We the Media -- Commercialism

IntroductionThe tragedy and subsequent coverage of Princess Diana's death brought to a head the world's dismay over the cheapening and sensationalism of today's corporate dominated media. The following excerpt from the book, We the Media, are expressions of a growing movement for media democracy, and offers a hard look at media ownership in the global economy. We the Media grew out of the Media & Democracy Congress, an annual gathering of media workers and activists. The second Congress was held in New York City, Oct. 16-19. For more information visit www.mediademocracy.org.The Hunchback on Hormonesby Charles FlemingIt was a figure that leapt off the page: Last year The Walt Disney Co.'s Consumer Products division generated $17 billion in gross retail sales. Seventeen. Billion. Dollars. That's $12 billion more in Aladdin lunch boxes and Hunchback headbands than the total value of movie-ticket sales in North America. That's $7 billion more than the total value of movie ticket sales in the world. And this is just one movie studio. The total gross retail sales for licensed merchandise driven by the entire movie industry -- from Mission: Impossible sweatshirts to Ace Ventura dental floss -- is estimated to be somewhere around $40 billion a year.That number affects more than Hollywood's bottom line; it also affects what you see at the movie theater. It's why Disney, Warner Bros. and the fledgling DreamWorks have made such huge financial commitments to the animated movie business: that big $40 billion revenue pie is the site of fierce competition, especially between Disney and its keenest competitor, Warner Brothers.Though neither side will acknowledge the rivalry, it's getting to be a close match. Disney, which has dominated animation and licensed its animated movie characters for use on pajamas and paperweights for decades, opened its first official Disney Store in the Glendale Galleria in March 1987. Five years later, Warner opened its first Warner Bros. Studio Store at the Beverly Center. Disney now has 517 Disney Stores worldwide, 380 of them in the U.S., and plans to add another 100 by the end of fiscal 1997. Warner Bros. has 135 more retail outlets domestically, 21 more overseas; 13 additional stores are in the works. In May, 1996, Disney opened its flagship U.S. outlet in a 40,000-square-foot New York retail space at Fifth Avenue and 55th. Warner opened its flagship store, all 75,000 square feet of it a month later, at Fifth Avenue and 57th. And they say they're not competing?Neither studio releases dollar figures on a division-by-division basis, but earlier this year head of Warner Bros. Worldwide Consumer Products, Dan Romanelli, estimated his division would soon exceed $1 billion in annual sales, reflecting a gross retail sales total of 10 times that figure. Disney's 1995 Consumer Products division numbers reflected income of $2.2 billion against total retail sales of $17 billion.Both studios are acutely aware that a bad movie won't move any merchandise. (Seen any A Troll In Central Park toothbrushes lately?) TheyÕre also aware that merchandising a movie means putting the movie title first, the merchandise second, and making sure the toys and the title are an appropriate mix. Both studios are also aware that kids drive the sales of movie-themed merchandise -- not their parents -- and that kids don't connect to adult-themed movies. (No matter how big a hit it is, don't expect to see any shredded designer T-shirts like the one the kidnapped tot wears in Ransom.) This is part of the reason both studios are ramping up on animated movie production at a time when both are decreasing the total number of movies they make each year; animation moves merchandise.Charles Fleming is a free-lance writer. Selling our Soulsby Jean KilbourneIn the world of advertising, we are encouraged to have relationships with products. "The best relationships are lasting ones," a Toyota ad announces. Although a couple is featured, the ad implies that the lasting relationship will be with the car.Advertising could be considered the propaganda of American society. It teaches us to be consumers, to value material possessions above all else, to feel that happiness can be bought, to believe in instant solution to complex problems, and to turn to products for fulfillment of our deepest human needs.More and more people are taking advertising seriously. They realize that the $130 billion advertising industry is a powerful educational force in the United States. The ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values -- images and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Although individual ads are often stupid and trivial, their cumulative impact is serious.Advertising is the foundation and economic lifeblood of the mass media. The primary purpose of the mass media is to sell audiences to advertisers; the primary purpose of television programs is to deliver an audience for the commercials. Advertising is partially a reflection of the culture that created it. Because of its power, however, it does a great deal more than simply reflect cultural attitudes and values; it plays an important role in shaping them. Far from a passive mirror of society, it is an effective medium of influence and persuasion, both a creator and perpetuator of the dominant attitudes, values, and ideology of the culture, the social norms, and the myths by which most people govern their behavior. Advertising performs much the same function in industrial society as myth performed in ancient and primitive societies.Targeting the young, advertisers are aware of their ability to create a kind of national peer pressure that erodes individual as well as community values and standards. They do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions: a cigarette provides a symbol of independence; designer jeans or sneakers convey status; the right perfume or beer resolves doubts about femininity or masculinity. Because so many anxieties center on sexuality and intimacy and because advertising so often offers products as the answers, gender roles may be the most deeply affected cultural concept.Advertising creates a mythic, white, middle-class world in which people are rarely ugly, overweight, poor, elderly, struggling, or disabled, whether physically or mentally (unless one counts the housewives who talk to little men in toilet bowls). Women are shown almost exclusively as sex objects or as housewives pathologically obsessed with cleanliness. These days, however, they are likely to announce that they also have a career: "I'm a brain surgeon, but right now my trickiest problem is how to get the grease off this stove." Men are generally rugged authority figures, dominant and invulnerable. Men who are married or engaged in "women's work" are often portrayed as idiots and buffoons. In recent years, consumer activism has demonstrated that advertising campaigns no longer simply interrupt the news, they have become the news. Community groups successfully halted the marketing of Uptown, a new cigarette that targeted inner-city African-Americans. People were and still are outraged by a cartoon camel called "Old Joe," who successfully sells Camel cigarettes to children. The Surgeon General and other public health activists called for restrictions on alcohol and cigarette advertising. The Swedish Bikini Team, featured in beer commercials, was also featured in a sexual harassment suit brought by female workers in the beer company.As media becomes increasingly globalized, the Western model of beauty has become an international fantasy, spread by advertising, the media, and multinational corporate power. American television programs are shown worldwide. Strategies of global advertising lead to uniformity of desires as well as of images.To combat the insidious impact of advertising, we have a number of options. They range from writing letters to advertisers and boycotting products to more powerful strategies such as teaching media literacy in all of our schools, beginning in kindergarten. Parents should be educated to control their children's television viewing and to watch television with their children to counter its effects. We should also encourage the government to restrict certain kinds of advertising and we must work to eradicate sexism, to abolish damaging stereotypes of women and men, and to create avenues to real power for all people. Above all, as always, we must break the silence.Jean Kilbourne is an internationally known media critic and award-winning creator ofKilling Us Softly and Still Killing Us Softly. Scary FactThe average American is exposed to over 1,500 ads a day and will spend 1-1/2 years of his or her life watching television commercials. Box: If the Sex Fits, Wear itWomen's bodies are not only dismembered in advertising but often gratuitously insulted. A recent ad for Dep hair-styling products in many women's and teen magazines had the following copy:Your breasts may be too big, too saggy, too pert, too full, too far apart, too close together, too A-cup, too lopsided, too jiggly, too pale, too padded, too pointy, too pendulous, or just two mosquito bites. But with Dep styling products, at least; you can have your hair the way you want it. Make the most of what you've got.At about the same time, a Calvin Klein ad made national news by featuring a nude man in a shower, holding a pair of jeans over his crotch. Some reporters claimed that men are now treated as sex objects exactly as women are. But the difference becomes obvious when we try to imagine the ad with the following copy:Your penis may be too small, too droopy, too limp, too lopsided, too narrow, too fat, too jiggly, too hairy, too pale, too red, too pointy, too blunt, or just two inches. But at least you can have a great pair of jeans. Make the most of what you've got.-Jean KilbourneAds In The Sky and On The Floorby Jim Hightower There's a Texas honky-tonk I know that has a motto carved above its bar: "Too much is not enough!"Well enough already with all these advertising messages that assault us everywhere we turn. Now, don't get me wrong -- not only do I appreciate the value of advertising, but I rely on it to keep my message on the radio. Advertising definitely has its place -- but every place?Our children's classrooms now have television screens that periodically blare yet another commercial message at the little tykes; championship tennis players have become a phantasmagoria of commercials, with assorted company logos branded on their shirts, shorts, shoes, socks, wristbands, headbands, kneebands, elbowbands, bandannas, rackets, carrying case and crying towels; our gasoline pumps are being mounted with miniature TV sets that broadcast quickie "infomercials" while you tank-up; one visionary company is even exploring a low-flying satellite that literally will beam product logos back to earth from the night sky -- so there'll be the moon, the Milky Way -- and McDonalds. How romantic.And get ready for this -- advertising soon will be right underfoot. A marketing firm has begun selling ad space on supermarket floors. "The floor is a barren environment," this marketing manager declared disapprovingly -- and I'm sure we can count on him to clutter it up. Sure enough, Safeway and Winn-Dixie are among the chains beginning to rent-out their floor space for ads. For about $75 a month, Coca-Cola, Spam, Cheeze Whiz, you-name-it can rent a floor tile with their name on it. I tell you, if they keep it up, you won't be able to find the food because the ads will be in the way.Advertisers are beaming their sales pitches at you from all kinds of unexpected spots these days, including from police cars. Police in Crown Point, Indiana, for example, are raising revenues for lights and sirens by selling space on their cars, including ads for a car wash and a funeral home. The commercialized cop caper is just part of the retailing of local government, as public budget cutbacks have left front-line officials scrambling for funds. Speaking of which, New York City sure knows its market niche. For a fee, you can put your ad on a Big Apple garbage truck. Is no surface sacrosanct? Think of the possibilities: church walls are a perfect opportunity for advertisers to catch consumers in a quiet and reflective moment; there are entire trees out there crying out to be plastered with brand-name labels; and what about your pets -- aren't they just walking billboards waiting to happen?Jim Hightower hosts a daily radio show and is a former Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Scary Fact: When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon and announced our "great leap," many people may have wondered where we were leaping. The answer was unveiled recently when two Russian cosmonauts trailed a four-foot high replica of a Pepsi can behind the space station Mir. They went outside and placed a banner on the station that read "Even in space...Pepsi is changing the script." The stunt was for a TV commercial for which the Russian space agency was reportedly paid millions of dollars. Space as a backdrop for Pepsi ads...but where's Coke? On the Endeavor space craft in a $1.5 million dispenser. When asked if our astronauts might appear in a Coke commercial, NASA rep Jeff Bangle said NASA "is looking at new and different kinds of things to involve commercial enterprises." (American Newspeak)Side Bar: Jeff Cohen on Disney Even at big, corporate-owned media outlets, there are still a number of journalists inclined to uncover truths about society: who holds economic power, why wages are falling, why the military budget is still so bloated while central cities are decapitalized. But mergers can be intimidating to journalists, and not just because of the layoffs that often follow.Think back to 1990, before Disney owned ABC, when that network's PrimeTime Live aired a hard-hitting report on the negative impacts of Disney theme parks on the environment and communities of central Florida. The report -- titled Tragic Kindgom? -- focused on Disney' greed. Can you imagine such a report airing now on ABC?The Disney company has political intereests in trade, labor, tax and telecommunicatiosn policy. Disney sells items of clothing in the U.S. for $11 that Haitian workers get paid 7 cents apiece for. With Disney as ABC's corporate parent, journalists may well avoid certain stories about labor exploitation and "free trade."Jeff Cohen is Executive Director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Scary But TrueSeventeen magazine promises prospective advertisers, "Reach a girl in her Seventeen years and she may be yours for life." Mike Searles, president of Kids 'R' Us, doesn't believe in waiting that long. "If you own this child at an early age," he says, "you can own this child for years to come. Companies are saying, 'Hey, I want to own the kid younger and younger.'"Marketing MadnessIn February 1992, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, appeared on KKTV-TV in Colorado Springs to discuss health and fast food. The producer pleaded with him not to criticize McDonald's and asked that he not mention brand names at all. It turned out that about four years earlier the statin's medical reporter commented unfavorably on McDonald's. The local McDonald's operators were incensed andyanked their advertising for three months. Men are from Mars, Pepsi's on Venus: Commercialization reached new heights when two Russian cosmonauts trailed a four-foot high replica of a Pepsi can behind the space station Mir. They went outside and placed a banner on the station that read, "Even in space ... Pepsi is changing the script." The stunt was for a TV commercial for which the Russian space agency was reported paid millions of dollars. But where's Coke? On the Endeavor space craft, in a $1.5 millin dispenser. When asked if our astronauts might appear in a Coke commercial, NASA rep Jeff Bangle said the agency "is looking at new and different kinds of things to involve commercial enterprises." (American Newspeak) Federal Funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting amount to less than $1 a year for every United States citizen, with a projected annual drop of a few cents until 1999. Soundbites*One minute of air time during the 1996 Super Bowl cost $2.4 million*According to the 1991 Census of Manufacturers published by the Department of Commerce, newspapers receive about 75 percent of their revenue from advertising dollars. Taking in nearly $40 billion in ad dollars in 1994, newspapers reserve 60-70 percent of their space for ads.Each day, 260 million Americans are exposed to at least18 billion display ads in magazines and daily newspapers2.6 million radio commercials300,000 television commercials500,000 billboards40 million direct-mail pieces and leafletsMichael Jacobson & Laurie Ann Mazur, Marketing Madness

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