Sponsored memories

by Rob Horning

14 October 2005


I have always operated under the assumption that it’s important to preserve certain areas of our lives and protect them from infiltration by advertising, which has the effect of coarsening memories and reassigning their meaning to some commercial purpose. If those realms of experience we cherish as integral to the purpose of our lives and the essence of what we’ve accomplished and what we hope to remember are cannibalized by advertisers, then what’s left? Just a pile of possessions? Is that really the only point in life? That’s one of the reasons I’m quick to castigate those who license their music to commercials—what’s the point in reaching a greater audience if in doing so you are only sending them the message that shopping is all they can do in life? Such deals also have the effect of robbing people of the associations they already had. (My memories of “Pink Moon” have been totally ruined, for example. I find it hard to listen to Nick Drake anymore. Some will blame me and my thin skin rather than VW and their ad people for this.) And the same goes for those teens selling and fabricating their exeperience for the benefit of marketers.

But it may be that people of all stripes now prefer to have their memories to be sponsored by large corporate entities, because this sponsorship seems to validate them and make them more authorized and integrated with the world at large. It may be the case that ad/memories seem real, legitimate, and memories unaffiliated with the consumer culture seem, well, unmemorable, too idiosyncratic or mundane, unreal, disconnected from the values and priorities we all internalize.

It may be that in our pursuit of convenience we know wxpect to have our memories marketed to us, which is far less trouble and far less uncertain than having experiences of our own. We should be able to extend the comforts and pleasures of vicarious participation to encompass our entire lives, so that it is lived for us while we enjoy the spectatorship of it—it will be like watching ourselves on TV, and what’s more satisfying than that?

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