Jean Kilbourne is a feminist author, lecturer, and filmmaker, critical of the media and advertising, who has published three books and four films. One of her main focuses is the effect of advertising on women’s images of themselves.
“Why 6,000,000 women who used to carry a little red book now carry a little red lipstick,” says an ad for Allure, an American beauty magazine, featuring a Chinese woman in a military uniform wearing bright red lipstick. The copy continues, “When nail polish becomes political, and fashion becomes philosophy, Allure magazine will be there.” In the world of advertising the political is only personal. Six million women carrying a book of political ideas might be a movement, even a revolution. The same women, carrying lipstick, are simply red-lipped consumers. Advertisers are adept at appropriating dissent and rebellion, slickly packaging it, and then selling it right back to us.
Although the conglomerates are transnational, the culture they sell is American. Not the American culture of the past, which exported writers like Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe, musical greats like Louis Armstrong and Marian Anderson, plays by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, and Broadway musicals like West Side Story. These exports celebrated democracy, freedom, and vitality as the American way of life.
Today we export a popular culture that promotes escapism, consumerism, violence, and greed. Half the planet lusts for Cindy Crawford, lines up for blockbuster films like Die Hard 12 with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of violence (which travels well, needing no translation), and dances to the monotonous beat of the Backstreet Boys. Baywatch, a moronic television series starring Ken and Barbie, has been seen by more people in the world than any other television show in history.
Excerpted from Chapter 1 of her book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
The following video is from her film Killing Us Softly
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