First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu
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In the year that I was born, Herbert Marcuse the philosopher had a book published called One-Dimensional Man. It was critical of consumerism fuelled by advertising as it made people work hard to buy items that would bring them happiness. People thus worked harder and longer than is needed just to have the ‘must have’ items that the ad men tell the public about.
Put simply, in a one-dimensional society everybody conforms without thinking and everyone runs after the Dollar signs to save their lives. Nothing else matters.
I am 100 per cent a capitalist so while I see where anti-consumerism folks are coming from I also appreciate that if people decide to sit in front of the television and let advertising tell them how they live their lives, it is their prerogative. It is a free world after all.
However, anything that has just one dimension to it can be dangerous. Life is complex and people are driven by various seen and unseen forces. Advertising however has no time for complexities. Time on air is money, and they need to make their point in the shortest possible time, so they show a clip of Michael Jordan flying through the air wearing Nike trainers. The message is simple. Buy these trainers and experience the MJ aura. An experienced adult who knows how the world works might buy the trainers if he needs a new pair and might actually be glad that he had been alerted to the new product by the advert. A young mind however might react emotionally to the advert and feel he needs to be in that new pair of trainers the next day despite having four or five pairs already. There is no thinking involved with the young consumer. If it is cool to have, then it must be had. That kind of behaviour can be harmful to self for if the item is cool to have and the young consumer cannot afford to have the item they feel like second class citizens of the planet.
It is absolutely strange that a youngster with so many dimensions to his life such as family, health/sporting ability, scholastic potential, spirituality, etc could look at their life to assess it and score themselves a fail mark just because they do not own a particular pair of trainers, despite owning other pairs that are in good working order. This is the miracle of advertising. To make the consumer focus on just one tiny part of life and magnify it out of proportions.
Buying and selling is good for the economy and so the exchange of cash for goods and services should be encouraged. However, everyone should appreciate the full length and breadth of all the experiences that make up life. Life cannot be a watch or a phone. The clothes never maketh the man. The car is just a means of transport and has nothing to do with life. Apart from ambulances, all other vehicles in town are the same; they save no lives. A house is important but one thing I have noticed is that once the lights go out and one is tucked in bed, the feeling you get is the same whether the bed is in a five-star 200 roomed hotel, a mansion or a two-bedroom flat. There is only so much space you can occupy on a bed and once asleep, the quality of sleep has nothing to do with if it is a 5 or 8 or 12-bedroom house.
So many factors affect life and affluence is just one of them.
There is a big difference between spending 24 hours watching a 10-minute video on repeat of a performer compared to spending 24 hours a day living in the same house with that same performer. If the performer is a pianist, watching a video of their performance all day gives an impression that they do nothing else. Living with them for a day however might mean having to use the loo after them and getting confounded with the stench. That is why fans faint when they see their idols but family members never pass out.
Making people larger than life can only occur with years of focus on them doing just one thing exceptionally well. That aura of excellence and invincibility is an advertiser’s dream. Larger than life personalities endorse products (for a fee of course), and by laying hands on products they almost transfer their aura into the products making them iconic in their own right.
The consumer just sits there, salivates, worships and rises to purchase even if the funds are not available for the product has not one but two allies; advertising and credit cards.
Soon consumers start to judge each other on single criteria depending on which way the wind is blowing. “What car does he drive?”
“What watch does she wear?”
And the fundamentally important question to assess purchasing power; “what do they do for a living?”
It is myopic to judge a human being by clothes or watches for these single items are not enough to give the full picture.
Stereotypes are important in films or soap operas because the attention span appears to be dwindling. People are too impatient to have complex stories pan out so what you get is the good guys versus the bad guys. 007 is good and the villain is bad. The villain might be intelligent but James Bond always outwits him in the end.
Life however is not a movie that started in a scriptwriter’s notebook. There is a complex story to every life. And just as you cannot watch only penalty shoot-outs and understand football or watch a compilation of knock-outs and understand the sport of boxing, one cannot look at people and judge them on simple criteria and understand them. Practice makes perfect. If we judge people on just one criterion, we would start to practise on ourselves and it is just possible that we might fail ourselves in every criteria we bring up for the benchmark is always a better person afar off.