As with my previous musing, I have been thinking about this next thought for quite some time and for anyone in my inner circle it is nothing more than a written version of the word vomit they were initially subjected to. That being said, considering how easily we can be persuaded and/or manipulated by associative advertising I often wonder, can we really think for ourselves? I mean really think for ourselves? With all sincerity, I would love to believe we can but I also have to wonder if even the strongest of wills or minds amongst us are as independent in thought as we’d like to think we are.
Case in point: for as long as I can remember, families have had an informal gathering in the backyard with a charcoal or gas grill where the male head of household typically puts flame to slabs of protein. It’s just what we do, as people, as Americans; however, this ritual is merely the product of a very successful ad campaign. Excuse me? Yes, that’s right, an ad campaign. But, I don’t think most of us question this ritual or even consider its origins. I certainly never did—until a few years ago when seeking remodeling ideas for my 1955 rambler.
In the Post World War II housing boom, builders scrambled to get homes built for returning soldiers and their families. The depression was done and it was a new era—the general public no longer had to tighten the purse strings, the 40 hour work week was born, which allowed more time for leisurely activities on weekends, and union contracts provided paid vacations. (A Remodeling Handbook for Post World War II Houses, pg. 5).
The ideal homes being built were ramblers, designed to enhance the pleasure of this new-found leisure time by providing modern electrical appliances, large backyards and often had a sliding glass door that lead out to a patio which had a grill, of course.
Because American’s apparently just didn’t know how to relax and have a good time, they had to be taught and so, here in the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis Tribune published a magazine article every Sunday entitled “How to Have Fun in your Backyard.” (1952). It is from this we have the concept that Dad, or at least the male head, should be cooking steaks outside on the grill—because it’s “manly.” This idea, along with the modern appliances, were used to sell homes as “Futuristic” and “Very Different.” It was later defined as the epitome of the “American Dream” (A Remodeling Handbook for Post World War II Houses, pg. 5).
Sixty-four years later, we still participate in what is now a custom (with or without the rambler-style home). I am NOT saying this is a bad thing. Hell, I quite enjoy firing up the grill, hanging out on a nice summer or fall day (preferably when the mosquitos aren’t rampant), and letting the kids play in the comforts and convenience of my own space. What I am saying, however, is that this idea, as wonderful as it is, was not our own as individuals. It was an idea developed in a very smart advertising campaign designed for the sole purpose of selling homes. It was a way to get people to associate a relaxed way of life with that style of home and large yard. This movement was so successful it is the reason the Twin Cities suburbs grew as they did.
Just when you thought you were smart enough to avoid being manipulated by the advertisers (is the sarcasm, in Jaw’s-like fashion, dripping of the page yet?), you realize you’ve been living an ad campaign your entire life. Perhaps the question isn’t so much about whether we can physically think independently, but more about whether or not we can escape manipulation or influence from outside sources long enough to truly think independently.
Unfortunately, I am not sure that we can. Perhaps this is where my “disappointed idealist” turned cynic comes into play. Because I certainly used to think I was smart enough not to be fooled—turns out I have been—on a number of occasions and to various degrees. And, I’m not the only one (so, this fact doesn’t mean I’m not nearly as smart as I thought—or maybe it does).
For as many times as we claim we can see through the barrage of advertisements and claim that if, and only if, we are truly interested shall seek further information to make an “informed” choice, there are plenty more things we have bought into because we were persuaded in some way to do exactly what they wanted us to do. There are many products we use in everyday life (e.g. deodorant, teeth whiteners, certain prescription drugs, cosmetics and/or astringents) only because the need was manufactured. And somewhere, along the line from that 1950’s new-leisure era, we became consumers who bought the fabricated “American Dream” they sold and we practice it religiously.
Or, perhaps this is just the midnight rambling of a mind who, much like Jerry McGuire’s ill-gotten mission statement, was up too late and/or ate bad pizza. Tonight, this is as good as it’s going to get. “Sleep tight for me, I’m gone.”