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The ideological implications are more than obvious. The third level is the international one. The Atlantic community is now united by the same patterns of consumer behaviour and by the same need for security which contributes to the diminishment of conflict risks.
What the author does in order to bring further support for the importance of the changes which were taking place at that time is mention how the terms from the military language, such as launch day, Dday or mobilization passed into the language used by people dealing with marketing. From a war zone they passed into daily life proving that a new war was going on, that is consumption on a daily basis.
And indeed de Grazia brings into discussion the so called Detergent wars. America is the place where the first PR and advertising agencies were born. This fact was naturally a consequence of the economic realities of those times. It also contributed to the development of a culture of advertising which afterwards influenced advertising techniques and consumer behaviour in other continents among which Europe.
The advertising language is to be considered of fundamental importance since it imposed new values, new ideals of life and self-identity, new ways of perceiving the surrounding world. A relevant example in this direction is represented by the slogan which came out in the 50s for Unilever's detergent Persil: "Persil washes whiter than white." The truth is that the word Persil became a sort of synonym for whiteness as far as laundry and cleaning were concerned and the expression Persil-white was commonly used.
The fact that the companies manufacturing detergents were investing billions of dollars into advertising and research is a clear proof that there was a huge market for detergents and the values that they stood for. The situation continued after the second world war and important developments took place, since there were enough funds to be invested in this direction.
Not only were new all purpose detergents invented, but companies hired agencies to improve packaging and distribution channels. By the 1960s advertising underwent a clear boom and the public space was being redefined by a new language proposing new public values. Roland Barthes is quoted as he was saying that advertising was the best proof of how things which were not natural were perceived as being ordinary because ads promoted them as being like that.
Under these circumstances, by the 1970s the detergents became a clear symbol of the new consumerism pattern. What detergents did was actually define the new social roles which both men and women were assuming. If man's role was more of a historic one, dealing with the conception and the creation of a new and better world, the role of the woman was to manage the day-to-day existence now flooded with all sorts of "gadgets" symbols of status and identity.
Another philosopher that Victoria de Grazia quotes is Baudrillard. According to him, the new products such as the revolutionary washing machines and the synthetic detergents were nothing more than an agent meant to create a sense of community amongst users. Since they were approached as a community by the companies interested in selling it was only natural that after a while they began to consider themselves as part of a community. At ideological level this is interpreted as the creation of a depoliticized world. The depoliticized world is born in the public space where the language of advertising and marketing succeed to create a hyper reality where identity is defined by consumption.
The author mentions a slogan used in Paris by groups of young people reacting to the social and cultural changes, a slogan according to which "self transformation washes whiter than revolution." In other words, advertising was causing social changes which were more profound and more efficient than the ones which may have been caused by a revolution. People were taught a collective pattern of behaviour which expanded from the commercial area to the political one.
The successful editions of the Salon held in Paris, exhibiting the technological innovations are a solid proof of the success and appeal of the new identity that advertising proposed to the world: the consumer. The woman becomes Mrs. Consumer, important through her role of manager of the household and the family. Mrs. Consumer is not only a woman, but an economic woman, because her status is defined by the money she can and is willing to spend.
By wishing to acquire the newly available goods, such as the washing machines base don electricity, people were actually interested in acquiring a new identity. The life style that companies wished to sell was a must for everybody regardless of their social status. This is why the credits given to the members of the working class undergo a boom in this period. At ideological level, the fact that society is transformed into a homogenous community of consumers can be interpreted as the transformation of the individuals into equals. The thesis is that if we buy the same things than we have the same life style and therefore we are equal. Mass consumption turns people into a mass of components which are ideally equal between them.
The examples which the author provides regarding the mechanism through which America has succeeded into exporting its cultural products include the Rotary clubs, the supermarkets or corporate advertising. According to her, even if these institutions seem to be neutral, they are really carriers of an ideology which was not born in Europe. Although they serve various purposes, the truth is that they are social institutions which play an essential role in shaping society.
Capitalism is the main mechanism under analysis. In de Grazia's opinion, it shows exactly how and why things have changed. On the one hand, capitalism in Europe was represented by the small neighbourhood shop. It implied that people had a personal contact with the owners, sellers and the other customers.
The small size created a sort of intimacy and shaped the relationships between people. The U.S.A. exported another type of store, the supermarket. This was usually out of town, of huge sizes and provided people with a far greater variety of offers. People shopping here were no longer friends, not even acquaintances, but anonymous consumers. If the small shop favoured the manifestation of personal identity, the supermarket was all about standardization. While the small shop may have also provided a personalized offer, this was impossible in the case of the supermarket. In other words, standardized products implied standardized consumption which shaped standardized consumers.
It must be underlined that the argument the book deals with is perceived as being very important by both sides involved in the description. It is useless to say that the author was aware of the risks she would have faced by presenting a perspective which favoured either Europe or the U.S.A. From this point-of-view, it can be stated that she managed to maintain a balanced perspective. She insisted upon the areas where the American influence was strong and clear, but maintained the analysis within the borders which suggested long-term changes with positive outcomes for all the involved parties.
There are some areas which she does not deal with, such as the influence of the American corporations upon the European media controlling entertainment. The truth is that numerous companies from the U.S.A. bought television channels in Europe and that clearly influenced the perspective news ad entertainment were dealt with. It is safe to assume that she did not treat this argument with the purpose of avoiding unwanted controversy. Another argument that she does not cover is represented by the impact of mass consumption and mass production upon the environment on both continents. A further argument that she may have analyzed but did not is represented by the impact of mass production upon agriculture.
At a certain point Victoria de Grazia states that Henry Ford played an important part in deciding upon what Europe is today. This statement could be interpreted in the sense that Europe has become nothing else than a market for the American goods and values. When analyzing the situation, she takes into consideration the slow food movements. We are to find two opposite life styles in the way that people eat and think about food.
On the one hand, there is the American fast food restaurant. Behind it there is an entire culture in which people don't have time to dedicate to cooking but are always on the run in order to make money (by working). On the other hand, there are the Europeans who prefer to eat more healthy things and who probably put much more emphasis on leisure than on work. These are two different models of consumerism, but can it really be stated that Europe is a clear reflection of the latter one? This is one of the questions that the book makes the readers meditate about.
Victoria de Grazia is surely…[continue]
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