|by Nusrah Wali|
|Published on: Oct 21, 2003|
|Looking back on my spending habits, and my attitude towards commercialization as a child I realize that the media and subliminal messaging had a lot of influence on me and the world around me. As a child my parents limited my interaction with the media. I was only allowed to watch some cartoons, a few family shows and the news, which meant I was shielded a lot from advertisers. Unlike most of the people in my elementary school class, I loved to read. Reading was more enjoyable to me than anything else on the planet and I would spend hours in our study at home or in the local library. I grew up with Jane Eyre, Animal Farm, Robinson Crusoe, Lord of The Flies, Arabian Nights and the like. I had amazing adventures and was always day dreaming about my book friends. As I grew older I realized I had very little in common with the girls in my class, which was a bit of an issue as in elementary school the girls and the boys sat on separate sides of the room. I found it really hard to be friends with the girls and enjoyed my time with the boys more as they never expected anything from me as long as I could play tag. I could never understand why the girls wanted me to buy new shoes, or why it was a matter of life and death to get the latest Barbie. It made no sense to me, I felt as if I had landed in Alice in Wonderland and the whole world was upside down. Why did they care so much about owning things? I didn’t care in the least what I wore; everyone was in uniform anyhow so why bother when all around people were in green and white? What difference did it make what shoes I wore? I certainly didn’t go around looking at other people’s shoes and I didn’t see any reason why they would mine. Whenever I went over to any of the girls’ homes, we watched a lot of TV and at the time it didn’t mean much to me, but now I see why they craved new shoes, and wanted the latest Barbie. They wanted the things they did because on the shows they watched the characters owned those things. For me money was a necessity that I didn’t have to worry about. My mom gave my brothers and me a weekly allowance to take to school to buy snacks or do with, as we wanted. Whenever it was time for the next allowance I would tell my mom I still had my allowance from the week before. Occasionally I spent the money, but I just felt that I had clothes on my back and I had food to eat, I didn’t really need anything, as books were free in the library. In fact as I got older, my mom didn’t like to take me shopping with her because I would always ask why she needed something. I always felt that if you could live without something then you didn’t need it.
As I got older I had more freedom to watch what I wanted, and I spent a lot of time watching TV although I was more interested in the news and discussing politics with my dad. I somehow managed to go through high school largely uncorrupted possibly due to the fact that my mom would always get me the latest things so I was trendy but at the same time it wasn’t due to a conscious effort on my part.
Fast forward to college in America and my first year here, I probably spent under $400 excluding tuition off course. I didn’t drive a car; I rarely if ever went shopping. I ate in school, slept there and didn’t need anything. What changed was my TV watching habits. There were so many programs and shows on that I found entertaining, and during the summer I found myself watching a lot of TV. Many a time I would sit in the common room reading a book but the TV was always on. And at first I was actually really intrigued by the quality and originality of the commercials. I’m very visual and I enjoyed the color, lighting, and the storylines they used. All the while unaware of subconsciously absorbing the messages they imparted. Shortly thereafter I found myself caught up in the culture of consumerism. At first I fought it, I would say you don’t need this so why are you considering it at all? Eventually I learned to come up with reasons, oh it’ll make you feel better, help you study more. The more reasons I came up with, the easier it became. I finally woke up one day looked around me and couldn’t believe the amount of stuff I had accumulated. Normally my junk is a lot of paper, essays, articles, and stories that I just didn’t have the heart to throw away. Now all my papers were amidst rubble of clothes, plates, shoes, carpets, rubber maid products etc and I can’t remember when or how they all happened. I’m not saying I was forced into buying all those things, or that I was brainwashed into doing so. All I’m saying is that when you’re exposed to something over a long period of time, you get used to it. It becomes normal. It’s like that song on the radio you heard three weeks ago and hated that you find yourself humming to. Then something inside you goes I thought I hated that song? You find yourself singing along because you’ve heard it over and over again that it begins to sound catchy and you get wrapped up in comfort and familiarity.
When advertisers say there’s no such thing as subliminal messaging I don’t believe them. As an advertising student and as a consumer I disagree. As an advertiser I look for ways to make products appealing, to make people want something. If you make something look very very appealing, then off course you can’t expect people to not react, which is what they do. Also bombarding them with something over and over again is almost like memorization. You’re making them memorize your product and your promises to make them feel better, or look sexier, so when they see your product in real life they associate all those things you promised with your product. As a child when I saw shoes they meant nothing to me because I hadn’t seen a commercial about shoes promising me anything, so shoes were just that, shoes, nothing more and nothing less.
For information about media and subliminal messaging, read: The Age Of Manipulation: The Con In Confidence, The Sin In Sincere By Wilson Bryan Key