Richard Oxenberg
Emory University (PhD)
Sut Jhally begins his essay “Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse” with the following provocative claim: “Advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.” Jhally argues that the advertising industry, in fostering an association between human aspiration and desire for consumable goods, creates an artificial demand for such goods that is, at once, far in excess of what is needed for human flourishing and catastrophic to the global environment. Jhally sees capitalism as the ultimate culprit. In a system in which wealth is defined as a “vast collection of commodities” (Marx, Capital), those who produce such commodities have no other choice but to promote excess consumption. Hence the advertising industry emerges as the propaganda arm of capitalism. My paper argues that, though Jhally’s analysis of the problem is both compelling and alarming, his diagnosis fails to reach its heart. Indeed, it is not Marx but Plato who provides us with the terms needed both to understand and respond to the problem Jhally cites. My paper provides a Platonic analysis of these issues and concludes with some suggestions as to how to address them.
Keywords Jhally  Plato's cave  Plato  Advertising  Consumerism  Virtue  Pedagogy  Capitalism  Culture  Character
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