Tags: Content Propaganda
Making Do with What you Have
There is a mindset prevalent among consumers which asserts that there is something deficient about our current resources. When surveying our situation we note (consciously or not) that something is lacking, something which did not seem important until we noticed it but having made note of such the desire becomes biting, bugging our subconscious and creating a layer of mental noise in our day-to-day that only adds with the other more weighty things which have leverage on our minds.
Where do these sudden desires come from?
They arise from clever marketing, advertising, media propaganda. In the post-Web age (i.e. from 2010 onward) marketing has become so covert and so prevalent on the Internet that it's become impossible, even for a marketer, to detect whether a specific post on the front-page of everyone's favorite circle-jerk website is a marketing ploy or simply someone, some innocent user, having fun.
I now explore this idea further with a brief example; because the nature of my experience is rooted in the Internet I am most comfortable exploring Internet marketing; however it is important to realize that the results sought by marketers by employing propaganda in media other than the Internet are the same as on the Internet itself: namely, marketers aim for (I) influence on popular thought, resulting in (they are hopeful for this) (II) creating artificial need (i.e. the want I have described in this introduction)
Consider Reddit: for those unfamiliar (i.e. for the hermits who continue to receive my articles by teletype or by mail) Reddit is a platform for sharing hyperlinks to interesting articles, pictures, videos, and many other resources available on the Internet. This type of machine is called an Internet aggregator, as it concentrates a number of hyperlinks in a common space, organized topically, and accessible by anyone so interested. From their about page:
Reddit is home to thousands of communities, endless conversation, and authentic human connection. Whether you're into breaking news, sports, TV fan theories, or a never-ending stream of the Internet's cutest animals, there's a community on Reddit for you.
Noteworthy is the stress on community; as I suggested above, these hyperlinks are organized (by the users themselves) by topic; around each topic forms a community of users who are interested and regularly see new content within these topics; these communities are called sub-Reddits and often have more-or-less one focusing idea / topic. There are subreddits such as /r/graffiti, on which users post pictures of interesting, eye-catching, and thoughtful street art. On /r/manga users can post about their favorite (or least favorite) manga series, sharing links to their favorite circles or simply sharing a text post with their thoughts on something about manga.
The beauty here is that anyone can share anything here; the tragedy is that most of the time nobody cares. I will dive into why this is the case briefly.
First, as I have claimed, an aligning idea behind Reddit is that everyone has a voice: everyone has the opportunity to discover quality content to share with their favorite community and it would seem that the users of such communities, who express their feelings through "upvoting" quality content and "downvoting" content which does not fit into the community, would upvote genuinely interesting and thoughtful content. And while this is still the case, the content which is considered "thoughtful" and "interesting" (especially that which reaches the front-page of the whole website) is carefully engineered (consciously or otherwise) to be front-page worthy; because the site is so large (14 billion screenviews per-month, 330 million active users monthly as of April, 2019), only the most popular (i.e. most up-voted content) makes it to the front-page.
That is to say that interesting content is no longer being discovered; but rather content which is front-page worthy it is being produced, as if it were a product itself. And this all would seem (though it'd still make me a little uncomfortable) if I suggested that this content was being engineered by members of the sub-reddit. Suggesting this makes it seem okay, at least, to accept that people expend thought and energy on making their post a piece of upvote-worthy content. Such a post would be a product of a member of the community (essentially a product of the community itself) and would be an end, not a means. The discovery / creation of such content is self-serving and largely harmless apart from its absorption in the upvote popularity contest.
But the marketers and social-scientists have noticed just how much buzz can be generated over something on the front-page. Considering how much exposure something popular can get (even if not on the front-page) Reddit has become a playground for guerrilla marketing and astroturfing; they begin to treat content as a means rather than an end, transforming content into something of a billboard (complete with a hyperlink) to convert pageviews and upvotes into profit.
For the marketers, profit is probably irrelevant. Especially those who are salaried, these men and women could care less how many upvotes and how much attention their post gets; I'd suggest that they would be paid just the same as if they sat around designing billboards and TV advertisements; the reason, I suppose, for their aggressive tactics in marketing on such an aggregator which sorts posts by popularity is rooted in the feelings of self-worth and validation which results by being upvoted. The notion that real people with real feelings consider content you (albeit at your desk in the marketing department) created to be important is validating. There is no doubt that this, as opposed to the salary, is important; this argument could be extended to explain the motives of most people in creating "upvote-worthy" content.
Regardless of the motives behind it being created, such content steers the feelings and emotions of its audience; often this precipitates in the formation of artificial wants within a consumer, driving him or her to buy this or that flavor of soda, want this or that brand of clothing, etc. etc. etc.
I will not suggest avoiding this kind of propaganda; actually that would be a mis-step for me, as today's advertising is difficult to identify as actual marketing (as explored through the supplementary example above). It seems there are a few options with we can approach this problem, they are:
- Avoid propaganda (guerrilla marketing, astroturfing, so on)
- Avoid places which attract propaganda
- Recognize propaganda; make an effort to ignore it
- Recognize and triage the effect propaganda has on you
We may eliminate (1) as a valid approach only supposing that we do not wish to withdraw from society wholly; unless we own a cabin in Montana I consider this is a prudent assumption. Considering the age and experience of modern marketing practices, being perfected across literally millions of iterations of marketers on even more members of the general public, it is no wonder that advertising has become so devilishly effective and deceptively clever that it can hide in plain sight.
(2) is an augmentation of (1): being such it fails on the same premise: modern propaganda is deceptive and is able to invade genuine communities because it is perfected to the point it is difficult to spot and filter out.
So then it seems the only (passive) approach we can take is to accept that we will be surrounded by propaganda, surrounded by advertising which fills our heads with artificial want. (3) admits this. Even better than (1) and (2), (3) recognizes the vanity of struggling against multi-million dollar advertising schemes. However I think the idea of (3) is better phrased in (4); while we may seek only to "ignore it", advertising (by the same above assumptions) may wiggle its way past our gate-keeping efforts and wedge itself in our thoughts and existing desire. The two (existing and artificial) eventually become confused and inter-twined that one forgets which was within and which was without, compounding the dissonance in one's head.
(4) articulates the point I wish to illustrate. To understand what advertising, propaganda is pushing you towards and to reject that repeatedly; eventually the active rejection becomes passive reflex by pure repetition, then one may steer clear of the propaganda without creating a tangled mess of artificial want and characteristic want; entertaining these dissonant thoughts would exhaust one's mental capacity, leaving one open to the suggestion of propaganda.
It is illustrated now that the application of (4) involves two stages: first becomes the active rejection of propaganda, then finally comes the passive and unconscious, reflexive rejection. To facilitate the transition between these two it is important that one recognizes what one already has: the notion that one can be perfectly content with nothing new is liberating; doing without the new is not necessarily a means itself. Many people temporarily forego new things for the cost, space, or some other limiting factor but that does not address the desire itself... to prune this desire itself is what stops that mess the marketers are creating in your head from ever being realized.
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