Contemporary consumer culture is a phenomenon both intriguing and disturbing. It is intriguing because of the fascinating way the huge population of the planet conforms to the rules and regulations of this culture that transcends borders. It is disturbing in a sense that people do not always choose to be a part of this culture and are often forced, whether consciously or subconsciously, into particular decisions and choices. The paradox of today’s world is that while promoting free will, human rights, and informed decision-making people often turn a blind eye to the way they are manipulated by commercials. In order to make wise decisions the consumers need to be aware that modern advertising system has nothing to do with satisfying costumers’ needs but rather pursues its own hidden agendas dictated by the dominant groups in a society.
Advertisements often do nothing more than play on people’s desires and unattained goals. The product itself is not as convincing as the commercial used to advertise it. For instance, the new drink Yiyun Li talks about had a rather persuasive commercial. “Equally seductive was the TV commercial, which gave us a glimpse of a life that most families, including mine, could hardly afford” (Li). Here one can see the true reason for the drink’s success. It was the image associated with it rather than the quality of the good itself. Later in her work Li says: “our family had never tasted Tang” (Li). So, the real product was not even assessed by some people but it did not prevent them from being obsessed with it.
Together with promoting a particular image commercials also satisfy the dominant layer of the society subjugating others to their will. This is particularly the case with beauty standards that often have a drastic disparity with the health considerations. Fatema Mernissi in her article “Size six: The Western women’s harem” appears to be shocked by the standards present in the Western world. “I joked to the saleslady, deliberately neglecting to mention size four, which is the size of my skinny twelve-year-old niece” (Mernissi). She is sincerely bewildered by the fact that there is a standard size for women that could only be natural for adolescent girls. The whole underlying commercial culture is more visible to the outsider. She has no problem identifying that standards for women are actually men’s idea. “He declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look 14 years old. If she dares to look 50 or, worse, 60, she is beyond the pale” (Mernissi). The size restrictions are unveiled to be mere impositions on women’s self-worth.
Therefore, consumers can only free themselves from this net of hidden agendas though awareness. As soon as the customer figures out that it was not the real product they wanted but the artificial image attached to it the commercial loses its power. This is what happened to Yiyun Li: “but its glamour had lost its gloss because, alas, it was neither expensive nor trendy” (Li). Not supported by its image and fashion the desired drink became a mere powder in the bottle. In a similar way one can fight the unnecessary standards by being aware that there are other alternatives. “I realised for the first time that maybe ‘size six’ was a more violent restriction imposed on women than the Muslim veil” (Messini). It may be in fact so because, unlike Muslim veil, standard sizes are not necessarily recognized by women as restrictions; and this is the real danger.
The advertising system can be misleading and damaging for consumers’ mind and body. Being aware of the way advertising functions gives people the power to deal with it effectively and not to fall to the charms of a trendy product easily. That is why it is crucial to be able to wait till the first fever around a new product subsides in order to make a clear-headed decision. Together with that, gaining different perspectives allows to be more critical of the suggested good or service and to avoid being just a part of unthinking masses.