If you ask me about my future, I will be sure of one thing. No, I’m not sure where I’ll be working or even what I’ll be doing, but I do know someday I will have my own library. I have always wanted a room full of books with sliding ladders a la Beauty and the Beast and large comfy armchairs. I still remember very clearly the day my parents brought home tall wooden library shelves from the downtown library when it was moving locations. I was thrilled. Even better was the day I got my very own beautiful shelf several years later.
So I was surprised and more than a bit appalled when I learned that my desire for shelves full of books was a result from a marketing scheme. According to “The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control” by Ted Striphas in the 20s and 30s American book publishers were trying to stay afloat in the failing economies. They, therefore, made a great push for people to buy books shelves. They partnered with architects to get built in shelves included in houses.
People who couldn’t afford books actually bought fake books. Having a shelf full of books was a sign of intelligence and class even if they weren’t real.
I am just a product of marketing; a social construction.
Even more, my professor informed us that the tradition of buying girls diamond engagement ring is also the result of a marketing scheme. As a girl who is a little bit obsessed with weddings, this information was also hurtful. I mean I’m not wildly attached to a giant diamond ring, but the ring has so much symbolism to me.
Now, I’m aware that I may seem a little dramatic. So what if I want books? I like being surrounded by them. I love the smell. I’m an English person and I always have been. I’ve always naively thought I was a little bit unique, though, and the idea that I’m just following a really old trend is disconcerting.
As a communications minor, I’ve learned a bit about marketing. The sort of campaigns that start traditions and last nearly 100 years are the money campaigns. They are well designed and powerful. I would love to be a part of a campaign half as successful as the ones that pushed book shelves and diamond engagement rings. And yet…
It is a little bit scary to thing of how much marketing is a part of culture. I overlook traditions and aspects of every day life that are a result of some cleverly placed advertisements and a good slogan. There are many ethical concerns when you think about how long term a campaign can be. I think immediately of the rise in popularity of cigarrettes that has not yet been completely quelled even with the health concerns. As Spiderman says, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
Words can have the power to create traditions and even to make arbitrary actions important. That is a great power and a great responsibility. I still want a library someday and I’m not against a diamond ring either. I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that, no matter what, I am affected by marketing. We are all reflections of marketing at some level.