There are many ways to understand a people, country or culture. Archaeologists will dig in the dirt to uncover bits of pottery, religious relics or beer bottles; art historians will stare at cathedral ceilings or write theses on comic strips; anthropologists may study courtship rituals, religious festivals, or political organizations. But there is an often under-appreciated media that can tell a much more complex story than one might expect at first glance.
The “Advertisement” is the glossy, pop cultural meeting point between supply and demand, the looking glass that seeks to reflect our deepest insecurities and desires in a concise, effortless and fairly-priced, if not truly magical solution.
Ads offer an unique window on the reality of a given time or place as the results of one piece of society trying desperately to understand other pieces of society better than those citizens understand themselves. The result is often a strange one-sided utopia, surreal in nature and probability, but which nonetheless compels us, consciously or not.
Advertisements are masters at telling s what we want to hear, truth be damned. No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat; yes those photos of your nose-picking, hair pulling tots are works of art, show me more.
Despite fallacious promises, exaggerated results, and conservatively calculated timelines, advertisements show us truths that go undiscussed in every other aspect of our daily lives. They speak to secret longings, humiliating fears, and the proverbial chips on our aching shoulders. Although they may make us uncomfortable, angry, or annoyed; they catalogue a level of societal consciousness which often escape the historian’s net.