There’s a Downy fabric softener ad running on MSNBC that shows an adorable 4-year-old child trying to put on a sweater, laughing at herself because she’s having to squirm around to pull it on.
I never watch network ads, but I’ve seen this a half dozen times and I chuckle every time. I promise you will too if you see it.
So I went to the Downy website to compliment them on their ad. I found that I could not; there was no portal offered for any feedback. There’s a link to “contact us,” but all it does is channel you to points where they have a wall. They collect your data, or offer advice about their products. You can apply for coupons, too. But, whether you wish to praise or complain, there is no way in to do it. So I went to the site of the parent company, Proctor & Gamble. Guess what? Same deal: no entry.
I tried to forget the matter but over the days something nagged me about it. What to make of this? Why would a mega-corporation rig their main link to the public in a way that prevents two-way communication? And why did I feel miffed about it?
Then I got it. This strategic cyber-manipulation actually tells us much about their attitude toward us, the buyers: Our role is to be compliant consumers, easily led through the hoops. In other words, they like us in a passive role.
Passivity is part of a disease process that has infected American middle class culture since the 1960s. It’s why unions tanked and why the bottom 50 percent of our families have a negative net worth now. It’s why gig jobs have proliferated and so many wage earners feel dispirited. As much as I disagree with the content of the Trumpism movement, I can completely identify with their mood of angry rebellion. This I see as a reaction to a culture of passivity that has enabled mega-corporations, like Proctor & Gamble, to concentrate so much wealth and power in the hands of so few.
The Wall Street fat cats need lobbyists. They need pliant politicians aided by gerrymandered trickery. They need a Supreme Court that serves a class-based ideology. They need a deal where money is speech and big banks and corporations can run Congress like a pet project. But most of all, to keep their ripoff going, the fat cats need to cultivate a passive, easily duped, middle class.
The great pundit George Carlin once observed that what privileged elites want most is a poorly informed public with weak critical-thinking skills. This is the diseased culture we have to heal in order to restore our democracy and reform an economy that doesn’t work for most of us. The once vibrant capitalist undertaking of the mid-20th century has become a sick and amoral con job that has made suckers of us. The American middle class let this happen; now we have to fix it.