Kalle Lasn [“Truth in Advertising,” interview by Derrick Jensen, July 2001] hit on an unspoken truth. I teach at a university where Pepsi pays $3.5 million to be the exclusive advertiser. I watch TV programs that have twelve minutes of commercials in a thirty-minute show. I rent a video and discover that, even there, I have to watch fifteen minutes of advertising. There is indeed no escape. And we wonder what’s happened to our integrity!
Derrick Jensen’s interview with Kalle Lasn [“Truth in Advertising,” July 2001], validated the decision I made several years ago to simplify my life by redefining what is essential (very few things are), getting rid of a lot of unessential possessions, and refraining from buying more. I have derived great aesthetic pleasure from this simplification. I’m tempted now, however, to purchase a few of those elixirs that promise longevity, if only because I want to live long enough to see a world free from marketing.
I very much enjoyed the interview with Kalle Lasn, and though I agree with just about everything he says, I think he and others who have been interviewed in your magazine need to place more emphasis on individual responsibility and less blame on advertisers and corporate America.
Although advertisers may “create a need” for SUVs, cigarettes, cellphones, widescreen TVs, and so on, no one is forcing us to buy them. I know that some manufacturers target kids and others deny that their products cause harm when they know that they do. In cases like these, I say sue the bastards, or at least expose their lies and let people decide. But when adults purchase items at a severe cost to themselves and/or the environment, we should blame them, not the manufacturers. Enough information is out there to counteract advertisements. We just live in deep denial.
I am exposed to as much advertising as most Americans, but I’ve made choices. One has been simply to say no to SUVs, cellphones, and the like. Every time I do, I take just a little more power back.
I am totally supportive of Kalle Lasn’s “culture jamming.” I believe our out-of-control consumer society is unbalanced and that change is badly needed. But when he states that “it’s impossible to live a free, authentic life in America today. . . . Our emotions, personalities, and core values have become programmed,” Lasn is guilty of gross generalization.
Life in America is more complex than Lasn purports. I own a car and a tv – although I sometimes feel guilty about it – because I like being able to drive to the beach and pray to the ocean. And I like watching reruns of sitcoms and sci-fi movies, though I usually mute the commercials. I buy almost all my clothes at thrift stores. As a teacher, I have summers off, and I fill my days with hiking, swimming, reading, playing guitar and accordion, and writing songs, poetry, and short stories.
Recently, I had an unexpected experience. On a big, beautiful beach in New Jersey (of all places), my girlfriend and I had a jam session with three other musicians we had met only minutes before. On the fine white sand, under the hot sun, and within sight of the ocean, we sang, played, and created something in the moment. We were also all totally naked.
There is still free, spontaneous behavior in America.
I was impressed by Kalle Lasn’s ideas and powerful message. I have to ask, though: if we are making such a mistake by “letting thousands of marketing messages into our minds every day without a second thought,” then why should I allow his marketing messages and “subvertisements” into my head?
Lasn wants to be allowed to advertise on television, like Nike and Pepsi. Although I believe in free airtime for any organization, the real answer lies in the medium, not in the message. Rather than seek equality on TV, why not gather great thinkers to develop a new medium? Why rely on television, magazines, and newspapers to deliver the message when we can create an alternative? Just twenty years ago, we couldn’t have imagined the Internet. There are many possibilities ahead of us.
Kalle Lasn responds:
I agree with B.J. McQuade that we’re not living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World quite yet, but I think we’re a lot closer than many of us care to admit. Most North Americans now spend more than a quarter of their waking lives in front of their TV sets. Then, on the weekends, they dutifully trot off to the malls and do exactly what the TV has been telling them to do all week — go out and buy. And one of the first things they do when they return home is turn the damn thing on again. I had an epiphany at a mall last Christmas Eve: I stood in a corner, shut my eyes, and tried to absorb the sounds of all the people rushing by. After a while, it felt uncannily like an army of drones.
I cannot agree with Jenny Ignaszewski on the need to give up on TV and search for alternative media. Why should we the people look for alternatives? TV is our forum, our mental commons; the public airwaves legally belong to us. Why don’t we take this medium back from the corporations and let them search for alternatives? Learning how to think and act like sovereign, empowered citizens may be the only way for civil society to triumph over corporate power in the battle for control of the planet.