Explication Essay

Kellner, D. (1995) Advertising and Consumer Culture in Questioning the Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage. Pp332-3 & 335-43
Questioning the Media: A Critical Introduction, was published in 1995 by an American theorist called Kellner. The passage given was on the subject of fashion and advertising, which is a powerful aspect of modern day life. Advertising did not exist 25-30 years ago, and it is only in the present-day that advertising plays a large part in society.


In the text Kellner depicts a clear Neo-Marxist view and tries to convince the reader that his views and argument are correct. He does this by using the quotes and thoughts of renowned theorists to back up his points. He also uses statistics from several magazines and deconstructs several adverts.

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Kellner starts the passage by portraying a very American view of advertising. He does this by briefly putting forward the argument that advertising has a positive effect. He then goes on to describe the role of advertising and how it works, before moving into his argument that advertising has a negative influence on society.


To make the case for advertising, Kellner starts by quoting from Harms (1989), which states that advertising is a necessity when selling a product. This is the extent to which Kellner argues the point that advertising is beneficial to society.


In the text, Kellner then goes on to describe different types of advertising and how it works. He starts by splitting advertising into two types, informative advertising and human interest copy. Informative advertising appeals to reason, giving consumers an incentive to purchase the product, where as human interest copy appeals to emotions and the average consumers response to these emotions. Adverts encourage you to identify with the product/situation. They often provide problems and promote their product as the solution. Kellner also says that advertising is very manipulative. He talks of how adverts and the quality/price of the goods vary, in order to appeal to a specific target audience.
Kellners main point in the argument is that advertising has too much influence on societies thoughts, social values, fantasies and behaviour. Adverts play on peoples fears of not being socially accepted, causing people to believe they need the product to be happy. According to Kellner advertisers have to continuously change societies ways of life, in order to keep the consumers interested in their product. Advertising creates false needs in society in order to sell the product and because of these false needs that have been created, society is given a false sense of individuality. They are encouraged to purchase goods that will give them individuality, although these goods are mass produced and associated with social acceptance, a contradiction in itself. Kellner also uses some of the thoughts from The Frankfurt School, one of which states that contemporary consumerism threatens individuality, democracy and the community.
Kellner also argues that modern society is obsessed with image, style and social acceptance. Because of this women are more susceptible to advertising as there is more pressure from society for women to be slim, successful and beautiful. Therefore Kellner argues that because society is obsessed with self image, consumers are not free, but only have the illusion of freedom.


Kellner also puts forward the idea that as a result of advertising, individuality and freedom are no longer defined by personal opinions, actions and logical behaviour. But defined by possessions, style and consumption. According to Marcuse and Kellner, to be free and individual, you have to free yourself from the system of pleasures, consumption and entertainment. Kellner argues that due to advertising, society has been essentially dumbed down. He states that contemporary society is no longer creative or individual, but is like a standardised or manufactured product, obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness. Kellner argues that corporations dominate modern society and because of this people are looked upon as statistics and numbers. Consumers are stereotyped, labelled, and organized into target audiences to make advertising more efficient and effective.


Kellner then moves on to talk about advertising on TV, which is an ever-present and powerful medium in modern day society. Advertising on TV is expensive and often the programming itself is cheaper than the adverts. Kellner suggests that one view of TV is that the programming is only there in order to accommodate adverts. Kellner also suggests that many TV series are actually adverts themselves, promoting a certain way of life.
Kellner states that there is a lot of money and research invested in advertising, yet, he also states that advertising is not based on any theoretical foundation. He argues that there is little evidence that advertising a product will actually benefit the sales. Also stating that not many people actually believe in advertising. Where is his proof?
Kellner takes a very Neo-Marxist view of advertising and in his argument he presumes that the consumer is completely passive. Kellner argues that society believes they have freedom, although advertising and consumer culture predetermines their thoughts, ideas and actions. Yet he does not talk of personal taste, you cannot force people to like a product.


On pages 335-336, Kellner uses case studies of Virginia Slims and Lucky Strike. He states the connection, created by advertisers, between smoking and weight loss. He then goes on to say that advertisers promoting the idea have contributed to eating disorders, crash diets, exercise programs and more seriously a rise a cancer rates. Although Kellner lays down this bold theory, he uses no evidence to back it up. He has again presumed that the audience is passive and because of the advert, begun smoking more cigarettes wheres the proof of this statement?
On page 333, paragraph 3, Kellner uses statistics published in the September 1992 issue of Journal of Advertising. From the statistics he has concluded that advertising is effective in less than half the cases, he also concludes that adverts had little or no effect on of the cases. Now what I find interesting is how vague Kellner is. He states of the cases had little or no effect, yet how do you define little? Also he does not inform you of any details as to the background of the Statistics. What was the size of the sample? What type of advertising was used? Where was the product advertised? What was the time scale? Of which all of the above would have had a strong influence on the results and conclusions drawn from the statistics.


On page 342, Kellner uses The dialect of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer, to argue societies obsession with efficiency and effectiveness as a negative fixation. Is it? Efficiency enables products to be made cheaper and enables consumers to consume more. He argues that products are standardised and mass-produced, yet in contemporary society you can still consume individually made goods, for example, a dinning table may be hand crafted and unique rather than mass-produced.


In conclusion, Kellner has argued a very subjective, Neo-Marxist view of advertising and fashion. He has presumed that society is passive throughout the text and he has not looked at a more liberal view to the subject. He has also manipulated statistics and social fears in order to give rise to a more sustainable argument.

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