Conspiratorial Advertising…

I was picking up a proof-of-residency/tax form in order to get the Spawn registered for her junior year of high school, and someone in the office had the radio on a country station. The song ended and a commercial began. The announcer asked if the audience had been to [PatentMedicine/DietarySupplement].com and seen “the video so shocking that big corporations and the medical industry have been trying to suppress it.” In fact, the speaker continued, we need to check it out immediately, because if we wait, it may already have been taken offline by Shadowy Figures of some sort or other.

As I ambled back to the van, I started thinking about how often I’m seeing and hearing this kind of appeal these days. The ad feeds on Facebook and the various sports, news, and music sites I visit are constantly telling me that I need to learn about some “weird trick” that will let me lose weight, cut my insurance rates, score cash from the government, or whiten my teeth. Likewise, many of these tricks were apparently discovered by “local housewives” or “Man from [nearby town]”, and furthermore, the trick is always something that big business, the government, or the dental industry “doesn’t want you to know!”

What they have in common is the suggestion that these ads offer the opportunity for the initiated audience to access some sort of esoteric knowledge — a sort of consumerist mystery cult. And in turn, this makes me wonder about the sort of radical skepticism that pervades our postmodern culture.

We see it in politics of course, from the fever-swamp birthers on the right to the 9/11 truthers on the left, and the Alex Jones folks who are completely in Weirdsville. And we see it in views of other institutions — from business to religion — all of which are seen as would-be loci of control. To respond to the ads I’ve described is to express a longing for the “red pill” of The Matrix. To believe in conspiracy is, at last, to believe in something, even a something that is unpleasant and arcane, but seemingly real. And too many people are starving for the real.

Now the fact that I’m seeing (and now hearing) these ads all over the place suggests to me that they must be working for someone — the advertisers, anyway. And it saddens me to think that more and more of the people around me are responding to these ads. It must be some kind of weird trick, huh?


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to Conspiratorial Advertising…

  1. Professor, this has been one of my pet peeves for a looong time: the “what THEY don’t want you to know” is an absolute guarantee of a con. They can be the government, utility companies, the medical community, or any corporation of any kind.

    The most egregious example hit me the other day; yes, just when I think I’ve heard it all, something tops it.

    A group was advertising on radio about their secret method of saving electricity, and you needed to keep this a secret because if the utility companies discovered them, the utilities would shut them down! So call now, but don’t tell anyone!

    Curious strategy, to advertise that on a radio station with hundreds of thousands of listeners.

  2. ricki says:

    I’ve thought the same thing (about the whole “mystery cult” idea) for a while in re: the “weird tricks” ads, and also conspiracy theorists. It’s like they want to believe they are SPECIAL with SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE that the uninitiated don’t have. It makes me so tired because I have certain family members who go in for the “Information the medical establishment doesn’t want you to know!!!!” bit. Most of it is total hokum, and I say that as a biologist (not a cellular/molecular type, but I know enough about the workings of the human body to see through the crap)

    The latest one that made me splutter was the claim that “THIS IS NOT A FAD DIET!!!!” before an advert for some product made of green coffee beans and raspberry ketones. Sorry, any product that promises to make you lose five pounds a week and that is not endorsed by reliable doctors is, by definition, a fad diet.

  3. jeff1947 says:

    On a related subject, Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine has just come out with a new book: The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. His appearance at Politics and Prose was broadcast on BookTV and is available on the Youtube site of Politics and Prose.

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