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Black Friday Antidote: George Carlin on Advertising and Consumerism

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Americans roll from a holiday that has come to be about overeating to a day where merchants hope to seduce customers into an orgy of overspending.

In an interesting bout of synchronicity, Michael Thomas just sent me a link to this George Carlin video. It may help steel the will of Black Friday conscientious objectors. I’m also looking forward to Carlin’s characteristic crudeness offending the Proper Discourse police (this clip is tame compared to The Aristocrats).

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44 comments

  1. tom allen

    You ever notice the more you tell the truth, the harder people laugh? Ah well. People are going to need a lot of laughs today, and for the month to come. And bullshit does make the best fertilizer. :-)

    1. Liviu

      True, true, people laugh, but [hopefully] at one point they realize they have been told the truth, so they stop laughing and get things done, put order in their lives and so on. I see laughing as a method of compelling people to do something about the bad situation they got themselves into…

  2. postmodernprimate

    Bill Hicks is another comic genius who would be having a field day with the obscenely target-rich satire bounty modern America has become.

    Bill Hicks on Marketing

    “By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Seriously though, if you are, do. I know all the marketing people are going, “he’s doing a joke…” there’s no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, hang yourself, borrow a gun – I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil machinations. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, “Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart…”

  3. Charles Frith

    Bill Hicks was another one who died prematurely from Cancer (Pancreatic/Unusual for his age). Terence McKenna also died early from unusual cancer. Both talking about topics that are much better distributed today.

  4. Raymond

    Postmodernprimate, thank you, I agree with 100%, and I have been railing against advertising and marketing for as long as I can remember, I hate those guys. In the 70′s they marketed a damn pet rock, and people bought the damn things for Christ’s sake! This whole idea of consumerism and buying stuff thereby making citizens “consumers” has destroyed our sense of who we are and that we must buy something to be happy. What a crock! I nam sick of it. TV commercials are the worst, and I hit the mute button each time one is on, I refuse to watch them or even listen to them. And these people who have ajob creating things for us to buy are uselss motherf**kers and need to get real jobs. Thank you George Carlin, you are my champion and I love you for exposng the bulls**t that goes on in the marketing and advertising world.

    1. Knut

      For a long time now, I’ve thought that being in hell is living in a television commercial and having to smile all the time.

      1. Stephen Nightingale

        MacCruiskeen: “I’ve always had the impression that corporate HR and IT departments are managed by former Soviet bureaucrats”.

        There is not a more honesty-enforcing device in modern life than a compiler and the attendant run-time system, nor a greater intellectual joy than the art and science that can be created with it. But IT departments are generally managed by people who failed programming.

  5. Barbyrah

    Thanks for posting, and for starting my day with laughter, Yves. As well as to the commenters who help me realize…there really are many who wish to travel a different path rather than the (toxic) one we’ve been on.

  6. jake chase

    The best thing about advertising, marketing, media, politicians, etc. is we still have the right to ignore them. We even have the right to ignore the military insanity, which wasn’t true in the 1960s, so perhaps there is such a thing as progress. And I know that all these things create tremendous damage and make for serious insanity world wide, but I still value the right to ignore them. Of course, those of you who remain convinced that the world can be reshaped in an ideal model of universal freedom and brotherhood and plenty, if we could just unmask and dethrone these forces of political and commercial and industrial and military evil, incarcerating the worst offenders, will continue to insist upon that. To you I recommend Carlyle’s The French Revolution.

    Despite all this evil and stupidity, anybody can still engineer a personal solution if he tries hard enough and long enough. Moreover, every group solution since the dawn of history as proved itself a failure. Ours is just the latest example. Carlin had the only sensible solution, make jokes about the whole mess and get paid for telling them.

    1. Carl

      “anybody can still engineer a personal solution”

      Here’s a website that satisfies many of your wants.
      More at immunizing yourself from consumerism.
      Nice to see a website with zero ads too.

      I found it when Googling “how to grow food”…

      http://www.verdant.net

    2. Dr Duh

      I’m sympathetic to your decision to seek a ‘personal solution’.

      After 9/11 I took the admonition to “be the change you wish to see in the world” seriously and quit my job serving the Bloomberg Reich to go to medical school. I believe in the path that Helen and Scott Nearing chose, if you can’t change the world, change your corner of it.

      While you’re right that no group solution has ever been perfect, I don’t believe that ‘perfection’ is a legitimate standard. Even in our flawed and broken state, we can still criticize the government publicly without worrying that storm troopers will come for us in the night.

      Ultimately I believe that “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I often think of the research showing that even primates have individuals who are willing to pay a disproportionate personal cost in order to enforce group rules. I believe that this self sacrificing behavior is built into us and is necessary for group success. The truth is that all political power is based on consent. Even tyranny relies on the passive consent of the majority. To be sure tyrants make use of violence and coercion, but their true strength comes from fear and intimidation, from convincing people that change is impossible, that it is easier, safer and more rational to go along rather than resist.

      I believe that our enemy knows this and that is why the response to OWS has been so ferocious.

    3. wunsacon

      >> The best thing about advertising, marketing, media, politicians, etc. is we still have the right to ignore them. We even have the right to ignore the military insanity, which wasn’t true in the 1960s, so perhaps there is such a thing as progress.

      The “right” but not the “means” to ignore them *effectively*.

      Consider the “crowding out effect”:
      - If it’s more profitable to deliver HCFS-laden and/or genetically modified food to consumers disinterested in those issues, then more stores/restaurants will open to serve that food. Because they’re more profitable, landlords can raise rent on them. Eventually, the healthy stores will not be able to afford the new rent. They will close. In sum, if too many consumers patronize the unhealthy food, you end up with a “mono-culture” of unhealthy food around you.

      - If the Fed-fiat-fueled MIC hires good engineers, non-MIC companies will find it harder to hire/retain affordable talent.

  7. pbwe

    In the preamble roll call of classic b s lines, I intuit the inspiration of Tom Waits.

    … we need your business
    we’re givin’ you the business
    get on the business end
    of our goin’ outta business sale …

  8. James

    “Carlin had the only sensible solution, make jokes about the whole mess and get paid for telling them.”

    Better yet, make jokes about the silly bastards whether or not you get paid for telling them. The “commodify everything” mentality is what we’re trying to break, remember? Somethings really are best when they’re absolutely free.

  9. Susan the other

    I think George Carlin died from heart disease. His passing nearly killed the rest of us; it was so sad to lose him. I wish I could seance him back to quip on all the banksters and wars of aggression today. He was so good he made total obscenity pristinely funny. No small talent.

  10. LAS

    Oh, it’s just getting worse. Ads shall be breaking in on your cell phone when the gps alerts them you are within 50 feet of a buying opportunity, if not already the case. Eye tracking now lets marketers know exactly what you are likely to look at or read and in what order you will do so. Neuroscientists have tested people just like you by sticking probes on their head and body for galvanic response. Yes, they are well on the way to inserting ads directly into your brain and interrupting your brain patterns.

  11. rotter

    Carlin was always great, ive been listening to his material since the early 70′s and i was 14. The guy that was (unfortunately) near the mic and sounds like a giant drunk chipmunk was bit annoying.

  12. Ed Beaugard

    This post is yet another reason why there is no “Left” in the United States.
    I’m sorry to give everyone a hard time about this, but dislike of the crassness of advertising and “consumption” is thinly or not so thinly disguised class-snobbery.
    It’s the poor pathetic, idiot proles who are seduced into consuming by the advertisers & marketers. I would like to point out(name drop alert), that Keynes would not have agreed with this viewpoint at all, even though he was a snob about many other things.
    Anyway, as long as the “Left” thinks that the desires of ordinary people are disgusting, the “Left” will remain as it is, isolated and completely impotent.
    You shall dwell in obscurity and darkness forever(poor things).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I guess you’ve never heard of working class intellectuals, have you? I think this reveals class bias on your part.

      1. Sock Puppet

        Ah. Eric Hoffer: The true beliver. Thoughts on the nature of mass movements.

        Time to read that one again…

    2. Joe Corall

      Class-snobbery??? Sorry, I don’t see it. I think Carlin’s larger point with his marketing bit was his dislike of LYING (or as he so elegantly puts it – bullshit), which is essentially what most marketing is. Whether that belief has left or right sentiment is your call…

      Furthermore, claiming that only a certain income-group succumbs to such advertising tactics is, as Yves said, class bias on your part, not a commentary on “the left’s views of ordinary people”. Or perhaps you’re under the impression nobody driving a BMW was out on Black Friday, or bought a ‘ShamWOW’?

    3. Darren Kenworthy

      The desire for more is felt by all humans, irrespective of class. The temptation to want more is stoked by many self interested segments of society for their own purposes, regardless of the effects on the whole society, and with no particular reference to “left” and “right”. The critique of “greed” and it’s ill effects comes from every corner, and can be found in the intellectual foundations of most great religions, most great philosophical schools, and most social movements.

    4. ScottS

      I’ve been trying to reconcile vegans and NASCAR fans in my head for years. To no avail.

      The cultural divide is the biggest gap between the Tea Party and Occupiers, not anything ideological.

    5. ambrit

      Friends;
      I’ve always liked H G Wells famous quote about advertising; “Advertising is legalized lying.”

      1. Ed Beaugard

        @all,

        Wow! One favorable comment. I don’t think that’s happened before.
        The point is, criticizing “consumption” is not politically meaningful, as OWS and the Greens would like to believe. It’s like wealthy, retired bankers starting foundations that tell everyone we must make do with less, while they themselves live very comfortable lives. Or, another example is the ridiculousness of fair trade coffee at Starbucks.
        Or, believing that if people didn’t shop so much, they would be out in the streets protesting the banker bailouts, for example.
        These beliefs are quite misguided. Zizek(name drop alert) in his speech at Zuccotti Park addressed this issue(not that I’m a Marxist or anything like that), but he made the point pretty well.

  13. EmilianoZ

    It is now 9 pm on the east coast and I’m glad to report that I bought nothing today.

    Actually that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I did wander into a secondhand bookshop and I couldn’t resist buying an old used book. But that was only $3. I beg forgiveness for that small and unpremeditated infraction.

    1. psychohistorian

      I am a lucky man. Not only did I not buy anything today but I had the opportunity to take sample FDL Occupy Supply clothing to the Portland, OR Occupy meeting tonight and give to those in need….I only wish I had more because the folks I distributed the clothing to were very appreciative.

      I keep the George Carlin message starting with “The paradox of our time in history……” taped up on a cabinet next to where I work.

      Laugh the global inherited rich out of control of our society and into rooms at the Hague where they can be prosecuted for our social degradation.

  14. mch

    Is there such a thing as being too right? Carlin, Hicks, Lenny Bruce. They are not just incredibly insightful; they’re unrelenting. And I love and need them for that. But, Is there a virtue in being a little blind? A little inconsistent?

  15. ambrit

    Friends;
    I now work in a big DIY box store. Not giving anything away, (we have to sign confidentiality agreements to get hired,) but we opened very early in the morning and just moved our ‘margin’ into positive territory at noon.
    By the way, Carlin is absolutely right about that smile.

  16. Martskers

    Here’s a rare bit of good news for the majority o
    of us, and bad news for the ad biz:

    Congress passed, and Obama signed, a year ago, the so-called
    “Commercial Advertisement Loudness
    Mitigation Act” (a/k/a the “CALM” Act) to end the ad (and TV)
    industries’ annoying practice of increasing the
    decibel level of TV advertisements above the level of the program(s) they appear on. http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/PDF/s2847enr_calm_act.pdf

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that the
    law won’t go into full effect until one year
    after the FCC promulgates regulations to enforce
    it, which it has until December 11, 2011, and even
    then, there will be opportunities to request
    waivers and extensions of time.

    Some may remember that the FTC was in the process
    of “investigating” this practice, presumably for the purpose of doing something about it, when Ronnie Raygun
    came to power and squashed that initiative as part
    of his “government is the problem” mantra.

    One takes one’s victories where he can find them.

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