Someone Out There: A consumer’s point of view: One’s point of view – or is that one point of view?

In this column, a consumer reflects upon her experiences in the marketplace.Have you ever noticed that society is only allowed to hold one opinion at any given point in history?Think about it. What if you were living in Iowa, or even...

In this column, a consumer reflects upon her experiences in the marketplace.

Have you ever noticed that society is only allowed to hold one opinion at any given point in history?

Think about it. What if you were living in Iowa, or even Los Angeles, in 1955 and you dared to suggest that maybe communists had one or two good points. Or even just that communists were human beings, not two-headed monsters. What would happen to you? Would people have said, ‘Interesting theory but I don’t happen to agree with you.’? No. More likely even the liberals would have vilified you, ostracized you, fired you.

We like to complacently think that that was then and this is now. McCarthy witch hunts? Oh he was an extremist. People were just caught up in the Cold War. It could never happen again. We’re smarter than they were.

Guess what. We are they. The same sheeplike mentality that they had, we have today.

Look at the uproar surrounding the recent Canadian wwii documentary The Valour and the Horror in which the filmmakers were taken to task for daring to suggest that our revered war heroes may have actually done one or two ignominious things. Even though the proof was right on the screen, eyewitnesses and everything, vets are still organizing law suits. And nobody seems to think that’s bizarre.

Or take this political correctness thing. First it was acceptable to call people cripples or fags or niggers. Let’s call that position one. Then it became unacceptable (position two) and you had to say physically challenged, gay (or as I prefer to think of them ‘those of an alternative lifestyle’) and African American. The current position (position three) is to make cracks about political correctness while still using the politically correct terms.

Does not compute

We’re making cracks about political correctness these days because it became uncomfortably apparent to us that we were following group mentality, and being sheeplike doesn’t fit in with the correct attitude of our generation, which is that we’re all free thinkers and rugged individualists. So we’ve adapted the situation to suit both of the positions expected of us (liberalism and individualism): use the right words and then joke about them.

People are essentially pack animals, whether because early in our species’ history going it alone would have meant death, or perhaps because for the first few years of each of our lives, going it alone would also mean death. Whatever the reason, our inclination towards deference to the group is very very strong.

Few disciplines exploit this psychology more than advertising. One of the basic equations of advertising is ‘use our product = gain social acceptability’. Don’t use it and society will throw you to the wolves. Bad breath? Body odor? Cavities? Dingy whites? Forget it, bud, you’re wolf fodder.

More complicated

These days it’s gotten a bit more complicated because people are doing a weird double-think. We’re seeing ourselves as unique individualists and managing to ignore that the other millions who make up our generation are viewing themselves the same way.

But as always, life can be summed up in a beer commercial. No longer do Greg and the boys get together for a Molson Golden (group think). Now it’s simply ‘I am.’ that is to say, I am a rugged individualist who breaks away from the group to drink my own brand of beer, Canadian.

Except don’t they need a few million other ‘I’s also drinking it to make any money? Hey, wait a minuteÉ

This campaign illustrates one of the ways advertising reflects life: both become increasingly less appealing the more closely they are scrutinized.