OK, this isn’t really very complex, but some people seem not to get it, so I’m feeling the need to start at the top.
Which is: Advertising works.
Advertising works because it makes you buy stuff that otherwise you would not have bought. That is the whole point of advertising. Big corporations would not spend billions on advertising if there was not good, solid evidence that advertising makes people buy their products who would not have otherwise bought them.
Good. Solid. Evidence.
(For example, although I would hope that the above is too bleeding obvious to need much in the way of supporting evidence, here are a few things I found in about 2 minutes on Google – just for starters: Ofcom report discussing the effect of advertising on children’s food choices; PPA (Periodical Publishers Association) website describing how magazine advertising works, with reference to numerous studies in support; and a paper by Atlas Institute detailing evidence for effectiveness of online advertising.)
One of the reasons that advertising works is that exposure to a logo, a brand, a concept affects how you feel about that logo, brand, concept – the more exposure the stronger the effect. Even if you don’t buy Anchor butter specifically because you like the We are lucky cows song*, you might find yourself buying it because it happens to be the familiar brand, or you might find yourself, perhaps even subconsciously, associating Anchor butter with happy, well-looked-after cows and a guilt-free sandwich.
(*And I do like it, a lot. Except that when I sing it I change the words…)
If this works for happy cows selling butter, if the idea of a happy cow associated with a particular brand of butter can affect our butter-buying habits, why shouldn’t the same approach work for, say, pornographers, who promote the idea of women as objects to be used and abused, who associate the idea of Woman with their particular brand of Object and who associate acts of sexual violence with thrilling pleasure?
But we’ve all done porn to death.
What about just plain, simple, not-specifically-sexual violence? It strikes me, whenever I poke my head out of my shell and watch a ltitle TV or saunter down the DVD aisle at the supermarket, that things are getting worse. Violence on TV is normal now, it is explicitly touted as entertaining. It is fun.
It seems that more films than ever are 18-rated. More films than ever contain so much sex, violence and bad language that they cannot safely be viewed by a vulnerable person. What does that say? That more people than ever are consuming violence as entertainment. And the same applies to video games (or whatever they are called these days). There are so many games that cannot safely be played by young people. Games that celebrate violence. What does that say?
Violence. As. Entertainment.
We’ve got so used to thinking of violence as entertainment that sometimes we forget to really think about it. Think about it. Watching violence, doing violence. For fun. More people are doing that than ever before, if the number of 18-rated films in the supermarket is anything to go by.
And it feels to me that the nature of that violence must be getting worse too, because the ratings films get seem to be changing. When I was a kid it seemed like just about any film that was worth watching was rated 18. Now, as it seems to me, the film industry – wise to the need to appeal to younger audiences and get the youth dollar/pound – lobby successfully to have the ratings reduced and reduced. The 12A rating was created specifically because movies were being made for and marketed to young children which contained too much violence to pass the censors as PG. Instead of accepting that the films should be either less violent or aimed at older children, the rules were changed to let younger children see more violent films.
These days I just don’t watch 18 films and I have to have a good reason to watch anything rated 15. I just find them too, well – unpleasant. Not entertaining. Call me weird, but violence (cartoon or otherwise) and graphic sex scenes are not what I particularly want to spend my spare hours watching. Nor do I especially revel in Godfather-style extravaganzas in F, as if boring and repetitious bad language somehow makes a film more “real” instead of just more annoying.
It used to be impermissible to show a dead body on television – you had to use mood and suggestion and acting instead. Now you get naked victims with the marks of violence that make you feel sick. Or would make you feel sick if you weren’t already numbed to the horror of what you are seeing by repetition, repetition, repetition, to drill into your tiny little mind that this dead body is not a person, never was a person, not a thinking, feeling, emotional being with hopes and ambitions and rights, a person like you the viewer. Not a person. An object. A victim. That’s all.
And I haven’t even mentioned the news. It used to be that whenever they were about to show some disturbing footage, you would get a look-away-now warning. Now that warning seems to be aired hardly ever, if at all. And it isn’t because the news programmes no longer show famine victims or bomb victims or undercover reporters bearing witness to violent scenes. It’s just because nobody thinks any more that such scenes could disturb the viewer.
Advertising works, because it makes us think and feel differently about the images and ideas to which it exposes us. It makes us more accepting of those images and ideas. More comfortable with them. More ready to believe the underlying message.
Is it possible that the portrayal of violence as normal and entertaining might make people think and feel differently about violence? That it might make them more accepting of violence? More comfortable with it? More ready to believe the underlying message that violence is normal and entertaining?
Is it possible that the portrayal of women as sexual objects might have the same effect? That is might make people think and feel differently about women? More accepting of the sexualisation of women? More comfortable with the idea that women exist for male pleasure? More ready to believe in the lies that pornography tells?
It’s bleedin’ obvious.