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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Column: Labeling “The Man”

Question. Well, a few questions. Who is “The Man”? What makes a man part of “The Man”? Can we get a new name for this dubious Man that doesn’t make me feel like I’m a cog in the Iron Giant?

Although the occurrence of phrases like “sticking it to The Man” and “The Man is keeping me down” in today’s society is uttered roughly 90 percent of the time by Hyde on reruns of “That ‘70s Show” and 10 percent of the time by people who think it’s still the ‘70s, the theme of the The Man is still relevant in other forms all around us.

Working as an advertising sales representative for The California Aggie, I experienced the current prevalence of The Man in our world. Despite working in a relatively small local environment while gathering clients and selling them ad space in the paper, I still ran into plenty of people who wouldn’t even give me the time of day. People who thought I was part of The Man.

Me? The Man? How do I get out of that one?

The hard-knock life of an ad man is that he gets a bad name for literally “selling out.” What I realized during my time as an ad rep is that different ads may have different approaches, but the message is always the same: BE/BUY/DO THIS. And unfortunately, many of the people who recognize this fact don’t take too kindly to either the subtle brainwashing or blatant swindling that ends with their purchase of something as ridiculous as a set of dog stairs for the bed (come on, let’s all just agree to stay away from Sky Mall).

To be fair, advertising agents have brought this negativity upon themselves — any person who actively manipulates people into shelling out cash for something they wouldn’t have decided they needed on their own is undoubtedly going to get a bit of heat from the hippies, purists or what have you.

Ads are ads, though, and the truth is many companies and industries would fail without the exposure and revenue successful advertising brings in. That being said, there is a line, and unfortunately, when it comes to how much advertising is too much, that line isn’t exactly clear.

Recent attempts to commercialize public schools by allowing advertising onto campuses have sparked a fierce debate over this potential example of advertising overload. Is littering the schools of our nation’s children with display ads perverse and unjust, or is it a smart strategic move to help these schools recover from increasing budget cuts?

Due to substantial financial reductions in education, many public schools are turning to advertising to bridge the gap. Some schools are featuring the ads on students’ report cards, while others are opting for much larger ads on school buses, cafeteria benches and lockers.

Naturally, the Helen Lovejoys of our fair nation have cried foul at this growing trend and pleaded for everyone to think of the children. Their concerns are warranted too, at least on behalf of the little ones. Doctors have found that kids under the age of 8 haven’t developed enough cognitively to understand the intent to sell always hiding behind an advertisement. As such, they’re defenseless against most ads.

You can almost sense Kraft lurking in the shadows, plotting to unleash a terrifying wave of Lunchables locker ads.

This is why advertisers, ad agents and advertising in general are viewed as part of The Man. Most people understand the value of advertising and can appreciate that without it our society wouldn’t be able to function the same. Play on the impressionable minds of our future, though, and you’re in for a shit storm.

Advertising firms have to be careful when dealing with a demographic of people as dangerous and volatile as protective mothers. Selling a product or service is fine and all that, but it’s important to know where it’s okay to display what. Put college investment, food pyramid and fire safety ads in schools if you must, but keep the Jimmy Neutron action figure ads out. The kid has a freakishly large head and, frankly, he’s a pretentious little prick.

Bottom line is, The Man should know his place. If he plays by the rules, the Helen Lovejoys don’t initiate WWIII, and every cog in the machine makes its money. Everybody wins.

VICTOR BEIGELMAN likes to think he’s a Hyde, but let’s be real: He’s more of an Eric. Contact him with questions at vbeigelman@ucdavis.edu.


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