The culture triumphs eventually, it always does. Politicians are reasonably useful people most of the time, but they are not leaders, they are followers. True political leaders who are prepared to speak unpalatable but necessary truths to the populace are as rare as vegetarian cannibals. In a functioning democracy politicians can usually be relied upon to take the path of least resistance.
Take homosexual marriage. The cultural consensus is pretty much settled on this matter and a three line whip has been imposed through the BBC, films and the mainstream media of every kind. Within a couple of decades the institution which gives structure to our society and which has endured throughout our history has been culturally redefined, and politicians are reduced to playing catch-up by legalising same-sex marriage.
What David Cameron personally believes concerning homosexual marriage is uncertain, if he has any actual firm opinion at all. He maintained a resounding silence concerning the matter throughout his career. He was silent on the matter at his selection as a parliamentary candidate, silent at various elections including a party leadership election, silent during his humiliating failure to win outright a general election against one of the least popular of PM’s, ending up being maintained in power through the increasingly ludicrous Lib Dems.
Suddenly in mid term he broke his silence and announced that he is “passionately” in favour of homosexual marriage, not despite being a conservative but because he is a conservative. It is only a coincidence that this principled stance which has seemingly emerged from the core of his political ideology only emerged into public view when it was clear that opinion polls were trending in favour of homosexual marriage. David Cameron exemplifies one approach to the cultural hegemony, appeasement.
To avoid criticising the BBC too much, as though this were possible, let’s think of advertising. Businesses, for much the same reason as politicians, follow the culture. Advertising is aimed very precisely because people do not buy products, they buy images of themselves.
The logo BP is derived, as Obama delighted in pointing out, from British Petroleum. Before Deepwater BP pushed an advertising campaign based on BP as “Beyond Petroleum”. We were treated to images of BP scientists exploring alternative energy sources, as though BP were sandal wearing majority funders of Greenpeace.
That BP should seek to use the concept of a major oil company focussing their R&D budget on windfarms is understandable, environmentalists are gullible enough to believe anything. They were not buying fuel they were buying an image of themselves as serious and caring people. The adverts enabled them to fill up their cars with non-renewable fuel whilst supposedly supporting the development of environmental science.
Unfortunately such appropriation of popular cultural stances serves to reinforce the very cultural attitudes on which they seek to piggy back. The more they are portrayed in a positive light in every form of media the stronger the cultural attitudes become. Advertising impacts values. Whilst of necessity it reflects society it also has the serious effect of normalising values or behaviours.
Who sits in Parliament or who controls the levers in a multi-national company is of less importance than who within the media is shaping how they think.
We are told that advertising is about giving people an informed choice between products, when advertising might not even promote choice after all. The subtle manipulation of its target group may in fact stifle actual choice which involves reasoned judgement.
Much advertising is subliminal, drip-feed, all about creating positive associations whilst avoiding conscious thought. In the words of Agnes Nairn and Cordelia Fine advertising “operates darkly, beyond the light of consciousness”. As one advertising agency says “Intuitive brand judgements are made instantaneously and with little or no apparent conscious effort on the part of consumers”.
We need to be more aware of advertising. We can’t do away with advertising, but we should examine it, ask more questions, try to see where it leads, and minimise its harmful effects on society. The problem is the drip-drip effect of advertising, we too frequently find ourselves accepting as a society what we did not choose as individuals.
The latest figures from the Advertising Association predict that total advertising spend in the UK is expected to reach £16.8bn for 2012, and £17.2bn in 2013. What is the church doing to counter this influence? A few brave Christians are engaged in the arts, more than many would think, but when was the last time you heard a sermon or read a book about how to be culturally aware, even at the everyday basic level of how to watch adverts?