Archives for category: consumerism, Sigmund Freud, marketing, advertising, wish fulfilment, desires

In philosophy intentional states mean the directing of one’s thoughts towards some object or idea. The philosopher Fred Dretske investigated the claims of the late philosopher Roderick Chisholm who argued that intentional states could only be mental states. This claim was derived from the thesis of the nineteenth century philosopher Franz Brentano in his 1874 book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. This essay will explore the claims made by Chisholm and Dretske and ascertain the validity of their arguments as to whether the all the contents of the mind are physical or mental states.

A feature of mental states is their content. For example, when I see a cat, I am perceptually aware of that cat, or when I believe that it is going to rain, my belief represents a state of the weather. David Chalmers (ed. 2002, p. 473) states that a feature of mental states is defined as its intentionality and essentially it can be assessed for its accuracy. My perception of the cat may be precise or imprecise, my belief that it is going to rain may be accurate or inaccurate and my desire to be loved may be satisfied or unsatisfied. Brentano argued that intentional states were solely mental states and distinguished mental states from physical states because they are non-spatial and are objects of awareness but, Chalmers writes (2002) also claimed that they reveal intentional inexistence which means that ‘they contain an intentional object themselves, an object at which they are directed’. For example, the statement I am thinking about fire-breathing dragons simply means that my thoughts are directed toward such dragons, even though they do not physically exist. Brentano contends that this ‘intentional inexistence’ is exclusive to psychical phenomena and that no physical phenomena can be said to have it (Feldman & Feldman 2008).

Chisholm focused on the concept of this inexistence of the object of the mind, the figment of one’s imagination (Chalmers 2002, p.473). He also contended that it is possible for two different states to be directed towards the same object and only psychological phenomena had this object directedness (Chalmers 2002, p.473). Chisholm accounts for the intentionality of thoughts through language, semantics, and mental expectation. He asserts that all of these demonstrate psychological intentionality and cannot be explained in non-psychological, nonintentional terms (Chalmers 2002, p.474). For Chisholm intentionality cannot be naturalized because no such psychological fact can be identified with a physical fact. The use of intentional sentences for Chisholm means that all of our beliefs about psychological phenomena can be expressed through them whereas physical phenomena cannot (Feldman & Feldman 2008). For example, the sentence ‘Diogenes looked for an honest man’ is an intentional statement because it does not rely upon the veracity of there being an honest man or not, whereas ‘Diogenes lived in a tub’ is not an intentional sentence because it relies upon the existence of a tub. Chisholm also recognises that we sometimes use intentional sentences to express physical facts and that also statements of probability sentences that describe comparisons are problematic (Feldman &Feldman 2008). However, Chisholm states (1957, p.484) that intentional statements that are the most relevant are the ones that are based upon psychological attitudes such as wishing, desiring, hoping, believing, assuming, and also perceiving.


Dretske (1994, p.492) contends that to fully understand that mind, one must know how it works and that this must entail a naturalistic or physical understanding of the mind. Contrary to Chisholm’s assertion that intentionality cannot be naturalized or that psychological phenomena cannot be expressed through physical phenomena, Dretske argues (1994, p.492)  that intentional ‘ingredients’ are necessary for any understanding of an ‘intentional product’, just as copper wire is needed for building an amplifier because it conducts electricity. To establish his theory that intentionality is already naturalized, Dretsky (1994, p.493) uses the example of a compass, a physical artefact which he states has an intentional purpose that is not intrinsic to it but to its user.Talk of the use of a compass gives it an intensional context. Therefore, we have intentional phenomena (the compass) with an intensional context (its use or purpose) and that this intensionality is as much a part of the intentional phenomena as its original intentionality. For Dretske (1994, p.493), naturalized intentionality exists all throughout the natural or physical world in phenomena that expresses something else about natural conditions that indicate how the rest of the world works. Examples that he gives are dark clouds, tree rings, or smoke.


Dretske (1994, p.493) also contends that the construction of a thought also requires a property of misrepresentation otherwise we would not have a naturalistic understanding of what we think, or its content and meaning. However, intentional phenomena like the compass, although able to misrepresent the information it was designed to deliver, is reliant on us to be able to do it. We are the ones whose purposes and attitudes determine the success or failure of such physical phenomena. It is the derived power of such objects to misrepresent that Dretske (1994, p. 495) suggests is essential for his recipe of the mind because it acquires the ability to detach meaning from cause. Through his recipe for thought, Dretske is asserting a purely physicalist ontology of the mind. Unlike Chisholm, physicalist philosophers, such as Dretske, see that there is no ‘unbridgeable gulf between the mental and the physical’ (Jacob 2010) and that reality can be described in both physicalist and intentionalist terms.  Brentano’s thesis that ‘no physical phenomenon manifests intentionality’ is objectionable to the physicalist (Jacob 2010). When Dretsky naturalizes intentionality by ascribing it to non-mental things, he is trying to authorize physicalism’s assertion that nothing is purely mental. For Dretske (Jacob 2010), information exhibits some degree of intentionality and is able to show both the intentionality of beliefs as well as its derived intentionality of an utterance that can misrepresent such information.


With his assessment of intentional inexistence, Brentano (Byrne n.d.) was simply stating that there are things that exist solely within the mind, such as unicorns or fire-breathing dragons or even our concepts of nothing or infinity. Intentionality must also be plainly distinguished from intensionality because mental states are not intensional, only sentences are (Byrne n.d.). A sentence can be intentional yet be completely separate from intentionality and also sentences that report mental states need not be intensional (Byrne n.d.). For Dretske to maintain that intentionality can be physically or naturalistically reduced he distinguishes between original or intrinsic intentionality and derived intensionality.  Dretske also maintains a causal theory of intentionality such that mental states represent something, like tree rings represent something, and argues that the intentionality of mental states can be reduced to their evolutionary biological function. It is Chisholm who has allowed this alteration to Brentano’s thesis that intentional inexistence can be defined by language and signs, and it is this alternative explanation that allows the reducibility argument of Dretske to be applied to mental states. When Brentano claims that intentionality is sufficient and necessary for mental states, the sufficiency claim can be found false, especially in Chisholm’s broad redefinement, which includes non-mental entities such as sentences or signs. This claim can be amended to original intentionality is sufficient for mentality, thereby making the claim have some chance of validity (Byrne n.d.). With the claim that intentionality is necessary for mentality it can be countered with the claim that sensations are mental states that are non-intentional (Byrne n.d.). However, even Dretske asserts that bodily sensations are mental perceptions and therefore are intentional (Byrne n.d.).

Brentano’s thesis is simply that thoughts about thoughts are intentional mental states. They have no physical determining factor. If they had a physical determining factor they would not be a mental state because they would be derived from physical perceptions. When I am thinking about something that does not exist, it has no place in the physical world. Like shadows on the wall that make one believe that there is a monster, they are a particular feature of our imagination. One cannot ascribe the misrepresentation of the shadow to the shadow but to the subject’s mind. The thoughts about that monster are further intentional states, however the language that the subject speaks about the monster or the painting that the subject does of the monster are not. Like Dretske, we could redefine those extra states as intensional states with further potential for intentionality but we have may have missed the point of Brentano’s original thesis that Chisholm supported. Mental states can be differentiated and separated from physical states because of their ability to misrepresent and also to change the information given to them through bodily sensations. Mental states have the significant causal role of being able to significantly disrupt an organism’s ability to survive through irrational fears or desires. Anorexia nervosa (U.K. National Health Service) and other mental illnesses that have dire physical effects are examples of such intentional mental states.

Chisholm’s account of mental states is based upon linguistics and semantics. Dretske’s response to Chisholm’s account that intentionality is naturalized throughout the world by its intensional context is valid. However, Brentano’s thesis, especially his second claim that intrinsic intentionality is sufficient for mentality, is also valid through such examples of the physical effects of a purely mental cause in such diseases as anorexia nervosa. Therefore, Dretske’s response to Chisholm that all intentional states have a purely physical cause is invalid because it does not take into account such mental states that can be classified as intentional which have causal roles.




Brentano, F 1874, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, D. Terrell, A. Rancurello, and L. McAlister, trans.; L McAlister, ed. (Routledge, 1995)


Byrne, A, (n.d.) ‘Intentionality,’ in Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. Pfeifer and S. Sarkar (Routledge n.d.), viewed 5 April 2012


Chalmers, D J (ed.) 2002, Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York, pp.474-474


Chisholm, R, 1957, “Intentional Inexistence” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 484-91, 2002


Dretske, F, 1994, “A Recipe for Thought” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Reading, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 491-99, 2002


Feldman, R & Feldman, F, 2008, ‘Roderick Chisholm’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 3 April 2012,


Jacob, P, 2010, ‘Intentionality’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,viewed 4 April 2012,


U.K. National Health Service, Anorexia Nervosa, viewed 8 April 2012,

Freud believed that dreams have a meaning which can be interpreted through the use of symbolic relationships[1]. Dreams can be divided into three categories in relation to their manifest and latent content[2]. The first category is dreams that are intelligible and that can be easily related to one’s mental life[3]. The second category is dreams which, although sensible and clear, have a confusing effect because they do not fit with our mental life[4]. And the third category is dreams that are incoherent, disconnected and seemingly meaningless[5]. It is the second and third categories which are significant concerning the manifest and latent content of dreams[6]. The manifest content of a dream is the fragmentary and illogical story that it tells[7]. The latent content of a dream is concerned with the ‘dream thoughts’ that occur within this dream story[8]. Freud asserts that, on analysis, the manifest content of a dream deals with material that is quite different to the latent thoughts[9]. The distinction between the two contents show that the essential content of a dream is obscured, playing a subordinate role and the most latent content is not even present or is only remotely alluded to it[10]. The more obscure the dream, the more displacement has occurred[11].

[1] Freud, Sigmund. “On dreams (extract)” in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis , Freud, Sigmund; Freud, Anna , 1986 , p.88

[2] ibid.

[3]ibid. p.89

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] Smith, Dr. N., Lecture 20, The Unconscious, in “Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics”, PHI130, Macquarie University, 2011

[8] ibid.

[9] Freud, S. , “On dreams (extract)”, p.98

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid. p. 99

“In a world that is really turned upside down, the true is a moment of the false.”

Guy Debord 1968

Visual culture is defined as the way visual texts can be understood and deployed, especially in the Western tradition of art (Schirato & Webb, 2004: 105). Consumer culture is one of the ‘symbolic embodied and experiential aspects of acquisition behaviour’ (Arnold & Thompson, 2005:871). Both cultures work together within the global advertising industry to create an environment that is false and fragmented (Debord, 2002: 6). This essay will discuss the argument that visual culture is consumer culture by referring to two visual texts that are based upon specific commodity signs. The first is a work of art created for the Reebok Corporation that reifies the Reebok running shoe. The second is a work of art created as a foil for such commodity signification. With these texts I contend that consumer culture uses visual culture to authorize itself as an embodiment of power.

Research into consumer culture shows that many people’s lives in consumer society are constructed around multiple realities, and consumption is used to experience these realities which are linked to fantasies, invocative desires and aesthetics (Arnold & Thompson, 2005: 875).The process of reification in consumer culture is where a commodity is attributed with human qualities, becoming an entity that ‘thinks’, ‘is sexy’, or ‘alive’ (Pugliese, 2011). This is important when advertising a product’s life enhancing qualities, the message being that if you consume the product you will improve your life (Pugliese, 2011). Reebok’s uses fantasy and reification to advertise its latest running shoe range advertising it as pioneering and ‘whose graphic, crenelated sole not only reduces muscle fatigue but transfers energy back into the runner’s stride…’ (Wallpaper Magazine, 2011). They are referred to as ‘eye catching’ and supposedly have inspired an exhibition of artworks (2011).

Capitalism celebrates the individual through an illusion created by advertising (Pugliese, 2011). This illusion of individualism relies upon the contradictory mass production and distribution of goods rather than the individual and handmade. From the nineteenth century, where shopping became a recreation, to the late twentieth century where shopping promised self-fulfilment and self-realisation, it is this ‘therapeutic ethos’ to which advertisers appeal (Pugliese, 2011). They do this by promising glamour, wealth, prestige and allure (Pugliese, 2011). Art provides a means for this type of advertising because it provides the associated authority of high culture (Schirato and Webb, 2004:107) . Contemporary art as opposed to advertising has a tendency for obscurity that implies a required knowledge or literacy to understand it (2004:107). To combine the two visual cultures together, as Reebok has done, implies the exclusivity and elitism not of a top athlete but of an international contemporary artist, thereby creating the illusion for the consumer of individual accomplishment and self-realisation.

Advertising does not need to sell the image of a product or even mention the company name as long as a well-recognised logo is attached to the advertisement (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001:239). These logos are called commodity signs or signifiers. They do not sell the consumer the products functionality or quality, they sell the products style (2001: 239). These commodity signs infer the value of the commodity until this signifying value becomes more important than the commodity itself (Pugliese, 2011). Brand logos, such as Reebok designer running shoes or Apple computers and phones, compete with other similar commodities for their signs to be recognised across the globe (Pugliese, 2011). The commodity signs become hierarchical within themselves with Reebok running shoe inferring more social value than another generic or cheaper brand (Pugliese, 2011).

In the “Society of the Spectacle” Guy Debord argues that the global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (Debord, 2002:8). The notion of social value being inferred by a commodity sign goes to the heart of Guy Debord’s notion of the ‘spectacle’, which is the visual deception that creates a world view produced by the technologies of mass media (2002: 6). The images of the Spectacle create a visually deceptive culture that provide the motivations for hypnotic behaviour (2002: 8). Jean Baudrillard continues this notion by asserting that consumer culture has become a form of simulation (Sturken & Cartwright 2001: 153). Baudrillard’s notion of simulation is when signs of the real are substituted for the real (Felluga, 2011). He states that this has caused the contemporary consumer society to be unable to discriminate between nature and artifice, or what is real and what is unreal or simulated (Felluga, 2011).

For Karl Marx, commodity became associated with class structure with the commodity itself being alienated from its system of production (Noble, 2008:101). Marx described this as ‘commodity fetishism’ where the commodity is just an object in a shop rather than having any association with its means if production (2008:101). Through this objectification there is no longer any means to see the system of exploitation that has gone into the product (2008:101). The advent of an increasingly globalised world has meant that the exploitation of many workers remains hidden in poor nations and through the commodity this exploitation becomes part of everyday life (2008:102). By being alienated from its means of production, commodity fetishism is able to infer value upon a product through conferring value and prestige upon the consumer (Pugliese, 2011). This is done through the elitism of expense, if only a few can possess it this signifies affluence, good taste and refinement (Pugliese, 2011).

The commodity signification of hierarchical branding is shown at its zenith when a brand name seeks to equate itself with something that is considered high culture and elitist. This is seen in the recent collaboration of Reebok with various contemporary international artists. Reebok invited various contemporary designers, architects and artists to come up with concepts that would create one-off artworks inspired by the Reebok design (Wallpaper-Reebok Exhibition, 2011). This lends to Reebok the authority of contemporary art and lends to the various participants the global notoriety of the Reebok brand. The pictured work is one by the French artist Ora Ito who took the imprint of the base of a Reebok shoe and created a wall-mounted sculpture made from “Hi-Macs”, an acrylic material made from wood chips and toxic resin. This infers upon the running shoe images of the consumer being socially-influential and trend setting. The sculpture’s clean whiteness completely erases any connection of the product with the production of the shoe by a third world workforce. Commodity fetishism, as Marx called it, eliminates any responsibility between the product and the producer (Debord, 2002:9).

The products of the spectacle, from computers and shoes to cars, are designed to isolate and create the ‘lonely crowd’ (Debord, 2002:10). Spectators are only linked by their vision of the spectacle which keeps them from each other (2002:10). The more the spectator views the spectacle the more they are alienated, the less they live and the more they need. Their gestures become the puppet gestures of the spectacle (2002: 30). The economy of the globalised world has totally subjugated humanity to itself and the spectacle which sustains it (2002: 7). This global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (2002:7). No longer is it sufficient to be someone, but to be fulfilled through having possessions. This idea of possessions has then shifted from having to appearing so that prestige comes from appearance (2002:7). The appearance of the commodity sign, such as the Reebok logo, gives the elitism of expense and exclusivity which signifies ‘affluence, good taste and refinement’ (Pugliese, 2011). The prestige of appearance inferred by the commodity sign is one of the dominant modes of visuality (Pugliese, 2011).


Nicholas Georgouras, Stick People, 2007

 The dominant mode of visuality is one that occupies a position of cultural power and authority, such as the media or a corporation. Through this, a power attempts to control meanings related to an object or image (Pugliese, 2011).  However, these visual meanings can be contested and changed (Pugliese, 2011). Through the targeting of commodity fetishism and commodity signs consumer culture can be subverted. This is called ‘culture jamming’ (Pugliese, 2011). Culture jamming sabotages advertising campaigns and parodies logos to expose the exploitation of the commodity’s producers and ridicule its promises (Pugliese, 2011). The artist Nicholas Georgouras’ group sculpture of Stick People (2007) attempts to emphasise how commodity signs become more important than the product. Being made of recycled wood and plastic tags, each of the sculptures is alienated from the other and focussed on their position in the spectacle. Each of their positions is a puppet gesture parodying the modelling gestures for each product for which the plastic tag is the commodity sign. Consumers of such products become mere extensions of the product, something to which the product can attach itself. This process of dehumanisation is what Debord calls the commodification of society (Debord, 2002: 12).

Visual culture encompasses all forms of visual media in the postmodern world (Irvine, 2011). Advertising agencies use visual culture as a communication device in all its forms. In capitalist societies, advertising is ubiquitous and pervasive. Consumer culture is veracious in its use of visual culture to establish and authorise its commodity signs and commodity fetishism. However, to state that visual culture is consumer culture would deny all the forms of visual culture that deny a capitalist society its consumer. To deny the effect of culture jamming, the effect of art forms done without thought for power or money is to deny visual culture its own legitimacy. Consumer culture is a dominant mode of visuality but it is not visual culture. Therefore, visual culture is not consumer culture.



  1. Arnould E. J., Thompson C. J., 2005, “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT); Twenty Two Years of Consumer Research”, Journal of Consumer Research; Mar 2005; 31, 4; ABI/INFORM Global, pp. 868-877,  Retrieved from:  on 3 August 2011
  2. Debord G., 1968, “Society of the Spectacle”, Trans. Ken Knabb, 2002, Treason Press, Canberra, Retrieved from:  on 1 August 2011
  3.  Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Baudrillard: On Simulation.” Introductory Guide to Critical          Theory. Jan 31 2011, Purdue University, Retrieved from: on 14 August 2011
  4. Irvine M., 2011, “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways at Looking at All Things Visual”, Retrieved from: , on 14 August 2011
  5. Noble G., 2008 “living with things: consumption, material culture and everyday life” in Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Ed. Nicole Anderson & Katrina Schlunke, Oxford University Press Melbourne, pp. 98-113
  6. Pugliese Assoc. Professor J., 2011, Lecture 13- “Visual Culture, Consumer Culture: Fetishism and Commodity Signs”, Vision, Visuality and Everyday Life CLT120, Macquarie University
  7. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 1 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 237-261
  8. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 2 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 262-277
  9. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Visual Art & Visual Culture”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp. 105-130
  10. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Selling the Visual”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp.151-168
  11. Wallpaper Magazine Editorial: Reebok- Great Leap, Retrieved from: , on 12 August 2011
  12. Wallpaper Magazine – Reebok Exhibition, Retrieved from:  , on 8 August 2011



                   I am what I desire; and I desire what I gaze upon.

                                             Sigmund Freud (1905)

Power relationships within our societies are image-based (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst, asserted that humans imagine themselves as individuals within the social constructs of Western capitalism (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). An example of this is the advertising campaign known as The Champion Family. The Champions are the hyperreal, simulated family who feature in a set of advertisements directed at shoppers who shop at the various shopping malls owned by the multinational corporation known as AMP (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010). Their images are displayed throughout these shopping malls in the act of consuming products. This essay will focus on this family as it analyses how this advertising campaign affects the target audience through the technologies of visualisation and evaluates it effectiveness as a normalising process of vision.

 The Champion family are depicted as the average Australian family ‘flaws and all’: Anglo-Saxon, youthful, attractive, and comfortably wealthy. The mother, Mrs Sarah Champion, is represented as the centre of the household being in the centre of the picture. She is referred to in the advertising campaign as someone who ‘manages to juggle the demands of the household while keeping the family together’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). Mr Paul Champion is described as a ‘doting husband’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010); this is represented by his close proximity to Mrs Champion with his body leaning into to her and his arm protectively around her. The older son, Will Champion, is also represented as a small version of his father. He is well-dressed in casual white shirt and beige pants with his arm also protectively and lovingly draped around his mother. The older daughter, Chloe Champion, is also represented as a reflection of her mother. Both have blonde hair, are dressed in casual white dresses with an emphasis on their smooth-skinned arms and legs. The younger children are the ‘mischievous’ twins Charlie and Annabel, representing the younger consumer. The image’s whiteness is reinforced by the repetition of the colour beige throughout the subjects’ clothing and the furnishings of the room. Even the dog, Millie, and the flowers are white.

The organisational properties of the image group the family together as a whole. In such group photographs the identity of the individual is dissolved into the identity of the group (Schirato and Webb 2004). The conformity of the Champion family’s smiling faces denotes compliance and contentment (Schirato & Webb 2004). The interior design which surrounds this group in the photography can also be deciphered through the value that it places upon the group (Communicating the Visual). As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss posited, much can be learned by analysing the clothes people wear, and the colours, lines and textures with which they decorate their home (Schirato & Webb 2004). The cultural theorist Stuart Hall goes on to state that this displayed visuality tells us how valuable these people are within their society and how powerful they (Schirato & Webb 2004). The simulated Champion family has a name that denotes success within society. The advertising campaign tells us that, ‘when it comes to shopping, they’re champions’ (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010).

The advertising campaign tells us that this campaign is relevant to all consumers at these shopping malls because of the ‘unique and endearing characteristics of the individuals that make up the Champion family’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). ‘Templates of normality’ are used by capitalism to promote consumption by advocating the transformation of people so that they can be assessed by others as normal (Schirato & Webb 2004). The role models used become an interactive way of seeing through which the audience plays out its relationship with them and it perpetuates through the audiences evaluation of the people that surround them to create a ‘normal’ way of seeing the world (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Paradoxically, one of the most important notions of this way of seeing is that the role models are depicted as individuals.

To individualise the campaign the story of the family is then broken into its individual segments. For example, Sarah is described as a ‘fun-loving caring mother’ and the heart of the family (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). Her job is to organise the household’s needs and, being 39 years old, we are told that she is at the age when she can enjoy spending time with her girlfriends, shopping for the latest fashions and pampering herself (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). The shopping mall is the centre of her life because it solves all the family’s problems (Knox Shopping Centre, 2004). By individualising the family the campaign is imitating reality. This imagery represents an ideal and it is this trick of advertising that can convince the eye into thinking about the aspiration of the ideal (Schirato & Webb 2004). It mimics reality by reflecting a family moment and representing such ideals of marriage, family and happiness (Schirato & Webb 2004).

In modern Western culture such visual imagery has come to control and influence people’s perception of reality (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are seen by institutional powers through their ability to contribute to the state. They are contextualised and evaluated through normalising processes just as selective breeding programs occur on farms (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are trained from an early age to lead non-reflective ‘normal’ lives with reality being decided by the rules of society (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Therefore people relate themselves in the everyday context to what is seen as normal which is evaluated through such things as people’s appearance, clothes, sexuality and work (Schirato & Webb, 2004). In the Champion family the two older children are depicted as normal because Chloe loves ‘shopping, texting, facebooking and thinking about guys’, while Will likes ‘surfing, skate-boarding and eating fast-food (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). 

In order to produce a population that is pliable, productive and reliable the logic of what is normal prevails. As the seventeenth- century French philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted by Pierre Bourdieu: “Custom is the source of our strongest and believed proofs” (Schirato & Webb, 2004). As Judith Butler, the gender theorist, argues that there are sites in society where we can assess whether we measure up to the normalised standard by their imagery of what are considered normal, healthy, desirable subjects (Schirato & Webb, 2004), the advertising campaign of the simulated Champion family does this work upon consumers that attend the shopping malls of AMP. The relationship of the consumer within this advertising campaign is one that plays upon what Jacques Lacan refers to as the gaze or le regard (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). This imagery has the power to articulate desire for the consumer, an ability to shop without consequence. It is an opportunity to see themselves in the role of this family; to achieve happiness through shopping. However, the integral function of this advertising campaign is to activate the latent desires of the consumers relative to their social circumstances (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).

The simulated Champion family works its effect upon the consumers attending these shopping malls by presenting themselves as the average Australian family. They are something to which the advertising executives want people to aspire: white, youthful, well-off, and happy. By trying to convince consumers that it is desirable to conform to such standards and that through being compliant they will achieve happiness, the advertisers present their shopping mall as the place where this achievement can take place. They have given the consumer individual role models that cover all aspects of the consumers that they wish to encourage by convincing them that to be like the Champions is the expected societal ideal.  Thus the world becomes shaped by such fictitious and normalised visual ideals.


  3. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Normalising Vision (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 131-150
  4. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Communicating and the Visual (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 57-80
  5. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Spectatorship, power, and knowledge (extract)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 72-84


In this essay I will attempt to explain how the study of psychoanalysis influenced the development of the consumer society and how we can resist its persuasions. During the Industrial Revolution manufacturers produced more goods than were needed and people had to be persuaded to become consumers to absorb them. The studies of Sigmund Freud were used to develop methods of manipulative persuasion by the advertising industry so that they could promote growth of such consumers. Because advertising is so reliant on images and words, the study of semiotics was also used to help trigger emotional responses in consumers. The main emotional targets are consumers’ anxieties and insecurities. The consumer is told that through buying commodities, they will be able to satisfy their desires. It is necessary to become a skilled reader of advertisements and to know what devices are used because they pervade modern society. Finally, Freud said that it was necessary for people’s psychic wellbeing to resist large-scale coercive powers. Advertising and the consumer culture has become that power.

The consumer society emerged from the surplus of goods manufactured during the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of machines, goods could be manufactured more than one item at a time. There was an increase in the world’s population and an expansion of prosperity among the middle classes. Mass advertising was used to appeal to the growth of these potential markets (Jawitz ,W., 1996, pp.460). The economies of modern societies came to be dominated by large scale commerce (Deborg, G., 1983, pp.40). A constant flow of new products meant that people needed to be convinced to throw away old items to keep ‘in fashion’.

Once manufacturers had convinced people to buy products or commodities that they did not need, consumer culture became intense. During the early twentieth century Euro-American societies changed from valuing work and civic responsibility to valuing leisure and self-fulfilment. The increased acquisition of goods was considered to make life better rather than security and savings. Feelings of inadequacy were enforced to make the intended consumer feel in need of improvement from the various commodities put forward. Advertising used staged imagery rather than reality to reinforce these feelings and so gave form to changing social desires (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.227).

Before the nineteenth century most advertising was merely informative. It consisted of price lists, signs on walls, printed announcements, and even the calls of the town crier. Supply and demand were in balance and there was no need to produce new products. People bought what they needed and needed what they bought. There was limited competition among merchants (Jawitz, W.,1996, pp.463) . The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of the commodity culture in which the distinctions between objects and images eroded. The image became what people live through and consume (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.227). The huge growth in advertising showed how persuasion works when used by manufacturers. The advertising industry needed to know how people think and react and what motivates them. Therefore, they turned to the study of psychoanalysis for help.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who founded of the theory of psychoanalysis. Freud said that the human ego is at the beck and call of three masters: the superego, the id or seat of instinctual desire, and to the external world. Human mental life, Freud states, is the conflict between those contending authorities (Derbyshire, J., 2007, pp.36). The real source of human motivation is our unconscious desires and needs. In the United States Freud’s theories were recognised by advertising agencies and they used this research to sell the manufacturers’ products. Before the use of psychoanalysis advertisers assumed that a product was bought because it was best among its competitors or cost less. From Freud’s work it was realised that a brand may be bought because the buyers felt that it made them more powerful, more loved or more acceptable. It was shown through motivational research that women would pay many dollars for a ‘cream’ that promised to make them more ‘beautiful’. Therefore, advertisers realised, don’t sell soap- sell dreams. Don’t sell oranges- sell health and vitality. Don’t sell cars- sell power and prestige (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.466)

Psychographics and demographics are two crucial fields of research in which advertisers invest large sums of money. Whereas demographics are the statistical study of a large group of people, psychographics gives a more specific profile of the target audience. Through marketing surveys this research reveals information on target audience’ values, lifestyles, emotional triggers, fears and dreams or aspirations. Advertisers use this information to create the language and images people in modern societies receive everyday.

Advertising is full of symbolic images and unconscious associations. Direct messages are avoided because this may contradict what the potential consumer already believes. A hidden message is given by means of a device, the signifier or word, and the signified or object (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.97). This is translated into ‘meaning’ and ‘form’. The study of semiotics involves describing how culture and language work together to produce systematic meaning. All meaning producing activities are gathered under the one conceptual framework: that of ‘signification’ or the making of meaning. Semiotics analyses signification by reducing all communication practices to their most basic unit, ‘the sign’. A sign can be a sound- any physical form which refers to something else. The practices of advertising provide a clear demonstration of the processes of signification by deploying a signifier and attaching it to a mental concept they wish to put with their product. This provides the product with that meaning (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.221) .

An example of this is an ad for health insurance found in a newspaper. The ad shows a couple, relaxing in an environment which is both a type of resort (looking at the cushions and the simple building construction, also the couple’s clothes are not of intrepid explorers) and a rainforest setting. The image has nothing to do with what the reader would normally associate with health insurance, hospitals, doctors, nurses, ambulances etc… However the appeal of this advertisement is in the picture which suggests love, beautiful people, freedom, the beauty of nature, and even a certain naturalness and youth. The emotional appeal of the advertisement is that, by having this health insurance, the reader will somehow be associated with the feeling the picture suggests. At the very least, the picture creates a good mood, so the reader will experience a pleasant feeling when seeing the product’s name (Jawitz, W. 1996,, pp. 487).

Another type of appeal is the celebrity. In this advertisement a bank is selling the image of a winning racing car driver. It does not sell any facts about whether the racing car driver’s investments have increased by using this bank, but the image suggests that the bank is a winner along with the reader. Advertisers pay enormous amounts of money to famous people to endorse their products. They select according to the feeling the person communicates- a feeling the advertiser wants associated with the product; in this case, winning. The idea behind celebrity endorsements is that some of the heroics and fame of the celebrity ‘rub off’ on the product and on the users of that product (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.487).

Nearly every advertisement attempts to give the impression that the product advertised will make the person more successful, popular, powerful, safer etc… Although this is obviously untrue, the advertiser tries to say that the user will feel loved or popular etc. if they use the product. Ads have always appealed to emotions, but researchers find that even practical, everyday products are purchased more on emotion than practical qualities (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 483). Advertisements increasingly speak to problems of anxiety and identity crisis, and offer harmony, vitality, and the prospect of self-realisation. Today, consumption is looked at as both a form of leisure and pleasure and as a form of therapy. It is commonly understood that commodities fulfil emotional needs. The paradox is that those needs are never truly fulfilled as the market lures people into wanting different and more commodities- the newest, the latest, and the best. This is a fundamental aspect of contemporary consumer culture- that it gives us pleasure and reassurance while tapping into our anxieties and insecurities (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001,pp. 197).


To policy-makers, people are consumers, voters, producers or unemployed, taxpayers, clients, crowds, and not much else. We are rarely citizens, users, actors, participants, democrats. To cast a society as consumers is to see its members as creatures to be fed, housed and kept quiet. It shows contempt and arrogance by the powerful to set up the politics of bribery whereby consumers are bribed with extra fat helpings of consumer goods often enough to ensure the docile stability of their vote (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.134). The shopping mall is now the consumer’s cathedral. It serves to give people a sense of place in the world, homogenised as it may be, in part through their purchase and use of commodities which seem to give meaning to their lives in the absence of meaning derived from a close-knit community. This is why, perhaps, people jokingly refer to shopping as a form of ‘retail therapy’ (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.193). But when we buy a commodity that has meaning attached to it, we are not buying to satisfy need but to satisfy desire. This is why people continue to buy, because desire can never be satisfied.

By the time we are sixty years of age we would have seen over 50 million advertising messages (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.468). Most of these will be ignored, some will help, but others will mislead. Advertising can help to discover new products or show where to buy goods at the lowest price. However, it can also mislead by convincing people to buy what we do not want or thinking a particular brand is better than what it is. To be able to counteract these persuasions, we need to be skilled readers of advertisements. People must learn to determine facts and then recognise how an advertisement tries to make the product appealing. This may seem simple but advertising agencies spend millions to make the job difficult. Almost every advertisement makes what is called a product claim. This is simply what the advertisement says about the product. There are two basic kinds of claims- one provides useful information for making a purchase decision and the other tells little or nothing factual (Jawitz, W. 1996,pp.468).

One of the basic rules in analysing advertisements is that if any product is truly superior the advertisement will say so clearly  and will offer some kind of convincing evidence of superiority, one can suspect that it is not really superior (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.476). Once advertisements have been evaluated so that they do not mislead there is a second important skill needed to deal with advertising. People need to understand how advertisements appeal to them through involving their feelings, wishes and dreams. Advertisements attempt to make products look luxurious, sexy, sophisticated, modern, happy, patriotic, or any of dozens of other so-called desirable qualities.

Many advertisements appeal to feelings and emotions. Studies have shown that a person’s choice of a specific product and brand is more based on feelings than a specific product’s claims. Most advertisements have both a reasonable-sounding claim and an appeal to feelings. The careful consumer should be able to see in any ad not only what claim is being made but also what emotional appeal is being used. Different types of appeal are in different advertisements, although some use a combination of appeals. In looking for the emotional appeal, always notice the setting in which the product is placed. Placing a car by a mansion with a chauffeur and people in expensive-looking clothes says that this is a car for wealthy people. (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 487)

In a consumer culture where personal debt is towering over an economy so reliant on the results of consumer confidence figures, it is interesting to note how Freud’s studies into the human psyche have been hijacked. In 1914 Sigmund Freud published a short essay extolling the virtues of renouncing pleasure and desire in the name of something greater. In Moses and Monotheism, which was published just before Freud’s death in 1939, he used Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses as an example of the sublimation of flesh. It is argued by the writer Edmundsen (Derbyshire J. 2007, pp.36) that Freud’s greatness lies in his recognition that psychic wellbeing consists of tolerating this conflict between desire and sublimation. Freud recognized that charismatic leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini etc.. promise eternal peace in place of conflict, plentitude in place of lack. Such a promise is illusory but is no less powerful or alluring. Freud says that fascism and fundamentalism are where ‘humanity will go without potent efforts of resistance’. He asked humanity to ‘turn away from all large-scale coercive powers’ (Derbyshire, J. 2007, pp.36)

The production of commodities has seized total domination over the world’s economy. The consumer frenzy spoken of by environmentalist George Monbiot (Monbiot, G. 2007, pp.18), threatens the world’s ecological environment and therefore human life. It needs to be controlled and the best way of controlling it is by understanding how it works. People must resist the ‘large scale coercive power’ of advertising and ask themselves, “Do I really need this?”


Jawitz, William, 1996, Understanding Mass Media 5th Edition, National TextbookCountry,US

Debord, G.,1983, The Commodity as Spectacle, Society of the Spectacle,Michigan: Black and Red

Sturken, M. Cartwright, L., 2001, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture,OxfordUniversityPress

Inglis, F., Media Theory: An Introduction., 1990, Basil BlackwellOxford&Cambridge

Guardian Weekly October 5-11 2007, Vol 177 No 16

Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17

Derbyshire, J. 2007, The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism  Edmundsen, M., Guardian Weekly, September 14-20, Vol 177 No 12 pp.36

Monbiot, G. 2007, ‘We should welcome a recession now’ Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17 pp. 18


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