"The Ad and the Ego." San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1996,57 minute VHS tape. Purchase $195; rental $95. Web site: www.newsreel.org.
Videos about advertising? The temptation is to string together a series of contemporary television commercials, capturing the moment and yet failing to provide in-depth analysis and interpretation of such a pervasive aspect of American culture. After all, if commercials are devoid of heavy content, why should programs about them be any different? Unfortunately, such programs are merely snapshots of our culture, becoming quickly dated by their limited frameworks. "The Ad and the Ego" producers Harold Boihem and Chris Emmanouilides avoid this pitfall by skillfully assembling a video that examines the larger context of advertising in our society, without relying too heavily on trends in ad copy and images. In order to accomplish the daunting task of explaining the impact of advertising, the two producers utilize an impressive number of recognized experts in the field of media criticism. The format of the video blends interviews of these experts with clips from literally hundreds of advertisements. Print advertisements are included, but the emphasis is clearly on television.
Electing to work without the use of formal narration, the producers still probe deeply into the essence of advertising and its unyielding links to our culture. The featured experts seem to stand in collective awe at the sheer power of advertising in our society, while simultaneously issuing stem and articulate warnings about its potentially damaging effects. Critic Jean Kilbourne calls advertising "one of the most powerful forms of education in our society." It is fashionable for viewers to claim they pay no real attention while watching ads. The video's experts, however, feel this is precisely when some of the most effective persuasion takes place. Viewers who see little reason to be consciously wary of advertising may be greatly affected subconsciously when their guard is down. …