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.