It wasn't always the case that the market intruded into every aspect of our lives.
Not long ago, for example, you could go to the museums at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. without being bombarded by corporate advertisements. Not so today. Today, major Smithsonian exhibits are sponsored by big corporations. Corporate advertisements fill brochures. And credit card companies are hawking their cards inside the museums.
The sign at the credit card table inside the Air and Space Museum last month read "Free T-Shirt." But the t-shirt wasn't free -- you had to sign up for the credit card before you got the T-shirt.
It used to be that you could watch public television and listen to public radio without being hit with a barrage of commercials from companies such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Pepsi.
It used to be that corporations and their markets had private commercial places, and individuals with their communities had their public places.
Today, it is difficult to find a public place that commercial culture hasn't infiltrated.
The airport? Try and find anywhere, outside of the restrooms, in a modern American airport where you can sit and read without being infected by a television or billboard commercial. The new National Airport outside of Washington, D.C. has been transformed from an airport to a shopping mall, with more than 50 upscale shops. If you get up from your chair in the waiting area to get away from the GAP television commercials on CNN, you run right into the GAP store itself. And once you get on the airplane, the television plops down in front of your face.
The public highway? Littered with billboard ads. Some estimate 500,000 billboards pollute the nation's highways. We don't know the exact figure, because the powerful billboard lobby has defeated legislation requiring official billboard counts. In the 1960s, the industry, represented by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), pushed through the perversely named Highway Beautification Act, to regulate the industry. OAAA supported the law because it realized that regulation was better than an outright ban on billboard advertising. The law has led to a proliferation of what has been called "litter on a stick."
Rural America? If you are fed up with the rampant commercialism that has swamped the cities and suburbs, fleeing to the country won't do you any good. Rural areas are being overrun by industrial corporations looking for compliant populations to accept their toxic pollution and waste, by prison corporations and by ugly strip mall developers and fast food outlets that have paved over suburbia and are looking to condemn ever more of the natural landscape into neon America.
Public schools? Millions of public school children are force fed Channel One. In exchange for video and satellite equipment, public schools are required to make their children sit through Channel One's daily news program -- including the ads. Corporations are flooding cash-strapped public schools with study guides, magazines, posters and books. Some schools even sell ad space on the public school buses.
James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere, believes that America has evolved from a nation of coherent publicly spirited communities to a national living arrangement that "destroys civic life while imposing enormous social costs and economic burdens."
Kunstler argues that "amidst the tides of cultural sewage now overflowing our national life there is a growing recognition that we desperately need something better, more worthy of the human spirit."
The Baltimore-based comedian Bob Somerby, in his persuasive and funny one-man show, "Material World," claims that "products have taken over the planet." Somerby blames much of our unhappiness and social problems on the commercialism that has swamped every aspect of our society.
There is a time and place for everything. The place for corporations is in the market, out of the public's space. The time to begin again to enforce the separation is now.
COPYRIGHT © RUSSELL MOKHIBER AND ROBERT WEISSMAN
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