I recently studied the subject of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). It made me aware, even too aware, to language usage around me, mostly on the media. But, because language is not limited to verbal communication, pictures and the physical environment itself catch my attention as well. This made me suffer less when I watch TV because now I find it interesting, not because of the content, but because the way things and notions are delivered, and it is interesting to think about them from a new perspective.
The more I immerse myself in the history of advertisement, the more I get the irritated feeling when I look around me. I start to doubt the notion of freedom. I’m not talking about freedom from a political perspective. I’m referring to something more fundamental, freedom from social institutions that very aggressively try to influence my instincts and conscious, usually the economic institutes. If I’m free, why do I have no choice when choosing or, have a say in the shaping of our physical environment? Most of the noises we encounter in the public sphere, we don’t choose. We cannot choose to see what we want to look at. But more importantly, we cannot decide what NOT to see. As Stuart Even wrote in his book “Captains of consciousness”:
“Today, nearly every moment of human attention is being converted into an occasion for a sales pitch, while notions of the public interest and noncommercial arenas of expression are under assault.” Today this line is even more correct. When we consider pop-ups click baits, social media as an advertiser’s platform, in-app ads and many more instances when our consciousness is being hijacked by people who want us to buy something. When you pay attention, you will see that almost everywhere, when you set your eyes on something, there is information. I’m not talking about information of things that exists, like “this is a tree” or “this is a human being,” I mean information that someone wanted you to understand, to intake and to be aware of. Signs, billboards, slogans, brands, sounds, ads, all those. When I take the subway, train, just walk the street, most of this info has to do with economy, consumption. Someone wants you to know what they sell, and why YOU should buy it. Or at least keep that in mind. We cannot choose to undo it. We cannot force billboards down. Nobody gives us any choice.
During my recent trip to Tokyo, I came across an excellent example of how the whole physical environment is being harnessed into a machine of advertising. Me and my wife went to Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo. There we went to Fuji Television’s building. Fuji Television is one of the biggest TV stations in Japan. They have on the 30th (maybe a bit higher) floor an observatory, which gives a lovely view over the whole artificial island and the nearby area. After we paid (of course), and took the elevator, we were welcomed with a very aggressive advertising machine. First, there were three big televisions screens, which continually broadcasted a trailer for the cartoon movie “minions.” Not only that the screens were big, and unavoidable, the sound of the movie trailer was really loud. So the whole room was filled with what they wanted you to hear, the trailer for this movie.
The second thing that they did was to put in the center of the room several stands that created half a circle. They were big and full of merchandise, of course of the “minions.” Even if you just wanted to go to the window to see the view, you had to pass near these stands. They actually force you to prolong the walk to the windows, so you would have to pass by the merchandise and look at it. So again, we could not avoid it. Another thing that they did was to sell food. I don’t have a sense of smell after a surgery I had to undertake, but I’m sure the room was filled with pleasant aroma. The food stands were just under the big screens, and again, we had to walk past them to get to see the view.
After we saw the view, while having to hear the loud noise of the TV screens, I wanted to go to the toilet. They even had Ads inside the bathrooms in places you were most likely to look at. Like above the urinals. We had to go through a maze of ads. Every place I lay my hands, on the walls, on the polls, places that we were most likely to put our eyes on, there was a sticker, something to remind us of the “minions.” Then we went to a “real size” TV studio, of the most popular morning show in Japan. There they just bombarded us with “soon to come” tv programs and dramas, faces of the famous celebs and details about their lives.
My wife doesn’t pay attention to those things because she doesn’t care, and not aware. I, on the other hand, suffered every second of it. It got me angry, not only they charge me with money, they did everything they could to get more money out of my pocket. This is insulting, is this the way they view me? As a target for money extraction? I guess most of the people I come across in my daily life do consider me a target, not as a human being who have free wills that are needed to be considered. But instead as a walking wallet, that my will is something that needs to be changed, bent and manipulated for their profits.
Adults might be more resilient to those attempts, but children are the real targets. They want to stimulate the kids with a likable cartoon, put loud noise to force them to watch the big screen. The big screen moves fast and catches their attention. The smell and candy’s catch their nose and tongue. The kids know that in holidays and trips parents tend to be less stressed over money, so they might buy the kids things they won’t otherwise. So this “special” place with the view and big elevator, might make them understand that if they push their parents hard enough, they might get something, and they tend to try their luck. So, parents buy merchandise not because they think it’s good, but they buy some peace and quiet.
Are we free? Can I choose not to see these images? Can I choose not to hear this noise? No. I can maybe put earphones and hear music, but I cannot go with a blindfold. Look around you when you go in the street, when you drive when you enter somewhere. What information do you get the most? What the people who put this information there, wanted you to think when you read\see? Most of it has to do with you and your wallet. We cannot say that we are free, when considering that words, symbols, and pictures carry political, social values, and notions about the “right” way of life. It is everywhere, and It is impossible to escape it. Why are billboards ok? Why do I have to see them? Because somebody paid money to someone, for the right to catch my attention? Nobody came to me and asked me if I agree. I don’t want to surrender my attention. Can I choose not to look at the billboard? With the right techniques, I’m cannot. I will HAVE to look at it, even for a second, many times this second is enough to make me understand the things that somebody wanted me to understand. Think about years of indoctrination, and the lack of awareness and critical thinking about these issues. That is how we get influenced, meaning we don’t have much of a free choice.