“Gen X” was popularized as an advertising term. Marketers used the label to describe the young people of the late ‘80s. The focus was on how to sell goods to the MTV generation.
Advertisements at that time, just as one example, started to feature unmarried couples to appeal to this group of consumers. This was a first and in the early ‘90s it was pushing the envelope. It apparently resonated. The advertisers gauged correctly: They successfully sold their products to Americans with the now documented lowest marriage rate in history.
The argument could be made (mainly by those who want to take us back to a mythical innocent time of the supposedly recent past) that it’s advertisers who’ve corrupted our culture and changed what’s socially acceptable through their manipulations. Or, if you have sold your proverbial soul to the gods of unfettered commerce – like the rightwing self-described Culture Warriors, or the (formerly) Moral (former) Majority – advertisements are the market speaking for the greater culture at large. And the greater culture, funny enough, largely disagrees with the rightwing.
Here’s how it works: Advertisers put out an image or an idea – the greater public concurs by buying those products. Successful ads equal agreed upon ideas. Marketing is, after all, the definitive pandering.
And here is what the culture is saying through advertisements: We like racial diversity. Why can I say that? Because commercials not only have racially diverse groups of friends and co-workers – they now regularly feature bi-racial couples in ads. In a Budweiser Super Bowl spot this year, there were black men flirting with white women sans scandal. If those spots are moving widgets it means consumers agree with the message. It’s a type of voting. Even if some viewers don’t notice or don’t have a visceral reaction one way or another – it’s an indicator of a new cultural norm.
Also Americans are okay with homosexuals. The American Family Association, an association for only pre-approved families, threatened JC Penney with a boycott after they hired Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson. Now, Degeneres, besides being a comedic genius, is also a successful talk show host and a popular pitchperson for brands like Covergirl and American Express. The market has spoken time after time, and Ellen is adored and sought after. She also happens to be a lesbian, which has made her the target of the AFA whose influence is clearly eroding.
What else does the market proclaim? Well, Americans widely approve of birth control. And yes, even legal abortion. In the dust-up last week between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood the market picked the winner. It was Planned Parenthood. The nonprofit health care provider saw a spike in private contributions after Komen announced they would no longer give Planned Parenthood a grant to screen for breast cancer. And Komen’s brand has been forever tarnished by putting politics before their cure-finding goal. It’s already resulted in one resignation of the Vice President of Public Policy, Karen Handel.
You can think of the market as a leading indicator of our social mores and the Republican primary as a lagging one.
Disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, has been trying to play the well-worn Nixon Southern Strategy to rile up the base. He calls Obama the food stamp president and said he wants to go talk to the NAACP about “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” He also said immigrants should learn English and not use the “language of the ghetto.” That phrase hurt him in the Spanish-named (former Spanish colony) state of Florida. Why? Because the market has spoken, we have our first biracial president and we no longer care for these antiquated wedges Gingrich peddles.
If their deified market is all-knowing and all-powerful – it clearly favors a progressive social agenda…and not the GOP’s.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far