stories of revolution by love of neighbor

I never cease to be amazed by how much advertising this world has. Not just consumer ads (though there are plenty of those to overwhelm you completely if you pay even the slightest bit of attention). There are also political ads (of course y’all in the US know all about those ’round about this time) and public service ads, and every minute of our life is filled with advertisements. And the hidden messages behind them…if you use this product, you will find happiness. If you do this, this will happen….blah blah blah. Anyway, I find the advertisements here in Colombia stark and rather in-your-face when you are watching for them (i.e. if you take time to notice what they’re saying to you).

For example, the military ads. Now, these aren’t anywhere near parallel with the individualistic, self-centered, self-fulfilling ads that the US military has (“Be all that you can be in the Army”). Oh, no. These are mega-nationalist ads that are meant to frame the military as the giant hero working to fight off any group that might be a threat to the national government and thereby would be a threat to Colombia as a whole (right?). These ads say things like “Fe en la causa” – “Faith in the cause” and “Su causa, y la nuestra, es Colombia” – “Your cause, and ours, is Colombia”. Now, from my stepped-back critical perspective on advertising, these leave absolutely no room for the possibility that maybe (just maybe) those groups that the military and the government may perceive as threats (such as, for instance, the guerrilla groups) are also working from a framework of hoping (and being willing to fight for) a better Colombia. Of course, I’m not completely (and naively) uncritical of those groups, either. But it’s just something to think about. How do ads frame any potential threat to the status quo as “enemy”, possibly even as far as “national security threat” or “terrorist”, or even (dare I say it…?) “evil”?

Then, there’s the political campaign ads. In Aguazul, where we went last week for work, there were HUNDREDS of them in the streets, everywhere. They were all flyers, and most every one of them showed a picture of the candidate (sometimes with other political figures, sometimes with regular-looking people, but always with obvious subtexts), their name, their party (though some didn’t show the party), and usually shorthand for two issues (different laws or policies) that the candidate supports or rejects. Plain and simple. And everywhere. I mean, seriously, if we’re talking about constant access, these ads put the TV ads in the US to shame. How much do these ads affect our political consciousness? Are they even successful at the task they wish to accomplish? (I know that for me, all the shorthand and jargon just confused me, as an outsider to the process)

Finally, consumer advertisements are an interesting thing to watch. Being a fair-skinned, blue-eyed gringa (which I believe I’ve mentioned in my last three posts; I see a theme developing!), I have been very aware of how truly fair-skinned everyone in the media seems to be. Or at least a whole awful lot of them. But especially in consumer advertising. I recently had a conversation with a coworker about how sometimes I feel a little bit singled out because I have such fair skin and look so obviously different from everyone else, and he mentioned that for some people it’s almost an ideology of reverence for “lo gringo”…okay, that’s kind of my own rephrasing of what he said, but it gets the point across. Things and people from the US are sometimes considered to be superior by some people, which manifests itself in a whole variety of ways, not the least of which is in the consumer advertising, which depicts extremely fair-skinned people. I guess, to some effect, this parallels the use of stick-thin models who are then photoshopped to remove any imperfections from their appearance. It’s just not realistic. But it certainly affects our self-perceptions…

So I guess the overarching question here that I’m grappling with, and that I’d like to pose is…how DO advertisements (of all types) affect public consciousness?


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