Today I was waiting at an intersection for the light to change, and to my right, in the left-hand turn lane for the street I was crossing, was this enormous green 7-Up truck. As the light changed and I passed by it, I noticed that all the cars beside it were suffused by this green glow from the light it reflected. They could not escape the refreshing goodness of 7-Up. It made me think about something I'd told a friend about advertising once.
I asserted that there is no essential difference between billboards and graffiti, except that one is sanctioned by property owners and municipalities, and the other is not. I stated that if graffiti writers offered to pay property owners for the privilege of tagging and throwing up pieces, and if there weren't laws penalizing the owners for allowing graffiti to proliferate on their property, the owners might actually allow writing.
But that's not true. There is an essential difference. The difference is that billboards are mechanisms designed to make people yield money and power and their willpower to corporate entities, while graffiti simply announces the existence of its creator. Graffiti isn't trying to skin you; it isn't trying to get you to change your lifestyle or break your budget. Billboards and other advertising are allowed because property owners and civic leaders can profit from their effects; their effects allow corporations to buy such people off. By that same token, the outlawing of graffiti eliminates competition for the attention of the public mind. Graffiti is demonized as a public eyesore, a symptom of gang lawlessness, although advertising is immeasurably more pervasive, and writers are penalized for encroaching upon the 'turf' of advertisers. Although works of graffiti are personal statements by a writer or crew of writers, its legitimacy as art is always under assault; while ads are engineered for profit by commercial artists, to project a message devised by a panel of marketers, at the behest of a corporation whose only goal is to absorb the money and secure the loyalty of the public... ads are hailed by those who count as glorious artistic statements. The question of graffiti's social value is never raised. The message of graffiti is 'Respect me.' The message of advertising is 'Obey me.'
Most people don't realize how polluted their environment is by viral memes. They are surrounded and inundated by messages designed to provoke them into giving up their money, to change their way of living, to behave as others do, to surrender their resources and their will, to obey. For most of us this state of affairs has existed all our lives, so that it doesn't seem strange to us that stories on television are interrupted regularly by hurried, blaring vignettes in which toothpaste or tacos are the center of creation. It's not unusual to see enormous murals depicting the glory of cigarettes, and not surreal that the product in question isn't even pictured.
Many people would insist that ads have no effect, that they don't even notice advertising. They don't run out and buy a burger every time one pops up on the screen, therefore advertising doesn't control them.
Although the ads themselves are intended to subvert the will, the greater danger is in what is not seen and heard. All major sources of information are controlled by the wealthy, and they only administer the media because money can be made from it. If there is not money to be made from a message, that message is not repeated. Independent (unprofitable or threatening to profit) thought is shut out; only those who have the money to pay for their speech are allowed to speak. It should not surprise anyone that the only people who ever get considered for public office in our democracy are those with enormous monetary backing; particularly not when election campaigns are indistinguishable from advertising campaigns, down to the same agencies running both, down to the test-marketing of candidates in the primaries.
This is the society we live in, and this is the method by which power has always been consolidated, by propaganda. Advertising is propaganda. The argument that only a wealthy man can reasonably expect to become President is easily understood; why, then, is it so hard to understand that only wealthy men are really able to speak? Why is it hard to understand that the only thoughts put forward, the only issues addressed will be those of interest to the rich and powerful, and that not simply our society but our environment is shaped by this fact? This is not freedom. In a free society, graffiti writers would have as much protection as advertisers; in a free society, anyone really could become President. Graffiti writers are doing more for the First Amendment than anybody in the judicial system is.
I'm not a Marxist or an anarchist; I'm not sure I'm even a human being. But I hate being lied to, especially being lied to in the midst of an obvious truth. I find it insulting... maybe that's why I can't stand to watch TV anymore, when I'm being mocked every 7.5 minutes and being snickered about the rest of the time.