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One of the factors behind the rampant hyper-consumerism that so characterizes our culture is the ever-increasing presence of marketeers and the corporations that employ them. Ads appear everywhere — even as tattoos on shaved or bald heads, as I pointed out recently. Now Gail Collins, writing her regular op-ed column in the NYTimes, discusses the increasing use of product placement and mentions on television shows.

We have long since gotten used to the idea that movies are awash with product placements, that the basketball game we’re watching is part of, say, the Doritos Home Classic at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Reality shows on television exist in part to get ratings and in part to remind you that the “Top Chef” contestants are cooking on G.E. appliances.

Collins’ point is that scripts now are beginning to mention specific products as part of the action. She quotes a few lines from a recent episode of “One Life to Live.”

Todd: What kind of soup is this?
Tea: It’s Campbell’s. It’s healthy, good for your heart.
Todd: (spooning away) Yeah, it’s good.

What I find most interesting and disturbing is her explanation of why we are seeing more and more advertising superimposed on what has been one of the very few places to escape from the din of the everyday world — entertainment. Amusement is defined as something that is diverting, that is, taking one away from the ordinary hurly-burly world. It’s not supposed to keep you there.
But that is exactly the intent of the advertisers. They producers of these shows argue that they have to accept advertising to keep the shows alive.

Daytime dramas are swimming in choppy waters these days. Ratings are down. Shows are getting canceled. “They’re struggling to find a business model that works,” said Leahey, in a remark I have heard a time or two lately in other contexts.

Putting Collin’s cleverness and irony aside, I find this practice insidious and very damaging to sustainability. When the producers of goods and services we buy start to show up in the very places we go to escape their incessant messages, we have lost another precious spot where the voice that says consume, consume, consume is silent. Changing habits is hard enough in any case, but almost impossible while in the midst of the milieu that supports and reinforces these habits. Shifting from the having mode of life to the being mode is the cornerstone of a new foundation for first individual, then cultural transformation. Companies, such as Campbell’s, that claim to produce healthy and green products are
feeding the addiction to consumption at the same time.

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