Our ability to look at ourselves?
Media and advertising are so intertwined in today’s world that there’s a new vocabulary in the trade which washes away any boundaries between the two, facts and promotions. “Native reporting” (advertising), and “sponsored content” (advertising) are examples.
I am not complaining. Mixing commercial messages within apparently objective reporting seems our way of life: if we want almost-free social media, we have to swallow a lot of commercial propaganda, which then costs us more over the long run. (Let’s not even touch fake-news, the mixing of propaganda right into the dough of news reporting.) People today seem willing to wrap themselves in a billboard, and go out on the town. T-shirts, ball caps, and sweats almost all come with the label as part of the product. Product names shout from our foreheads, chests, or down our legs. Even shoes are media for advertising.
No complaints about these modern versions of sandwich-boards, either. The point is that we’re incredibly good at advertising. So good, most people can’t even tell the difference, and many don’t care either way. Many don’t even notice that they’re watching or reading ads! And, to be exact, much of what we read, watch, or hear in the media is in effect outright advertising -- sometimes promoting brands, products, clothing, perfume, even cigarettes, but almost always advertising a way of life. The biggest advertising efforts across the Free (Enterprise) World re-enforce a set of beliefs about our society, political system, and our nation’s past.
Still no complaint! The real complaint is the disconnect between our incredible improvement of the effectiveness -- and unobtrusiveness -- of advertising and what we actually promote or sell. We moderns claim an ability to modify everyone’s wants, habits and beliefs, sometimes even against their original wishes, and we do this continually, yet we ignore using these techniques to promote the values at the foundation of our liberal democracy, voting and education.
Why aren’t we using these skills to promote higher voting rates? Or promoting self-education of the issues in each election? We dedicate a lot resources to making sure people shop for shoes, but not that they vote in each election. We make sure people know the differences between automobiles, but not the differences among political parties?
Since most Canadians believe free and universal elections are proof of our democracy’s strength, why do we not use our stupendous advertising and public persuasion tools to promote more voting -- get the needle over the 60% voting rate, which a genuine democracy might hold as a bottom line. Or to promote awareness of all parties’ political proposals? We tell ourselves these two things literally define our democracy -- but we refuse to use our tools to promote them? This couldn’t be a subtle form of American voter suppression, could it?
In this context, shouldn’t Elections Canada be funded to help us use these tools toward real democracy? Why not?