“Attention Kmart Shoppers,” There’s Scary Truth in Advertising

A friend of mine is fond of saying that we generally mean what we say, even if we say we didn’t mean it.  Perhaps this is a version of a Freudian slip.  But more generally, the idea is that whatever comes out of our mouth is intended to be communicated, if not in that exact form or content.

I was thinking about how, culturally, we use particular words or categories of words which have double meanings, and we purport to be using the benign meaning but we really can’t escape the more telling meaning.

Take shopping and advertising.  We live in a state of hysteria about buying things, particularly at this time of year.  But advertisers probably aren’t consciously inducing hysteria.  They are trumpeting “FUN!” and “URGENCY!” and “SCARCITY!” Whereas hysteria is the order of the day.

Take a “Door Buster Sale.”  I’m sure the image that the store would want us to have is of people happily clamoring to get in while jointly singing chorus after chorus of “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.”  But the image I have is of the riots on Long Island at a Walmart in 2008, and the fact that someone died.  In an article in the Sunday Times in the UK, a woman was quoted, saying, ““The shop had to open 15 minutes early because the doors were about to give in…. When they finally opened, it was like being caught in a crashing wave. You’re completely powerless. I remember falling face first into the shop and then scrambling on my hands and knees to try to get to one side. It was terrifying – and all I wanted was a cheap pair of jeans.”

“All I wanted was a cheap pair of jeans…” and I’m willing to risk death?

Or what about “Toy Madness” at Toys”R”Us.  Are we willing to go mad for toys… or have we already?  Madness in this context sounds like it’s supposed to be fun, festive, inviting.  Instead it makes me think of “Old Yeller” and his hydrophobia. The poor dog had to be shot when the drooling, staggering, and snarling started and it was thus determined that he had the dreaded “hydrophobia,” (rabies) which is a synonym for madness in my online dictionary (along with other such enticing phrases and words as “senseless folly,” “frenzy” and “rage”).

People, we can now shop 24/7.  That’s a big “DUH!” if you are thinking internet shopping.  But we can also go in the middle of the night to any number of stores (places that are bad enough in the light of day).  Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we should.  I can also play darts nude in the driveway if I want to.  But I probably shouldn’t.  And won’t.

So with stores open round the clock and advertising “Crazy Sales” and “Hysterical Savings” and “Shopping Fanatics” and “Buying Bonanzas,” what exactly do we need so badly?  What are we trying to solve?  And will this do it?  Of course not.

I enjoyed a memoir in the September, 2010 issue of MORE magazine, telling the story of author Joyce Maynard’s adoption of two girls from Ethiopia.  She spoke of wanting to avoid any more stimulation than was necessary when the girls were first here in America, and how she only watched silent movies with them then… but how they quickly developed a taste for Hannah Montana.  Of course they did!  How would Laurel and Hardy stack up for long against the sheer amount of purple and plastic and marketing in the typical young girl’s world?

Wouldn’t WalMart induce ADHD for even the calmest among us?  Wouldn’t a foray into Toys R Us cause cardiac arrest for most of our great-grandparents?  Doesn’t it cause you yourself to exhibit — along with Old Yeller — signs of hydrophobia?

What happened to notes of kindness, homemade cookies, wooden blocks, a favorite book shared?  Or to cynicism about marketing?

When a store tells you that they’re having a “Door Buster” sale and that it’s “Shopping Madness,” take them at their word and stay home.  You’ll live longer.

~ by Cary on December 17, 2010.

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