The Spidermen: Advertising and the Magical Structure of Consciousness

With this post I want to pursue, further, the theme of advertising (and propaganda more generally) as “magical technique” that I mentioned in a comment to the previous post on “Neo-Liberalism and Consumerist Democracy”. A good many social critiques aimed at consumerism and at advertising’s role in engineering this, really fail to hit the mark because they don’t appreciate advertising or propaganda technique as effective spell-casting, or more to the point, necromancy. Everything about contemporary advertising, branding, or propaganda is connected with the latent magical structure of consciousness. And even where we speak of advertising’s tendency to appeal to the deep and dark “irrational factors” in the human psychic makeup, we are effectively speaking of conjuration.

And without insight into the so-called “irrational” factors in the human form — the latent magical and mythical elements of our constitution — we are vulnerable to manipulation without even knowing it.

I pointed out in my comment, as I’ve done in earlier posts, the historical connection between Latin fascinum — an enchantment or binding spell — and “fascination” as being under a spell or an enchantment, and how these terms are reflected in contemporary “fascism” as being “a binding power” or “the bonding”. The resurgence of the magical, or the invasion and inflation of consciousness by the latent magical, isn’t just reflected in propaganda as spell-casting and the “myth of blood” and the blood bond which underlies racism. Blood as the magical substance, the bearer of the life-force or vitality or “race soul” which must be kept “pure” — and what we might call “blood mysticism” too — belongs to the magical structure of consciousness. So, the issue of “the binding power” or bonding is very much connected with what Jean Gebser calls “magical unity” connected with the ancient magical consciousness still more or less latent in the human psyche. “Magical unity”, however, is not to be confused with the holistic — the whole or the holy — but moreso with the sense of “the ties that bind”.

The bond, the band, or Bund (in German) is, however, ambiguous, reflecting the ambiguities and coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum) that is characteristic of magical consciousness itself. Magic, like all else, has its “effective” and its “defective” or (degenerative of deficient) expression. Vitality and the unity of life does indeed belong to the magical, but so does the morbid, reflecting the “eros” and “thanatos” factors or “drives” or “instincts” that obsessed Sigmund Freud. These are, pretty much, the same factors that Gebser calls “the life-pole” and “the death-pole” of the soul. And the ascendancy of one or the other pole corresponds to what we call “rise” and “fall” of a civilisation, or what Gebser refers to as the “efficient” and “deficient” phases of a consciousness structure. This distinction actually corresponds to the meaning “sacred” and “profane”. In that sense, “profanation” is the deficient phase of a consciousness structure.

In the English translation of Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin, in which the “evolution” of consciousness is set out so beautifully, the positive aspects of the magical consciousness — it’s vitality and unity– is an expression of empathy or sympathy between the parts. So, yes, the polymorph and the shape-shifter are real: Castaneda became a crow; the Inuit shaman becomes a polar bear; I became a fish. Magical unity, which is indeed enchanting and enchantment, is, however, not yet a whole, but better described as the mutual sympathy of the parts (or what is called participation mystique). The negative or “deficient” aspect of the magical is given in the Ever-Present Origin as “sorcery” or the sorceric. A better term would have been “necromancy”, and spell-casting is replaced by conjuration. And the positive and negative poles of the magical correspond to the meanings “placebo” and “nocebo” presently. And nobody doubts the efficacy of either.

The difference between the spell-caster and the conjurer is reflected in the wizard Gandalf the Gray in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Gandalf becomes angry with Bilbo when the hobbit mistakes Gandalf for a “conjurer”. The wizard or shaman does not wish to be confused with the conjurer and necromancer who lean towards the cynical, the morbid or “death-pole” of the magical.

There is a reason why the word “grammar” has ancient associations with the meaning of magic or spell-casting (a “grammarye” is a magic spell, and the word “glamour” and “glimmer” once meant — still do in some respects — an enchantment, to be spell-bound; a “glamour” has much the same meaning as “fascinum“). All language was originally magic. All speech was originally spell-casting.

These characteristics of the magical structure of conscious have been resurrected in contemporary advertising and propaganda technique. (And in fact the Greek word “techne” or “art” also substituted for the word for “magic” — magikos). The essence of the “Art” or of magic is the act of “making happen” (rather than “letting happen”) as Gebser puts it — the word “making” (or indeed German “Macht” (power), or machine, or machination) being related to the word “magic” itself. And “making happen” is the whole aim and aim of propaganda and advertising, as is conjuration — the appeal to “unconscious” or “irrational” factors – in order to cement an emotional, psychological, or spiritual bond between a consumer and a brand. “Brand power” and “brand personality” belong to conjuration and necromancy. And, of course, the first magical trick of advertising must be to transform “citizens” into “consumers”, whose self-understanding as to their role in society is as “consumers”.

So, I’m really astonished when someone comes along as says that propaganda and advertising are not “effective”. That one is under the spell. That’s the result of very effective magic and propaganda itself.

The return of the necromancer is the meaning of Samuel Huntington’s formula for the exercise of power in “consumerist democracy” that also reflects Edward Bernay’s ideal of “Democracity”

“The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

But those who operate in the dark are just as much under the spell of money and power and Mammon as those they attempt to manipulate. It’s at this extremity of instrumental rationality and “scientific advertising” that it begins to become identical with the irrational, the fetish, and the superstitious itself. What’s missing between the “effective” phase of the magical and the “deficient” phase of the magical? Well, it’s the element of empathy, isn’t it? The element of com-passion. And that’s one of the symptoms of extreme narcissism. As the Psalmist put it, those who worship idols tend to become like them,

Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat; Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.…

That is, in effect, the full meaning of “profanation”. Profanation is descration. But what is being desecrated is the human itself. It’s not God who is offended by profanation or desecration. It’s the human that is violated.

I think we’ll see that the antipathy of the mythical consciousness for the magical consciousness, expressed in terms of “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, was a reaction to  necromancy — to the degenerative or deficient phase of the magical consciousness for just this reason — desecration and profanation of the human divine. And when I turn to reviewing some of the former “spidermen” who have gained insight into this, who subsequently bolted the profession, and who wrote exposes about it (there are quite a few actually) it will become clearer how advertising resembles necromancy and the profanation and desecration of the human form.


11 responses to “The Spidermen: Advertising and the Magical Structure of Consciousness”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    An example, perhaps, of the hyperbolic inflation of the ego consciousness by the magical is a book I recently read on branding by Frank Delano called The Omnipowerful Brand

    The only other things that have ever been described as “ominpowerful” are a) God and b) the Wizard of Oz. It’s quite nonsensical to speak of a brand as “omnipowerful” except in terms of magic or as a god. This is idolatry and fetishism at its most extreme form. And inasmuch as the adman or brander thinks of himself as the creator of the “omnipowerful” object, this is pretty much extreme psychic inflation that, in Gebser’s terms, corresponds to the deficient phase of the magical consciousness.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I might mention another anecdote about this “psychic inflation” that I referenced earlier — the adman Bruce Barton (of BBDO) who penned a revisionist history of Jesus called The Man Nobody Knows in which Jesus is recast as the greatest salesman (and magician) who ever lived. The man who changed water into wine could certainly change an old rust bucket into a Cadillac and Golden Chariot, just like the adman.

    Barton, of course, wrote the book to justify himself, and to rationalise what he was doing as “imitation of Christ”, but of a Christ that was a kind of magician. He was lampooned for it even by other admen. But this kind of self-aggrandisement and self-rationalisation isn’t uncommon — indicative of psychic inflation. More recently, the chief executive of Goldman Sach’s, Lloyd Blankfein, aroused astonishment by claiming Goldman Sachs was “doing God’s work”. There isn’t much difference between Barton and Blankfein in their mutual belief that, apparently, God is the power that can change a Chevie into a Ferrari.

    It’s in those terms that the “Invisible Hand” looks more like the “hand of Providence”, and not just a metaphor — the hand that conjurers a Lamborgini out of a plain-old Ford, the power that can turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse.

    The reason why Gebser thought that the deficient rational reverted to the deficient magical (as “magical thinking”) is because they both share an affinity for power, and an excessive concern with power (ie with “making happen”). Power which becomes intoxicating to the point of mania. And, as noted previously, manic and mania are related to the word ‘mana” — magical power (and so might well be words like “manufacture”, “management” or “manual” — which brings us back again to “the hand”).

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Early before I get from my sleep I find myself reading the following, Will the will of god let humanity to continue until it will find its right path. I am surprised but I can not rush to say anything at this stage. I feel we are living in a hermeneutical age when the wisdom of the ages display itself,specially when I read verses like this one which says, Oh! mankind seek refuge in the tent of the lord of fission and seek his protection from the following four evils, the worst of his creatures, the dormant that wakes up, the magical spells and the evil of the envious. The four evils that their impacts are well-documented, one only read the damaging effects of the deforming atomic radiations, the infectious viral world and the deceptive deadening mutation of propaganda, as you well articulated its magical spells. The principle of pairs is an interpretive tool that help the human to see his way in this unbounded forest of words and images, to make him remember the other pair of this mundane life, the tonal and the nagual which the teacher of Casteneda said that at the moment of death , this pair become fully operative., that is to be aware of it and make it operative before our death makes it fully operative. Who motivate our expressive faculty and provided it with the necessary munitions to fire. If only we exercise our presence in our wholeness and holiness in his presence. If we are honestly feeling his effective presence despite his imaginal, unseen world of his, he who has made this cosmos and this human advocating his unseen presence, for those who have the kernel of reason.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Please Scott listen to Neil Postman discussing his book titled, Amusing ourselves to death on open mind tv on youtube.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes I watched it. I know some of Postman’s other work. All I can say in that respect is that I’ve never owned a television. I’m quite TV illiterate. And from what I’ve seen of it at friends or elsewhere, glad of being TV illiterate. I get a headache from the constantly shifting images.

  5. dadaharm says :


    One could say that the more effective propaganda and advertising become, the more deficient society becomes.

    I also think that propaganda and advertising induce conformity. I would guess that conformity can be seen as a deficient form of unity.

    If you do not believe the propaganda, you are seen as a radical. If you do not believe the advertising, you are seen as a loser.

    A society or civilisation that faces a serious challenge or crisis probably is better of without too much conformity. Though unity could be helpful.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    I can foresee a time (maybe it’s already here) where gangs will be organised around a brand totem — the Coke gang, the Pepsi gang, the Nike gang or Converse gang or New Balance gang. Brand jihad or Brand crusade is one of the ideals of “holistic branding”, to cultivate loyalty and devotion to the brand and the qualities it represents — the creed –, and although it seems the stuff of science fiction, it seems to follow logically from “values and lifestyles” branding. The brand becomes the tribal totem.

  7. Max says :

    You focus a lot on the deficient functioning of the human faculties, which is natural concidering how the world looks, but I think that it would also be interesting to explore how these consciousness structures work in their adequate mode. For example, how does a healthy rationality that integrates the magical consciousness, but not in a deficient way, manifest? Perhaps it would make our language full of meaning again, and actually help people to think more rational about things, so that they complement each other.

    • Scott Preston says :

      For Gebser, the “effective” mode of the mental-rational conscious is Reason, and the deficient mode is “rationality”. Superficially, they may resemble each other (they are frequently used as synonyms). But something may be completely “rational” without being, thereby, “reasonable”. Reason is, in that sense, closely connected with dialogics, while rationality is exemplified in abstract dialectics. Again, superficially, dialectic and dialogic bear some resemblance to one another, but one is “existential” — real world process — while the other is mental abstraction. Dialectic has its origins in dialogue (the Socratic dialogue), but has been abstracted away from the actual process of question and answer to become the abstract thinking of thesis and antithesis. For Gebser and others, this abstracting away from real world process represents the “deficient mode” of the mental because it has lost contact with life as it is lived and experienced. And another way of saying that is that “equanimity” of soul has become confused with the “ratio” of rationality — a perspectivising outlook rather than a holistic one.

  8. InfiniteWarrior says :

    I don’t know. It seems to me that advertising perhaps fits more within the mythological consciousness structure. Brand-building is myth-building, after all.

    Hell, I’d describe my own consciousness structure as the possibly “latent” magical. Everything (and every being) fits within within it It’s just not always *logically* “integral” (i.e eloquent). lol

    Seems to me a truly integral consciousness structure would have room for all the other structures, even those that are considered “latent” (i.e. a consciousness structure that comprises all times and points of the ‘compass’…provided the advocates thereof actually engage in dialogue and come to a “meeting of the minds”, as it were). Otherwise, we’re hitting the Twilight Zone (so to speak) of absolutely insane.

    Seems the fact that they don’t is what has us stagnated an entropic.

  9. abdulmonem says :

    The problem is not the modes of consciousness but their use. All modes are necessary and good once they are properly used. The problem of the double use of things and memes, and here resides the dilemma of the options offered to the human either to abuse or properly use. The deficient use is the opposite option of efficient use, as there is bad reasoning there is good reasoning, white magic and black magic, right theology and perverted one. As they say signs can possess us as much as we can possess them. All meanings are product of differentiation, As Anais Nin said we do not see things as they are but we see things as we are. One has to part company from those who close the doors of the different modes of consciousness in favour of a single mode like our scientific friends who insist on a single empiricist orthodoxy despite the abundant evidences that say otherwise.

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