Deadly Persuasion: Why Women And Girls Must Fight The Addictive Power Of Advertising

Jean Kilbourne first gained prominence in the 1970s as the maker of Killing Us Softly, a documentary that detailed how the images of women in advertising were destructive for women in real life. In the years since, her thesis hasn't changed much, but the evidence supporting it has accumulated at an overwhelming rate. One of the first points that Kilbourne makes clear in Deadly Persuasion is that advertising does influence people, which is why newspapers and magazines engage in cutthroat competition to convince corporations to place ads in their publications, on the principle that their readership consists of the most valuable demographic. What appear in those ads, though, are images that equate emotional well-being with material acquisition; encourage women--beginning in their teenage years--to work at preserving the one "right" look; and associate rebellion and independence with the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Kilbourne is militant on these issues, and some readers may find her positions a bit too extreme, as when she lambastes ads that employ surre alism for imitating a drugged state of altered consciousness or when she declares that most sexual imagery in advertising is "pornographic," elaborating in such a way as to denigrate the very idea of casual sex. And, despite several attempts at grim sarcasm, Deadly Persuasion is ultimately rather humorless. Kilbourne's heart, though, is definitely in the right place, and her demonstration of the extent to which we allow corporations to shape our desires is truly eye-opening. --Ron Hogan