Selling Words-Free Speech in a Commercial Culture

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Selling Words - Free Speech in a Commercial Culture. R. George Wright. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1997. 244 pp. $30 pbk.

The troubling central thesis of R. George Wright's book is that the sheer weight and extent of commercialism in our culture sets up unspoken expectations that render the public open to increasing intrusiveness by marketers. The author stresses that the public's collective senses have been numbed over time by the flurry of commercial messages to the point that we do not even blink at further incursions of commercialism into our daily lives. Furthermore, we have allowed ubiquitous commercial messages to substitute for and taint our underlying value systems.

In this well-written and interesting book, the author examines a number of related topics. This includes a chapter on the use of the First Amendment and free speech considerations in defending commercial speech. Chapters that explore tobacco advertising and another on the commercial "colonization" of the Internet are particularly timely. Wright also focuses on ads that are purposefully controversial, the portrayals of women and minorities by advertisers, and the dilemma of the poor in a commercialized society. Of particular note is the author's view of the price paid when public education relies on corporate funding in exchange for the commercialization of our schools. In discussing these topics, Wright views advertisers as a cold, calculating lot driven simply by how to make the next sale.

The book is appropriate as a required or recommended book for a graduate seminar on the social, legal, and economic effects of advertising. …