The Ad and the Ego
Students will never look at an ad the same way again after screening The Ad and the Ego, the first
comprehensive examination of advertising and our culture of consumption.
The film artfully intercuts clips from hundreds of familiar television ads with insights from Stuart Ewen,
Jean Kilbourne, Richard Pollay, Sut Jhally, Bernard McGrane and other noted critics, performing a cultural
psychoanalysis of late 20th century America and its principal inhabitants, Consumer Man and Woman.
The Ad and the Ego depicts how the market economy has metastasized until today commercialism
invades the most intimate aspects of our lives. The average American is exposed to 1500 ads a day. But,
like the air we breathe, we pay advertising little attention preferring to believe we're impervious to it.
Scholars point out that advertising's constant stream of messages forms the neural network of a
consumer society integrating individual psychology, mass culture and commodity production. As the film
progresses, we begin to perceive how ads for Nike, Calvin Klein, Oil of Olay, and Suzuki are selling more
than products. As Jean Kilbourne argues, they sell us values, concepts of love and sexuality, romance and
success, a sense of identity, above all, what is "normal."
Leading media critics demonstrate how living in an advertisement infused environment creates a
psychology of need, massaging our anxieties, doubts, and discontents, creating a boundless hunger for
more things. One message you'll never hear in an ad, sociologist Bernard McGrane observes, is "You're
The Ad and the Ego traces advertising's development from its largely descriptive 19th century origins
through today's ads which eschew rational arguments for symbols and imagery playing directly to our
emotions. Sut Jhally describes ads as "the dream life of our culture" and explains the persuasive
techniques they use to invest commodities with powerful properties magically able to transform the
mundane lives of their purchasers.
The Ad and the Ego goes on to demonstrate the link between our debased public discourse and a culture
which defines freedom as consumer choice rather than civic deliberation. It analyzes the "selling" of
political beliefs to demonstrate how citizenship has increasingly been replaced by spectatorship, civil
society by consumer culture.
The Ad and the Ego makes the critical connections between the rise of consumerism, environmental
degradation and our blind commitment to economic growth at any cost. This pathbreaking new film will
help students of communications, sociology, psychology, marketing and business ethics better understand
the central role of advertising in our society and our psyches.
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