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WHILE WE'RE LOOKING at the alleged failures of the Sixties (the sexual revolution, the anti-war movement and others), I owe it to society to visit some of the great successes of that era. The Sixties was a time when everything changed fast, particularly media. The media is driven by advertising; it is not merely sponsored by advertising; it is, rather, the tail that wags the universe.
Along with everything else, advertising exploded in the Sixties, both in volume and in content. Those dancing Chiquita bananas of my early childhood were about to be chucked into the compost (along with their culinary advice, "And don't put Ba-Na-Nas in the re-fri-ger-ator"). And ads that said "buy this product because it's better" became more or less extinct, though they do appear every now and again.
Instead, ads which promised you'd have three girlfriends if you smoked these cigarettes became the norm, as did he subliminal religious iconography, upside-down skulls and the word "sex" airbrushed into the ice cubes of your Cutty Sark. Nasty nasty!
The Sixties' strong astrological signature involving Virgo (Uranus and Pluto making a conjunction there) suggests a revolution in the mental environment. Revolutions don't always lead to greater freedom; it depends on who's doing the revolting. The emphasis on Pisces (Chiron in Pisces, and Uranus, Pluto and Chiron trine Neptune) suggests that the illusory nature of media, and particularly of advertising, was especially workable at that time. Advertising learned to play off of not just basic insecurities, but to reach into the deepest crevices of the psyche and twist people where they would feel it.
It was in this environment that the current media culture (often mistaken for society itself) as we now know it was born. Each day, we see [two thousand?] [five thousand?] [ten thousand?] advertisements. Advertising has been spurred on by technology, such as the microprocessor, color television, satellite systems, advances in paper, ink and printing methods and, more lately, the Internet. The onslaught increases by the moment. We know there's a problem; we know this affects us; we know our children spend nearly as much time watching commercials than they do learning in school, and now many schools have ads on academic materials, or video ads piped in on Channel One, and sell soft drinks that they promote with ads in the cafeteria.
Modern advertising "is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it," writes Prof. Sut Jhally of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, creator of the video Advertising and the End of the World. He explains that the entire market culture and all its products, packaging, fuel used for shipping, and so on, is driven exclusively by advertising.
We would, Jhally proposes, not buy all this garbage were we not overwhelmed with ads 18 hours a day; thus, advertising is driving the world through the threshold of destruction. If we want to save the planet, forget recycling. Just ban advertising. This has certain legal and economic problems, but we can be sure that living in a free country actually means that corporations are free to destroy it.
Advertising has driven an obsession with fashion. Fashion as we know it, the widespread mandatory hyperactive cultural mania, as opposed to a mere religion, was born in the Sixties, and it was seized by advertising and made into the most important thing ever. Fashion (from clothing to SUVs) is incredibly wasteful, because it leads people to throw out or at least replace perfectly useful belongings merely because they are not fashionable. But more to the point, it tends to occupy the mind and the priorities, and becomes a means for assessing the "character" of people without actually knowing anything about them. We have to give credit where due: it's working extremely well.
Fashion, while consuming vast amounts of creative energy and supplies, is not art. It is the opposite of art. Art makes us deeper, and leads us to create. Fashion makes us superficial, and leads us to consume.
Last, we need to recognize the awesome success of that institution known as The News, particularly television news. During the Vietnam War, The News began a tradition of reporting body counts, you know, how many of our boys, and they were boys (mostly 18 to 21 years old), were shot each day in southeast Asia. When the war ended, somebody must have forgotten to tell The News, because they have kept giving us body counts in perpetuity in a morbid parade of death reports, shootings, corpses turning up, people falling out of windows, and the occasional rape thrown in to maintain viewer interest. But this programming formula is still extremely successful. Death makes the news.
In the Sixties, social movements, from feminism to ecology to black power, were making the news, because they were new and really weird, and had public relations masters like Abbey Hoffman (the Yippy leader) and Bobby Seale (the Black Panther) pulling in the television cameras. But the news, in its obsession with death, misery and advertising, today presents us with a picture that there is no new life, nothing that ever came from the old movements, and no systemic need for people to deal with the problems of the whole Earth. The content of the media now presents us with a cover-up of the success of the social movement, and ignores most of what is really happening today, as well as a cover-up of the real problems we face, together, as the human family. ++