Friday, May 6, 2011

Ewen - Captains of Consciousness

Ewen, Stuart. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

Ewen moves from an analysis of capitalist control of production to the spread through advertising of the dominant hegemonic ideology of mass consumption as beneficial to all.

Their success was somewhat limited in the 20s, but following World War II a consumer culture developed full bloom.

Early, Ewen draws on Thompson's essay on time to show how capitalists attempted to control industrial culture and discipline. Gradually, they looked for broader means of social control, finding it in advertising.

Ewen is on the Adorno/Mancuse - Culture Industries side of cultural studies (Stuart Hall would have just been starting to emerge). He focuses on how the advertising industry produces a consumer culture without allowing for much agency on the part of the consumers themselves. It's a good prequel, historiographically speaking, to Franks' Conquest of Cool. Actually, Franks is two steps ahead since he complicates both Ewen's position and that of the British Cultural studies experts, such as John Fiske.

There is a relationship to Marchand, too. Marchand explains how advertisers attempted to promote modernity and civilization, believing the goods (here he is like Franks) they were hawking to offer a genuine benefit to consumers. Ewen, more cynically, sees the civilization ideal as something of a ruse that suggests consumption is the key to social improvement. This has echoes, too, of Lizabeth Cohen, and the idea that purchaser consumers would lead America to prosperity.

Essentially, Ewen is making an Althusser-ian argument that advertising serves as an ideological state apparatus. He might dispute Althusser's assertion that education is the strongest ISA.

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