Magic – The Idea

February 25, 2010

When you think of a car, what exactly comes to mind? How about when you picture “Joe the Camel” for Camel cigarettes? Think about some of the ads you seen in magazines or the car commercials on TV.

In most minds,we think of masculinity and power when we think of a car. The speed, the luxury, the “chick magnet”, right? Joe the Camel offers similar attributes with the idea of masculinity, and the cowboy type of guy, the cool guy, the guy every guys wants to be.

Well, if you really get to the bottom of things, it boils down to a type of “magic”. Raymond Williams explains this magic system in an excerpt I read from his book, The Long Revolution. “Advertising: A Magic System”, written by Raymond Williams first explains the history of advertising – as it dates back to the days of the slave trade. Historically, newspaper ads were simply classified ads, outlining features and benefits of a product, and occasionally an endorsement from the royal empire.

Advertising has grown quite significantly since then. The transformation began in the beginning of the 1900s. This is when emotions and power were being influenced through the advertisements. During the First War, many posters began to emerge using methods of psychological warfare. For example, a drawing detailed to perfection showing: curtains, armchair, grim face of the father, a little girl on his knee pointing to her open-picture book, and a little boy at his feet playing with toy soldiers. The caption, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Not only using the traditional appeals of patriotism, this also outlined personal relationships and anxieties. Letting down your country meant letting down your sweetheart.

Thinking about modern day advertising, appeals of emotions, authority, and logic (three principles of Aristotle – pathos, ethos, and logos) are commonly used today. It identifies not just a product or service, but personal and social values. Williams described advertising as “magic: a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions, functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strongly coexistent with a highly developed scientific technology”. Simply put, the associations we make with the products and/or services advertised makes us believe that we will not only have that thing, but all the things unseen with it. Example: By having this car, you will also have the girls, power, and success. This car can “magically” bring you all these elements along with it, the unforeseen but socially accepted and luxurious characteristics that you desire.  Just like in the fairytales, Cinderella went from being a poor maid to a princess, but along with that a beautiful dress, handsome prince, and “happily ever after”.

The world of magic bestows upon us today. It’s all around us and will continue to evolve with each passing day. Creative new ways will be developed to make us believe, and we WILL believe.


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