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  > > Editor's Note
  > > From the President
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Advertising-fueled consumption

I find it disturbing that Chicago would tout its connection with Social Research Inc. ("Consuming Interests," August/01). Mindless and excessive consumption by an over-large human population is rapidly destroying the planet's ecological function. To gloat over spawning the type of research that led to modern advertising is to gloat over an enormous contribution to the eco-crisis. I'm not clapping.

It is the type of thinking SRI promoted which now prods droves of Americans to buy SUVs. They do not need the carrying or towing capacity, nor the ability to drive over rugged terrain. In fact the only terrain most cover is the smooth asphalt to the supermarket, mall, work, and the kids' soccer practices. But advertising gives them a fantasy world where they drive over boulders and through creeks, crushing pristine nature under their tires as they go. In this fantasy world, this imaginary and effortless crushing somehow makes them lean, tough, and strong. In reality they remain flabby, lazy, and fearful of everything-nature included-except what they should fear most, namely what they are doing to their own future.

This is only one of many bad products sold to the gullible American over the last 50 years. Where we once expected people to grow up and leave off being told what to do by peers and immoral authority figures, we now shrug our shoulders when a herd of adults do whatever their televisions tell them to do, hang the future.

What every American needs to be told is that it is simply immoral to buy things he doesn't need, especially things which are unnecessarily destructive to the environment. But what advertisers most want to tell him is that he needs many unnecessary and even counterproductive things, that he must be saved even from enjoyable activity if this requires effort or thought. He can avoid walking anywhere, preparing fresh and wholesome food, or using his limbs to do useful things in the garden in peace and quiet. And since he has saved himself so much labor, he must now buy a membership at the climate-controlled gym to do useless motions lest he become weak and sickly. Always there is an environmentally costly solution to a problem that a little independent thinking and common sense could prevent in the first place.

We can chalk up to SRI and similar companies the fact that the modern American is obsessed with "buying, owning, and displaying consumer goods" to the exclusion of doing anything important like saving the future; that he is a robotic tool of the advertisers that shroud him in their messages; that he invariably chooses what is faster over what is better and wiser, and what is most convenient and comfortable for himself over what is right.

It is funny that the article mentions colored toilet tissue. Once I explained to an economist friend that colored toilet paper leads to unnecessary pollution. He replied that "colored toilet paper is what America is all about." (Some of us wish our country would aim a little higher.) A nation once content to recycle old Sears & Roebuck catalogs now requires quilted, scented, and colored toilet tissue. If the rest of the world did likewise, our forests would be destroyed so rapidly that earthly life-support systems would fail.

By multiplying our "needs" and sensitivities, advertising is destroying our world. Until advertising focuses on motivating people to consume less, and that more carefully, it will always be the foe of those who would like to leave their children a livable planet and a sustainable economy. Let's not tout the research industry that created the monster of modern advertising-and Chicago's role in creating it.

Jennifer Thurber, AB'84




  > > Volume 94, Number 2

  > >
Wealth of notions
  > >
The remains of the day
  > >
A new Chicago seven
  > >
Beyond the bomb
  > >
The life and tomes

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > Chicago Report

  > > Investigations



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