Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society

By Michael Schudson | Go to book overview
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7
Advertising as
Capitalist Realism

ADVERTISING, as the early agency Lord and Thomas put it, is "salesmanship in print." It is just that simple, just that complex. Understanding advertising entails understanding the difference between personal and printed or broadcast communication; the differences entailed in the "decontextualization" of thought and feeling that systems of mass communication make possible. With the invention of writing in human history, anthropologist Jack Goody observes, "Speech is no longer tied to an occasion: it becomes timeless. Nor is it attached to a person; on paper, it becomes more abstract, more depersonalized."1 For Goody, this opens the way to science, to the growth of criticism, and to a more tolerant attitude toward one's own frame of reference. But the same forces that enable people to see themselves as individuals independent of social and traditional contexts make people susceptible to the appeals of mass media, including advertising. This is an openness or susceptibility qualitatively different from the householder's vulnerability to the direct sales pitch. Among other

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