How shock-resistant are you?

03 April, 2011 § 3

A while back I watched “Un chien andalou”, the surrealist movie produced by Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dali. The first scene of the movie shows the slitting a woman’s eye with a razor and what is called “the vitreous humour” spilling out of it. I hadn’t seen something so shocking for quite a while. Following the movie, there was a commentary by Buñuel’s son and he made a very interesting point. He said that advertising today relies mostly on the surrealist movement for its shock quality. Quite an obvious thing, but for some reason I had never thought of advertising as “surreal”.

Thinking about it, advertising in the beginning of the 20th century was concerned with simply informing the consumer about the product in the bluntest way possible. Then a shift happened and the focus became how the product made you feel. People and objects were taken out of context, creating a scene that makes no sense at all and yet creates a surrealistic reality. And you want to buy that reality. There’s nothing so interesting and new about all of this except for the historical timeline maybe. But what I really find alarming is the shock factor.

Shockvertising, deliberately startling the audience by breaking social values and norms. The more shocking you are, the more creative you become because that’s how you capt attention, “create a buzz”. Benetton are thought to be the pioneers of shock advertising with their ads portraying an HIV terminal patient, a priest kissing a nun, child labor, etc. They spread quite the shock in their audience. It was borderline offensive. The ads had no selling line, only branding. So the shock is closely related to Benetton and engraves it in your mind. These were quite controversial ads and Benetton were sued for them.

What is worrying about all of this is the resulting habituation to such images. What once was shocking is now becoming the norm. And it’s not just about advertising. Watching so many people being killed daily in the news, detailed autopsies in crime series, hunger-induced deaths, even ecological disasters… We have grown immune to it all. We just flip the channel with no reaction at all. I don’t get how proud we can be of an advertising campaign that does nothing but numb our brain for the sole purpose of selling a product that we don’t really need.

As Buñuel’s son also adds in the commentary “people would be more shocked to see violence committed against an animal than a human being.” And that is so true.
For example, people (and I among them) had their hearts melt at the sight of this panda scared by the earthquake in Japan and clutching the zookeepers leg. I don’t think images of the tsunami victims were as heart-melting but I’d love to be proven wrong.
Another example is GoDaddy’s CEO elephant killing scandal. I’d like to see as many people boycotting all the brands out there for the sake of child labor or even for the simple case of capitalism. Shame.

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