The Negative Effect Of Advertising On American Culture Critical Thinking Example
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In a broad sense, advertising has been a critical component of economies and cultures since the inception of trade. Modern advertising has emerged as an American cultural phenomenon that accompanied the processes of modernization and industrialization. Mass advertising indeed was intrinsically linked with the mass production of consumer goods. American advertising oriented the attention of the public towards a diverse quantity of products that were being disseminated across the nation in order to amplify the appeal of newer products. By the twentieth century, companies were using sophisticated marketing strategies and marketing surveys. Defenders of modern advertising predicate their defense on the “mirror theory,” which posits that industries merely transform content from American culture and regurgitates it through digital media (Bovee 35). This process profoundly changes when the cultural symbols become emblematic particular goods. The meanings of certain images and symbols fuse with certain services and products, in the same fashion that products are altered by these very ideas and images. Thus, advertising conveys distorted meanings and currency of products back into a commoditized world in order to sell and deliver these products. Jhally states: “Our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture" (Jhally). Advertising has been a significant part of media since the beginning of mass communication, but its role in today's culture links it to many of our current social ills Childhood obesity and body image issues all correlate with the nefarious nature of modern advertising in the U.S and underscore how advertising and the media influences human behavior.
The ubiquity of childhood obesity, which has adverse affects as children mature into adulthood and causes chronic diseases, has become more common during the past few decades and poses a significant societal problem as a result of advertisers exploit consumers in order to convince them to buy their products. Between 1980 and 2002, studies show that obesity among adolescents and children have increased by 17.1%, spawning various hypotheses to explain the epidemic that largely focus on changes in physical activity and diet (Burns et al. 890). Medical experts point to fast-food marketing and advertisements that both parents and children internalize as major contributors. Various studies on childhood obesity reveal that social marketing and advertising, which often target poorer, minority communities, combine with other built in environmental factors play a prominent role in the rise of obesity in children. In order to quell the escalation of this epidemic, public policies related to obesity as well as social marketing strategies must consider how the adverse affects of childhood impact future generations.
Grier et al explore how marketing by the fast-food industry has impacted parents in ethnically diverse communities that often lacked medical care, which led to an escalation of obesity in children. While lawmakers negotiate various ways to address the epidemic of pediatric obesity, parents exercise great control over what food their children consume. Not immune to food advertisements, parents often internalize the marketing they are exposed to, which influences what food they purchase at the grocery store as well as what food they permit their children to buy. To examine the influence of parental eating behaviors on their children as well as why minority populations suffer from higher rates of child obesity, the authors of this study used information extrapolated from the caregivers of children ranging from two to twelve years old who lived in impoverished communities to assess the impact of increased exposure to fast-food on parental eating behaviors and the causal relation it has to child obesity rates across the ethnic spectrum. They conducted studies based on self-reporting regarding parents' exposure, access, and attitudes towards fast-food as well as their children's fast-food consumption at eight CHCs in ethnically diverse communities on the east coast of the U.S. The authors found that parents' exposure to the marketing of fast food might influence the consumption of fast food by their children. While the study cannot prove a causal relationship, it nonetheless elucidates how marketing can negatively impact child obesity as a result of its effects on their parents across the ethnic spectrum (Grier et al. 221). Thus, parents play a pivotal role in the messages children receive regarding their diet and how the social media saturates its messages in order to entice young consumers.
While Grier et al focused on the effects of advertising on parents and how parents mediate and articulate certain messages about eating and body image to their progeny, Chou et al. (2008) investigates how constant exposure to fast-food advertisements runs on television directly influences childhood eating behaviors and obesity patterns. While the impact of exposure to fast-food advertisements as a result of parental influence cannot be quantified, the authors of this study utilized the Child-Young Adult National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 as well as the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of youth to assess the impact of fast-food advertising on television on children and young adults in relation to being overweight. The authors conclude that instituting a ban on fast-food advertisements would significantly curtail the number of obese children between the ages of three to eleven by approximately twenty percent. Moreover, incentives to remove fast-food advertisements and reduce children's exposure such as slashing tax deductibility could produce similar results but to a lesser extent (Chou et al. 599). Thus, the causal relationship between fast-food advertisements and children's and adolescents' body weight bears significantly in the formation of public policy aimed at stemming the rising rates of childhood obesity. Proactive parents can make an immense impact in this fight to largely eradicate fast-food advertisements that appeal to subliminal and subconscious hedonistic infantile desires.
In addition to contributing to childhood obesity, modern advertising also directly impacts the self esteem of consumers, which is evident through the intrinsic link between advertising and disordered eating patterns. Sociologist Jean Kilbourne contextualizes the trenchant impact of the media on the body within a feminist perspective. She posits that images in the mass media reinforce female inferiority through its depiction of the ideal body as something wholly unnatural and unattainable (Kilbourne 395). Through advertising, American society foments a tremendous fear in consumers of becoming fat in order to contain feminine power. Male cognizance of increasing female empowerment has fueled their various attempts to “keep women smallnot to take up too much space, literally and figuratively” (403). Indeed, the media presents an image of fragility in order to visually articulate the concept that women become successful as long as they remain “feminine” (403). While magazines and advertisements deliberately intensify anxiety about one’s weight and self-image due to its profitability, they also reflect cultural concerns and conflicts about the threat of female empowerment to the hegemonic cultural ideology that is so firmly rooted in male superiority. Such a profound preoccupation with one’s self image, weight and controlling appetites in women to achieve the ideal of immense thinness, however, has perpetuated a psychology and logic in women that conflates being a good person with the actual physical demonstration of self-restraint and one’s ability to deny themselves hunger and physical cravings (Root et al. 28). An individual is considered “bad” when they demonstrate a lack of control over his or her appetite, indicating that what one has eaten defines his or her success (28). This stark reality suggests the need to develop working prevention programs that target social factors that influence the onset of eating disorders so that psychological factors cannot further perpetuate the condition (Keel 152). Although steeped in feminist discourses, Kilbourne’s assertions nonetheless provide a window into how larger cultural forces trigger bulimic behaviors in girls through the media.
It is unequivocal that advertising filtered through the media profoundly impacts human behavior as a result of stealthy marketing strategies that play on the fears and desires of consumers. Advertisements deploy a litany of rhetorical strategies in order to articulate an argument that convinces the viewer to purchase or consume a certain product. Fast food restaurants are a poignant example of this cause and effect. The escalating obesity rates in children in America attest to this contention. Moreover, in an image-obsessed American culture, women become objects rather than members, and society judges women’s value on their appearance. Magazines reify the need for boys and girls to look a certain way and attain a certain body weight in order to be considered beautiful or desirable.
Bovee, Courtland L. and William F. Arens. Contemporary Advertising. Fourth Edition. Boston: Irwin, 1992.
Burns, J.J, Goff, S., Karamian, G., Walsh, C., Hobby, L., and J. Garb. “The Relationship Between Local Food Sources and Open Space to Body Mass Index in Urban Children.” Public Health Reports, 126.6(2011): 890-900.
Chou, S., Rashad, I., and M. Grossman. “Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and its Influence on Childhood Obesity.” Journal and Law and Economics, 51.4(2008): 599-618. Print.
Grier, S.A., Mensinger, J., Huang, S.H., Kumanyika, S.K., and N. Stettler. “Fast-Food Marketing and Children's Fast-food Consumption: Exploring Parents' Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 26(2007): 221-235.
Kilbourne, Jean. "Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness." Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. Eds. Patricia Fallon, Melanie Katzman, and Susan C. Wooley. New York: The Guilford P, 1994. (Ch. 20). 394-118. Print.
Root, Maria P., Patricia Fallon, and William N. Friedrich. Bulimia: A Systems Approach to Treatment. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1983. Print.
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