One of the Mysteries of Life

I get a serious chuckle out of glossy mass-market magazines and their Orwellian Ministry of Truth crap. Just have a look at some of the shrieking headlines on their covers. “5 Fat-Burning Tips to Make You Slim and Sexy!” “10 Mascara Tricks That Will Make Every Man Propose Marriage to You!” “20 Stylish Handbags to Make Them Come in Their Pants!” You’re smart people, so I doubt I have to explain to you how tomfool it all is. The only mystery is that millions of people still buy and read the stupid things.

But that is the mystery, isn’t it? How is it that misdirection and outright lies about the way life really works are such effective sales tools? Contrary to what everyone thinks, everyone isn’t stupid. The people buying and reading those glossy magazines are every bit as smart as me, have every bit as much life experience, and have fairly rich and diverse lives. It would make no sense to look down my nose at them and engage in cliche grumbling about “the masses” or (my favorite self-mocking term) “sheeple.” Except that those smart, life-experienced people buy into a lot of crap that shouldn’t fool a five-year-old kid.

One explanation I flirted with recently, and it’s a dangerous explanation, is that our species is not really a thinking species. Rather, we are a species of instinct that fancies up its instincts and mislabels them as “thought.” So these ten mascara-using tips that will supposedly cause every man you meet to propose marriage, are an effective way to sell magazines because our instinct is to want every man we meet to want to propose marriage, and that instinct rules us like the animals we really are. But it’s dangerous to explain things to yourself that way because it leads to unwarranted condescension. I don’t experience myself as a beast of instinct who only pretends to think. And, truth to tell, the buyers and readers of those glossy magazines don’t experience themselves that way, either. It’s more likely that we really are thinking beings who just happen to be vulnerable to manipulation.

That, however, doesn’t explain why such manipulation dominates marketing and sales and the whole world of business today. Why is it that, in order to make a profit and stay in business, a company must use us like toilet paper by tricking us through the exploitation of our sublimina? Is it not possible for a glossy magazine to publish articles of real, honest value to readers, such as what to do constructively about your irritation when your husband keeps leaving his empty coffee mug on the table and creating dark stain-rings on the table’s wood? Such stories do get written…in less popular magazines with lower circulations. For some reason, being honest with people and really helping them leads to lower sales and a less successful business than misleading them through manipulative deviousness about how buying a designer handbag will make you attractive to men when you weren’t attractive to them before.

Which is where I find myself stuck. I don’t really have answers to this bedeviling question. My best guess is that something about the laws of nature themselves causes the human world to be this way. When in doubt, blame nature, because everything really is nature’s fault, anyway.

What’s YOUR explanation for the phenomenon I’ve discussed here?

3 thoughts on “One of the Mysteries of Life

  1. Frustrated. Just spent half an hour trying to find the link. There’s a study SOMEWHERE showing that not only preschoolers accept what they are told over what they see in front of them, but adults, too, appear to remain somewhat susceptible even after higher reasoning kicks in–this may be biologically programmed into we pitiful primates. Then add in the subliminals working away on the insecurities, as K.Caffee pointed out, and you’re hit with a double-whammy.

    So: nature AND (anti-)nurture.


  2. Some of it is social pressure, some of it is personal desire. The manipulation would have no effect if the person being manipulated did not already WANT what is “promised” in the hyperbole.

    Women (in general) want guys to notice them, whether they are married or not. Men want women to notice them with the same caveat. When you add in the fact that so much of the mass media today creates poor self-images for a large percentage of the population, things get even dicier. Who wants to hear something practical that may cause trouble on the home front when you are already thinking you are the problem because you don’t look right/act right/ smell right?

    So, the marketing swill slingers home in on that insecurity to get their sales up. After all, if you can achieve the impossible, you will be better than perfect, right? (And, how many people do you know would believe you if you told them they were pretty, nice, lovely, or what ever if they didn’t see it in themselves first?)


  3. Brainwashing, which you know they do. Go to a store to buy some milk, forced to look at ads and ads of other products. Wanna get some gas? Here’s a Budweiser ad for ya! Oh, you don’t drink beer? My bad dawg. And then the guys who go out and swirl the ads, them I respect, but their future replacements are going to be a damn hologram that twirls swirls and demands you buy coke.

    Man, that was hard not to drop an F-bomb in that.


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