Starting Point: My Father was a Salesman


This article originally appeared in Issue# 37

So I guess it's in my genes to be aware of the power of persuasion. Indeed, for many years I've collected ads and commercials, especially those classic ones like the Volkswagen "lemon" ads that leave you chuckling, even laughing out loud at their amazing insight into human psychology and behavior.

But for the past few years I've struggled with a dilemma: how to admire and appreciate real artistic and creative talent while being suspect about advertising's role in creating a materialistic orientation that I know deep down is shallow and superficial.

Then suddenly books and articles began to appear that told me others were thinking about this, too. I decided it was time for an issue of Media&Values on the subject — one that would respect advertising as a contemporary art form but at the same time critique its connection to the consumer economy.

Many people blame advertising for causing our increased consumerism. They often proclaim that if we could just get rid of "all those ads" we would have a healthier society.

A closer look at the phenomenon, however, reveals that modem-day advertising evolved primarily as a tool for a much deeper reality: capitalism. As Michael Schudson notes succinctly in Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion, "Advertising is capitalism's way of saying 'I love you' to itself." The theme of this issue is complex. Its contents are challenging. The only solution is long-term, and global.

But it begins with the increased consciousness that this issue can provide.., along with a willingness to put into practice the words of Ghandi: "There is enough in this world for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."


With this issue we acknowledge a new group of supporters — organizations that wish to affirm our work on a specific topic by lending their name as co-sponsors, and backing up their commitment with a substantive contribution.

In addition to a number of organizations that contributed smaller amounts, we gratefully announce the following co-sponsors for this issue on advertising and the consumer economy: American Baptist Office of Communications o Franciscan Friars/Assumption Province, Pulaski, WI o Franciscan Friars, Cincinnati, OH . Loretto Community, Denver, CO o Mennonite Church Media Ministries, Harrisonburg, VA . Mercy Administrative Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Union of Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, Donaldson, IN . Redemptorists of Western Canada o Servite Friars / Western Province o Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, KY o Sisters of the Holy Redeemer, Huntingdon Valley, PA o Sisters of the Humility of Mary of Pennsylvania. Sisters of Providence, Spokane, WA o Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, Milwaukee, WI o Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet/ Generalate. Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA

Author Bio: 

Elizabeth Thoman, a pioneering leader in the U.S. media literacy field, founded Media&Values magazine in 1977 and the Center for Media Literacy in 1989. She is a graduate of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and continues her leadership through this website, consulting, speaking and as a founding board member of the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA).