Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1978)
Excerpts on advertising codes and useful model for analysis of visual cultures


Advertising is the method by which the desire is created for better things. The attempt to 'civilize' the masses has now given rise to a society dominated by appearances the society of the spectacle. In the period of primitive accumulation, capitalism subordinated being to having, the use of value of commodities to there exchange value. Now it subordinates possession itself to appearance and measures exchange value as a commodities capacity to confer prestige—the illusion of prosperity and well-being.


In an age where consumerism is the main vehicle of expression, men have nothing to measure their achievements against, besides the achievements of others. Today men increasingly seek approval not for their actions and accomplishments, but with the commodities that they posses such as expensive cars, houses, and their physical appearances. Debord summarizes this argument in the following statement, "When economic necessity yields to the necessity for limitless economic development, the satisfaction of basic and generally recognized human needs gives way to an uninterrupted fabrication of psuedo-needs (72).

The mass production of luxury items now extends aristocratic habits to the masses. The apparatus of mass promotion attacks ideologies based on the postponement of gratification; it allies itself with sexual "revolution"; it sides or seems to side with women against male oppression and with the young against the authority of their elders...It emancipates women and children from patriarchal authority, however, only to subject them to the new paternalism of the advertising industry, the industrial corporation, and the state.

The Propoganda of Commodities

In a simpler time, advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages. Now it manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life. It "educates" the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfilment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction; at the same time it creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age. It plays seductively on the malaise of industrial civilisation. Is your job boring and meaningless? Does it leave you with feelings of futility and fatigue? Is your life empty? Consumption promises to fill the aching void; hence the attempt to surround commodities with an aura of romance; with allusions to exotic places and vivid experiences; and with images of female breasts from which all blessings flow.

The demands of the mass-consumption economy have made the work ethic obsolete even for workers. Formerly the guardians of public health and morality urged the worker to labour as a moral obligation; now they teach him to labour so that he can partake of the fruits of consumption.

The propaganda of commodities serves a double function. First, it upholds consumption as an alternative to protest or rebellion...The tired worker, instead of attempting to change the conditions of his work, seeks renewal in brightening his immediate surroundings with new goods and services.