Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Horkheimer and Adorno Would Hate Infomercials

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proactive3step2010

 

Pro-Active: Your 3-step solution to acne free life. Proven to work on all face types, and the easiest, simplest and most affordable anti-zit formula you’ll ever find. Get the clear skin you deserve! America’s #1 Acne Care System.

The quote on the very last page of the Horkeimer & Adorno reading sums it up pretty nicely: “[i]ndustry is interested in people merely as customers and employees, and has in fact reduced mankind as a whole and each of its elements to this all-embracing formula” (52). The one word that screamed out at me after reading this quote was: INFOMERCIALS. And not just any infomercial…the Pro-Active ones.

Whether or not Pro-Active actually works is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is: the target audience of the Pro-Active ads are teenagers with acne that is ruining their reputation, looks, and overall confidence— all factors that society has pressured teenagers to think about and engage in. The company has chosen these vulnerable consumers and created a process by which the consumers are “urged to fit in like sensible people” (52).

Horkeimer and Adorno would argue that this is, in fact, the exact process and ideology by which our cultures industry functions. Pro-Active has chosen a dilemma that is apparent and available in our society, and used the target audience as objects to solve this dilemma. As a result, pro-active has been readily accepted; a claim that Horkeimer & Adorno make in the reading: “[i]t is claimed that standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance” (40).

Acne was certainly a prevalent issue amongst angsty teenagers, but up until Pro-Active’s successful solution, the idea of having clear skin was not necessarily a real and sustainable alternative. Suddenly, Pro-Active made it a better possibility. “The thing itself has been essentially objectified and made viable before the established authorizes began to argue about it” (44). Suddenly, this concept that having clear skin is idealized and more attractive has been perpetuated: a genius marketing strategy on Pro-Active’s part. As Horkeimer and Adorno argue, “…all the trends of the culture industry are profoundly embedded in the public by the whole social process…” (47). We can probably say with some certainty that it was not Pro-Active’s goal to solve the worlds’ acne crisis. Rather, they wanted to identify with consumers needs, make their consumers the object, and advertise their product in a way that places the consumer in a position of helplessness. As stated in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception “Business is their ideology” (48).

And not only that, but Pro-Active promises an outcome of extreme pleasure within their ads. They are famous for two things: their celebrity spokesmen/women and their before and after shots. “This promisiory note, which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consist of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached…” (49). The likelihood of celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Hayden Panettiere and others using this seemingly cheap formula to help them in their extravagant, red-carpet filled lives is pretty unlikely. Yet, society still gives into this in hopes of being “a copy of himself” and a “mechanical reproduction of beauty” (49).

Erin.-Photo-on-left-taken-May-25-2008-after-using-Proactiv-Regimen-for-two-years-twice-a-day.-Photo-on-right-was-taken-on-July-6-2008-after-using-the-Nu-Skin-Clear-Action-System-for-42-days-twice-a-day.1

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2 thoughts on “Horkheimer and Adorno Would Hate Infomercials

  1. “They are famous for two things: their celebrity spokesmen/women and their before and after shots. ‘This promisiory note, which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consist of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached…’ (49).”

    This excerpt that you used from Adorno/Horkheimer refers to erotic elements in film and media. The authors argue that “there is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far” (49). It is very interesting that you used this logic to apply to not just to the portrayal of sex in the media, in which the audience is led to desire but deprived of satisfaction, but to the same phenomenon in non-sexual product advertising. Teens watching Proactiv commercials are essentially subjected to “skin care erotica,” in which they are imbued with a desire for an end point of clear skin that they will likely never attain.

  2. I agree, Pro-Active commercials have been using the same formula for years. I still remember 10 years ago, my sister started Pro Active because Jessica Simpson was the spokeswoman. That was all she needed to be sold to the product. I agree with your assumption that these celebrities probably do not use the product, but is only the work of the advertisement’s staging. Pro- Active has found a way to gain the consumer’s trust with these spokespeople that we have learned to want to be like. I think in our culture we are conditioned to want to be like the celebrities that cover every magazine. “Business is their ideology,” so it makes perfect sense why they prey upon the celebrity culture we are in, in fact, hasn’t that been happening for decades now?

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