In Jack Solomon’s Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising, there is a connection made that status and equality clash because of superfluous symbolism and overdependence on relegated media. The article starts out with an anecdote about a French anthropologist from 1831 who studied economic distribution in New York at the time. This lead into the thesis: “The American Dream, in other words, has two faces: the communally egalitarian and the other competitively elitist.”(Solomon, 410) Mr. Solomon goes on to explain, “the contradictory nature of the American myth of equality is nowhere written so clearly as in the signs that American advertisers use… advertisements are designed to exploit the discontentments fostered by the American dream.”(410) He purposes advertisers prey on our covetous natures when imposing status symbols on us and then expands his argument to include the exploitation of our fantasies. He shortly juxtaposes the fantasy concept with one of fear and loathing. A conclusion is made that emphasizes the continuation of these manipulative efforts into the future on a strong portfolio of consumer allegiance: “The logic of advertising is entirely semiotic: It substitutes signs for things, framed visions of consumer desire for the thing itself. The success of modern advertising, its penetration into every corner of American life, reflects a culture that has itself chosen illusion over reality.”(Solomon, 419)
This article starts out with a strong statement which is fueled by an equally substantive premise: How does desire fuel the paradox of equality?: The American dream, which is an implicit paradox itself, fosters discontentment which accrues a hierarchy of coveting. However, he quickly departs from his premise to discuss advertisement as he references its semiotic relevance to exposing the American equality myth. He spends the rest of the article (up until the conclusion) making vague reference with specific examples that are all suppose to support the innuendo that pop culture is to blame for the negation of actual culture, but furthermore, his examples created a theme that frames a choice between counterfeit participation offered in consumerism and the conscientiousness found somewhere between perfect information and product distinction. He did start a tangent about the myth of the machine that seemed interesting but it was like a microcosm of the paper as a whole in that it tied back into the main thought of the article in only a superficial way. I don’t think Mr. Solomon anticipated much criticism due to the directness of thought, specialization of focus, and level of comprehension of the topics discussed.
An excerpt from the anecdote at the beginning of this selection makes reference to the correction of erroneous notion by daily experience; this is the tone of the discipline throughout the paper. And though his point is not supported it is quite clear: Advertising is the epitome of the myth of American equality; advertisements exploit the discontentments fostered by the American dream; the American dream is a paradox of divergent mutuality in the allegiances to the ideologies of communal egalitarianism and competitive elitism…thus, what is created is a contradiction in American ethos (if you follow his interpretation of it): The myth of American equality is not necessarily congruent with the American dream. Unfortunately, Solomon does not follow this concept to fruition. He instead gives his interpretation of the implications that follow exposure to manipulative media from the framework of consumer identification.
Context is what creates the relation between what is recognized and what is suggested as a point of convergence between the media and the recipient. Context is not undermining of discretion via marginalization of criticism because of a conflict of interest due to familiarity (to the point of indifference to propaganda). Jack Solomon suggests it is the contextual framing that evokes an emotional response to the inferences taken from the symbolisms presented in much of the media in advertising. I purpose there is a difference between comprehension and understanding; one that is highlighted by the relationship of context to propaganda in the vacillation of discretion independent of the ability to acknowledge exchange of encoded symbols. Of course as more context is added less and less becomes questionable, but that does not mean that things become easier to understand, and that’s assuming you can hold the integrity of the initial premise. In my view progressive conscientiousness needs validation; Solomon is suggestive toward the end of scapegoating overdependence and autosuggestion to the idea that the choice is already made.
Solomon, Jack. “The Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising.” Signs of life in the U.S.A. 5th ed. Ed. Sonia Massik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 409-419.