the highways and byways to hell
happy birthday jesus
my grandpa shares some thoughts

on record


issue 2 volume 1

free will

I have just ingested a batch of poorly made biscuits, a drink our friends south-of-the-border call ‘Coca-Cola’, and two dog tranquilizers. Through the doorway of the kitchen from the front room I can hear Bird and Diz bopping about to-and-fro on ‘Leap Frog’. I am a free individual living in God-blessed America guided by my own dirty thoughts and rational discourse. I am fucking Robinson Crusoe, right?

My fingers vibrate my thoughts across the keyboard of a COMPAQ computer. I am protected from the uncertainty of darkness by two GE light bulbs. My shiny compact disc of jazz mastery is flying out of two Bose speakers and spinning round on a Onkyo compact disc player. Am I the master of my piece of the Sara Lee pie? Can I particpate in my culture free from the desire for any of these products? Can I remove myself from the amorphous womb of consumerism and view my true will?

The classic and very simplistic arguement of Cartesian philosophy draws a separation between the dependent, inevitable and mechanical determinism of the physical universe and the spiritual, thinking, mental substance called free will. The universe is determined by the machinery of antecedent causes and the mind is ruled, unaffected by the physical reality, by it’s own free agency. This extreme dualist arguement, while ensuring text book immortality for Descartes' mind and body, is as unrealistically simple as trading guns for butter.

Today, in this New Age of Aquarius, you would have a hard time arguing that mind and body are seperate and unique in influence. In fact, in the 'new and improved' epoch we call the 20th century, one could argue that consumer awareness of the body and mind love-connection is gold for the strategies of advertisers. After all, this is a time when free agency is framed within a struggle for social, cultural and economic profit. Every decision is a cost-benefit analysis to determine what will provide you the greatest utility. Our concept of utility is corrupted in a thick goo of vanity and prestige.

Has advertising become the current mechanics of determination for body and mind. A parade of images rushing forward with white smiles and sexy bodies to define will and desire? I, mind and body, make the choices. But those choices are based on an antecedent foundation of my percieved needs. Those percieved needs are organized by and react to my free will. But, my thoughts are organized within my cultural context. That context says that I have to participate in the capital economy. And that of all the choices available to me, i can determine which product provides the highest degree of consumer utility for a demographic like myself. I am in charge, but contained within a system of creative capital determinism.

We live in a complicated and stressful world. We don't have the time or emotional strength to analyze all the options and possibilites that would trully provide us with free will. Is advertising, or more appropriately marketing, a necessary means to an organized and possible free will or is it the modern law of cause that narrows our range of freedom under the guise of choice?

An old advertising text book, which I didn’t have the choice to buy but did have the choice to read for a three credit advertising course at Long Beach City College, defended advertising as a means to spiritual and cultural self-actualization. It said that if one follows the material path of Snuggles the fabric softener bear or has faith in the eternal truths of Right Guard, "it may create a greater opportunity for attaining spiritual and cultural values since the satisfaction of a person’s higher desires is more likely when that person’s lower, more basic desires, have been met." Strangely, this defense of advertising smacks of Marx’s old buddy, historical materialism. Marx sold us the idea that in our collective history human material production was the cause and human intellectual and cultural life was the effect. Luckily for baby boomers, given this model, a recent commercial for Volkswagen provides the material means toward spiritual cleanliness, "if you sold your soul in the 80’s, now you can buy it back."

Material choice as the path to spiritual and cultural enlightenment? Somewhere, the Buddha is enjoying a Pop Tart and laughing. The question remains for you, are you free to exercise your will within or without America? Or, is freedom a series of choices confined within the social, emotional and economic harness of commercial guidance? Now I have to go lay down, those tranquilizers have killed me.

John L. Gordon