Letters for the Week of January 18 

Readers sound off on the Air Jordan frenzy, Grand Tavern, and Yelp.

Page 2 of 5

It's not easy, it takes constant commitment and action, but it's the only real solution.

Michael Slembrouck, Oakland.

The Medium Is the Message

Herbert Marshall McLuhan: It may be a name from the past, but he was prescient — he anticipated exactly the point of the story. The phrase "The medium is the message" was one of McLuhan's lasting contributions to society. As an explanation for the Nike debacle it is spot on and it's applicable to McLuhan's native England and the riots there.

We have become a society — we being the G20 countries — where things are more important than ideas and ideals. Corporations, on behalf of their stockholders, try to sell whatever it is they make: shoes, handbags, fighter jets, etc. The way they sell is to create "buzz," to make people into buyers — "have-to-have-its" might be more appropriate here.

In and of itself, this is no evil in anyplace but a true communal environment, and we, the G20, and specifically the US and the EU, are not communal. The fact that "We live in a sea of seductive corporate messages" and that "We have no choice but to swim in this sea of advertising images" does not create an imperative. It does not make us do anything. We choose to give in to the desire for the products — Nikes, Guccis, Chrysler 300s (thank you Eminem). If the author's position is that we have lost free will then his plea is wasted, as we cannot break loose of the medium. If he still believes in free will, then the medium is just a messenger, not the message. In a sense, the article reinforces another McLuhanism: "When a thing is current, it creates currency."

That is really the message of the riots.

The looting in the UK, or the clamor for the newest Air Jordans, is more a reflection of the 99 Percent concept. It is human to aspire to some station in life better than that in which we are located. It is the societal acceptance of the lack of morality that leads to such events over a pair of sneakers. The author wants us to blame the business sector: "The corporate pushers have made us addicts." How many people become alcoholics because of advertising or product placement? How many people become drug addicts due to the ads on TV (except maybe the Cialis crowd)? We should refuse to deny our own personal responsibility for incivility.

Last, the author is right to point out hypocrisy, but he aims his weapon at the wrong target. The article touches on the keystone of the matter — "Yet this same judiciary has ignored the significant financial crimes committed in that country. Sound familiar?" The government in every branch has allowed white-collar crimes to be taken for granted; they only prosecute the most public figures or those involved in the most public matters. The reform of hypocrisy in the judicial systems and in enforcement of laws should be our goal. That is where the 1 Percent (maybe 5 percent to 10 percent, in reality) wields its power, so that is where the battle must be waged.

As McLuhan also said: "Whereas convictions depend on speed-ups, justice requires delay." We must begin the fight for justice, not pick a fight with merchandisers.

Richard Isacoff, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Advertising Works

No one has forced the looting of shops or the fighting over designer running shoes or the maniacal behavior of shoppers on Black Friday, but they are symptoms of a common illness. No, I don't mean that the people who committed these crimes are free of the responsibility for them, but, like the author, I suggest there is a connection between our culture's need to constantly inflate consumer desire for "stuff" and society's need to control the underclass, typified by the English judiciary who decreed the harshest possible sentences for the looters.

There would not be a huge media/entertainment segment of the economy engaged in selling the hugely expensive enterprise of selling "stuff" on movies, TV, radio, the Internet, and permutations of these if it did not work, and it works extremely well. People almost always underestimate the influence that advertising has on them in experimental situations, so we can assume that we, and others, are more driven by the induced desire to buy and own things than we realize. If we are unhappy with our lives, it's logical that we would be more likely to believe that buying things would make us happier.

I disagree with Richard Isacoff that he and the rest of us are not addicted to having and acquiring more and more consumer products and consumables. When one has lots of stuff, as anyone but the homeless does in our society, the only reason to buy more is if something is used up or wears out. There is no rational purpose for closets full of clothes or a car in the city — how many of us are addicted to having "stuff" to feel secure, valid, affirmed, adult, competent, beautiful, manly, etc.? How many of us still need more?

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