The Sympathetic Magic of Advertising

There was a time, a hundred or more years ago, when scholars regularly used this term “sympathetic magic” to name the process by which one thing was thought to affect something else — but doing so not by means of the cause/effect relationships we usually take for granted. If, for example, I rub this stone in just this way then something will happen over there to that mountain, or if I treat this lock of hair in some fashion then the person from whom it came will be similarly effected. That this term was associated with efforts to talk about what was once called magic, in distinction from what was then known as religion, should be obvious. Continue reading

“Tonight We May be Showmen; Tomorrow We’ll be Servicing Your Cars”

Picture 3A few days ago I was online discussing with a grad of our Department how advertising works in media — i.e., how it is not difficult to understand the content of, say, a newspaper, website, or television as simply serving the role of bringing the eyes of readers or viewers (in fact, let’s just call them consumers) to the ads which finance the medium in the first place. (In this day and age of cable fees and Netflix or Hulu subscriptions it’s likely hard for some to believe that TV was originally just cast broadly, like seeds [aka “broadcast”] over the so-called airwaves for free and anyone with an antenna and receiver [that is, a television set] got it for free.) It’s an old analysis, of course, one I first recall thinking about in earnest when watching, “Manufacturing Consent” back when the film first came out, in Toronto, back in 1992. (The entire documentary is here.)

To sum it up we can quote Chomsky himself: Continue reading