Burma-Shave was a brand of shaving cream famous for its humorous advertisements during the 1920s (check out the link here to see some examples for yourself). They had a reputation sort of like Geico does today; a company known for doing unconventional commercial advertisements with their own quirky sense of style. Yet perhaps another reason for their success lies not in the content of their ads, but new trends in American life in the 1920s that emphasized more materialistic values of status and wealth. Or as sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen called conspicuous consumption; spending money on luxurious goods to flaunt the wealth and status of the buyer.
Although this emphasis on consumerism and consumption was not invented in the 1920s, its did reach levels America had not yet seen–with the help of course of new technologies like the automobile and radio, which served as a medium to deliver these ads. Burma-Shave, however, mastered the technique of publicly displaying advertisements like on billboards and road signs.
As we research and discuss the 1920s, it is important to consider the impact of consumerism and the practice of publicly displaying advertisements today. Unsurprisingly, levels of consumerism and methods of advertising are much more extensive today. But what are the consequences of these?
Researchers like Dr. Tim Kasser have been thinking about these consequences for sometime. As a class we summarized our interview with Dr. Kasser about materialism and consumption and what he thinks we should do to help address it. You can read and listen to this interview here: https://forgottoniaproject.com/2018/01/14/value-pollution/. Check out the link and respond to the questions below.
- Tim Kasser is against the practice of advertising to kids under the age of 12 primarily because of what he refers to as persuasive intent. What does he mean by persuasive intent?
- Many companies who pollute the air have to pay a special tax because of the damage they do to the environment. Who does Kasser feel should be taxed and why?
- Kasser says he’s ok with advertisements directed at adolescents over the age of 12 if they have intrinsic value. What does this mean?
- America is the first country in the world to allow commercial advertisements in public school. Why does he feels that schools should not have ads in them (in regards to the idea of a social contract)?
- Some practices to address our growing rates of materialism and public advertising is to press pause on the commercials, limit screen time, and participate with people and organizations that raise awareness about these problems. What advice does Kasser give to young people in particular about changing the world?
As a class we made our own styles of Burma-Shave ads, yet this time we tried to incorporate intrinsic values; something that promotes harmony, equality, honesty, creativity, etc. For more info on ways to participate in working against powerful forces of consumption and materialism, check out this link to Screen Free Week presented by The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. You are invited to participate with us on April 30-May 6, 2018.