3 In a delightful mockery of Project Censored, McSweeney's publishes verbatim the press releases that garnered the least results.

The Baffler For a heaping dose of pretentious, anti-consumerist, masturbatory writing -- come on, you know you want it -- order a copy of The Baffler from its "Web site" (their quotes, not mine, which should give you a fairly good idea what these kids are all about).

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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Advertising Consumerism George W. Bush