Friday, February 6, 2015


Even Superman is susceptible to Kryptonite.  For consumers, Kryptonite is Advertising.

Recently, we were watching - or trying to watch - a History Channel documentary, on Netflix.  It was annoying.  And the reason was multifold.  First, History Channel documentaries suck.  They present few facts, using the same four images again and again.  They are cheaply made crappy documentaries that are little more than bait for eyeballs, to get people to watch commercials.

But without the commercials constantly interrupting the program, watching the program was simply bizarre, as it kept repeating - over and over again, the same stuff.   Most basic cable channels have one minute of advertisement for every minute of programming, the viewer has to be "cut away" from the program every ten minutes or so - for almost ten minutes.   So when the show resumes, they have to "re-cap" what was said before, so the viewer can remember.

We are talking about Americans here - who have very short attention spans.   What was I saying again?   I forgot.

And of course, people with Cable tend to "channel surf" (I know I did!) and thus tend to watch half of a program here and there - and having these "intros" helps the partial viewer orient themselves.

But if you are watching the program on Netflix, it is just plain annoying, as the program repeats itself, over and over and over again, showing the same snippets of video, and the same voice-overs.   A five-part miniseries of hour-long (with ads) programs, could be boiled down to about 20 minutes of actual, unrepeated, airtime.

History Channel programs suck.  And Netflix, having lost most of its content, is padding out its lineup with a lot of this sort of crap.

But what struck me as interesting was how the absence of ads appeared.   And also how that as a consumer, how few ads I see.   I don't watch cable television (or over-the-air television) and I have adblock plus installed on my computer.   I don't see those annoying ads that accompany online videos.  I don't see sidebar ads.  I don't see banner ads.   I don't see ads, period.

Or damn few, anyway.
And what few I see, I tend to ignore, because I am no longer a white male, aged 15-35, who the advertisers love to target as they will buy anything you advertise on television.

A lot of folks use, as their financial plan, the idea that they will be Superman.   Many also try it as a diet plan.   It never works.

The idea is this:  "I'll go ahead and buy the same bad foods and stuff my refrigerator full of them, but since I have the willpower of Superman, I simply won't eat any of them, or eat them in small portions, and then lose weight!"   So they order a large pizza and say, "I'll just have one slice" (which is the serving size for one person, believe it or not) "and I'll put the rest in the fridge for later!"

An hour later, the pizza is gone and so are the promises to lose weight.   To weight-loss Superman, Kryptonite is pizza - or cookies, or ice cream, or candy, or pasta, or whatever.   

Similarly, to consumer Superman, Kryptonite is Advertising.  If you watch enough commercial television or listen to commercial radio, or spend all day on Facebook, eventually you will start to believe odd things - like that leasing a new car is a smart move, or that a rewards credit card is a clever bargain for the astute consumer.

The idea that you are a Superman and can resist the siren song of Advertising is just, well, a bad idea.   Anyone can be programmed and propagandized into thinking, well, just about anything.  

People believe in religions - fervently - and not because they discovered these religions on their own, studied them in detail, and decided the belief system was something that mirrored their own beliefs.  No, rather, most people adopt the belief system of their parents which they were exposed to as a child.   They don't "come to God" so much as have God rammed down their throat.

By the way, that is what the whole "born again" thing is about - the idea that you really aren't a Christian until you come to Christ on your own accord.   Being born into a religion is not really believing.   Hence the term, "born again".

But it goes beyond religion - people believe almost any stupid thing you want to believe in - conspiracy theories, trickle-down economics, Socialism, Unionism, Communism, whatever.   Most people do not come to these ideas on their own accord, but rather are brainwashed into believing them.

And the easiest way to avoid brainwashing is to avoid the propaganda.   If you simply watch fewer advertisements you'll stop believing the nonsense they advertise.

But a lot of folks love to watch ads, even if they would be loathe to admit it.   The Superbowl, for example, is famous for its half-time ads (and once in a great while, an actually interesting game).   People will actually willingly sit through the half-time just to see the ads.

This is why I say that unplugging from the media is essential to getting ahead financially.  So long as you are plugged into the media circus, 24/7 (which is so much easier to do these days, with smart phones) you will be peppered with bad ideas and bad bargains, which you will start to believe are good bargains because it will appear to you that everyone else is chasing them.

How can a rewards credit card be a bad idea, when everyone else is doing it?   That would appear to be what is going on - and indeed, many people have such cards.   But 70% of credit card users carry a balance and at 22% interest, any "rewards" are quickly snuffed out within one or two billing cycles, but staggering interest payments.

The reality is, "everyone else" is desperately trying to put on a good show - to keep up the appearance of wealth, and wondering why it seem so easy for other people and so hard for them.   Why is it so hard to pay the bills every month?   After all, I'm not spending extravagantly, right?  I have Cable TV, a smart phone, a new car - just like all my neighbors.  I buy lunch at work every day, just like my co-workers.  And we all go out for a Starbucks at 10:00 every morning.   Everyone does itEveryone has these things.   In fact, you need them, really.   To live without?  That would be abnormal!

Abnormal.  Normal.  Normative Cues.   The longer you are exposed to these behavioral norms the more likely you are to adopt them as your own.   When you see everyone obsessively texting, you assume that it must be what you should be doing.  So you do it.

Human behavior is a fascinating thing, and something that after 55 years, I am only starting to understand a glimmer of.   What I am realizing is that much of what I thought was my own ideas, behavior, thoughts, and deeds, were in fact things I was goaded or persuaded into doing, by outside forces, usually commercial interests.

And the other thing I realize is that the easiest way to change this is to shut off the commercials.   And that is why I don't have Cable, why I'm not on Facebook (which even with Adblock is a marketing machine), and why I don't have a smart phone.