Cultural Caviar

City of Lights, Camera, Action

December 30, 2017

The advertisements usually suggest something like the following:

Rich, successful, glamorous young people consume such and such a product.

Consume such and such a product, and you too will, or can, be rich, successful, glamorous young people.

Does this suggestiveness actually work, especially for brands that, one might have supposed, are already sufficiently well-known to need no boosting? Do people swig such and such a drink, or wear such and such shoes, because they have seen glamorous people supposedly do the same?

The mere fact that such advertisements must be very expensive to produce and display is sometimes adduced in favor of their effectiveness. Surely commercial companies would not waste their money on what had not been proved to work? But this is not evidence about what actually happens, only about what some people must believe to happen; and there seems to me no reason, not even prima facie, that companies should be more rational in their conduct than individuals. But at the very least, advertisers must have contempt of the advertised-to if they imagine that they, the advertised-to, can be influenced by advertising’s absurdities, irrelevancies, trivialities, and vulgarities.

The case for parliamentary democracy lies in the alternance in power, not in the wisdom of crowds or their choices. It is better that those in power should not get their feet under the table for too long, even if the people who will replace them at the table are no better than they. If it is argued, as it often is these days, that they are all the same, these competitors for power in Western democracies, and there is therefore nothing to choose between them, it is still well to remember that a cartel is preferable to a monopoly.

But another pleasure of the small cinemas, besides the absence of advertisements, is that they are subsidized. You cannot, after all, make a profit by showing three people a film at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday morning. Without the subsidies, Paris would not be by far the best city in the world for cinema. Naturally, I am all in favor of the subsidies, which do so much raise the cultural tone of this great metropolis. And this brings me to one of the few genuine laws of political economy, namely that we are all of us against subsidies, except for those subsidies from which we ourselves benefit.

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