Emotional manipulation is the modus operandi of today’s media. Buying decisions are often emotional decisions, so advertising campaigns intentionally appeal to emotion probably more often than they appeal to reason. When you watch TV, go to the movies, or browse your favorite websites, you are basically paying, through cable/internet packages or movie tickets, to be manipulated by the companies who create the content you are experiencing.
In some cases this manipulation is not harmful. For example, we can tell by previews when a new movie is out that we know will be a moving human-interest story. Movies like that can help us regain perspective on life and get in touch with emotions we may have become dull to.
However, most movies aren’t like this. They thrive on either raising adrenaline or appealing to our baser selves, the part of us that wants to do life our way instead of God’s way, through all manner of lewdness, degeneracy, and violence. As movie genres have developed, we can tell by the preview what kind of movie the newest flick will be, whether action, comedy, sci-fi, horror, drama, or a family movie, and we choose to go see it based on whichever appeal(s) we decide to respond to.
But to me, even most movies are less harmful than modern advertising, which is far more manipulative. A movie preview can get us to spend $10-15, not counting a $6 box of candy, plus, the investment is up front, assuming it’s not a movie known to have a sequel in the works. Video games are the same way. You watch a trailer on YouTube or see a commercial, and you decide before using the product whether or not you’ll spend the money. But with TV and internet ads, it’s both a front-end and back-end investment. For example, there are no commercials during a movie. You’ve already spent the money, and now you just get to enjoy the product without the need for further appeals, assuming it won’t have a sequel. But with TV, not only do we have to pay up front, we are paying to watch ads we don’t want to watch while using the product. Facebook is free because there are ads. TV has ads, yet it’s not free. And the ads on TV are, I would argue, much more potent than online ads because they promote big-ticket items more often. TV commercials are designed to motivate us to spend thousands of dollars on big-ticket purchases we don’t really need and may not be able to afford without going into debt. That debt then hangs over us like a cloud, affecting our mood and stress level for the worse. Sometimes we’re so stressed out by finances that we just plop down and…watch TV. The cycle begins anew, and we pay money to even be in this cycle, via our cable subscription.
I’m not saying don’t have TV. I’m saying we need to be more self-aware regarding advertising. Like I said, ads are specifically designed to manipulate you—especially your emotions. Yes, I’m a capitalist, and yes, sometimes ads alert you to a product that will actually enhance your life for a reasonable cost. But most ads on TV don’t do that, or you would buy everything you see on TV. There are plenty of things you would have never bought if you didn’t know about, and your life would have probably been just fine, with around the same happiness level as after you bought the item. Heck, you might actually have been happier because you had fewer possessions to manage…less “clutter” and certainly less debt. In the marketing world, the term demand generation or demand gen is used for certain types of advertising. To me, that phrase in itself is very revealing. Marketers know they have to create demand that didn’t previously exist, meaning they have to convince you that your life isn’t good enough they way it is—you need their product. This is obviously a form of manipulation.
If a product was really that great, why would they need to use emotional appeals to get you to buy it? Manipulating someone else’s emotions is not a good way to treat another human being. Also, it’s become acutely evident to me that most TV shows (as in, series) are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, by which I mean people who seek escapism and don’t want to entertain much of an inner thought life. Sure, the producers of these shows are answering a consumer demand (one they probably “generated”). But by doing so, they exacerbate the problem because the human brain always seeks the easiest route. This is part of how addiction develops—the more an action is repeated, the more defined specific neural pathways become and the more your brain wants to travel them. Useless, degenerate programming on TV, Netflix, Prime, YouTube, or anywhere else capitalizes on this constantly and has seemingly no qualms about it. I never even heard the term “binge-watching” until about six years ago. Was this really something our society needed, on top of all our other dysfunction?
Also, there’s the news. Setting aside the “fake news” meme, much of what is reported on the news is done to drive ratings. News stations trade on heart-wrenching emotional stories on one end of the spectrum, and gruesome, heinous crimes and terrorism on the other. The former is relatively benign, as long as you’re OK being manipulated into sticking around to watch a few more commercials, but the latter is really an issue. The net effect of all these crime and death and destruction stories is simply an increase in paranoia among the population. News broadcasters don’t care about this. They want to drive ratings, and they know people tune in to what is shocking (see previous paragraph). When we see a gruesome news story about what some serial killer did, don’t we think to ourselves upon noticing the slightest deviation in our neighbor’s normal behavior, “they could be a serial killer“? In reality, such incidents are extremely rare and a lot of extra stress is spent on precautions, like not being able to trust anyone, that ended up being unnecessary. Many other countries do not have this problem, and America’s media is somewhat unique in its level of devoting so much coverage to such harrowing news stories. Overall, this is one of the problems associated with having a for-profit news industry. I don’t know what the answer is (it’s certainly not state control of media), but my advice would be, unless it’s a news story about a heinous crime in your own city or region, it’s probably not worth watching because you’ll just freak yourself out, and something that had nothing to do with you will have a sizable negative mental and emotional impact on you.
In summary, my suggestion to the reader is to be way, way more thoughtful about what you put into the complex computer known as your brain. Instead of being manipulated and taken advantage of by opportunistic media companies and purveyors of expensive, unnecessary, and debt-ridden purchases, which you pay to see the ads for, take a step back and evaluate your media intake. Even movies should be considered from the perspective of desensitization, in light of the neural pathway phenomenon in the brain. Movies have gotten more coarse, violent, and gruesome over the years because last year’s content no longer shocks the audience enough to create a thrill (adrenaline rush). “The envelope” must be continually pushed to maintain the same shocking effect. The question is, where does it stop? How far will we go in search of entertainment? Ask yourself how and why you are allowing yourself to be manipulated, and if there is something more healthy and constructive you could be doing with your leisure time—and even more relaxing, because as someone pointed out, no one really feels relaxed after watching seven shows in a row on Netflix.
Don’t be a cog in these media master manipulators’ machine.