In this article we examine aspects of media literacy and how companies are abusing the ignorance of populations globally to increase sales and gain trust of products that do not deserve such respect.
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Brands, Value and the History of Media
Most times, or at least throughout the past 50 years in the west, the shop, an inanimate entity, is the master of the people who work within its walls. The shop is king, and its name or brand carries all the weight necessary to train the future generations, offer a solid product to the public and educate those who enter its doors why they are considered the best of the best. It carries enough clout to influence the decisions of those who are looking for tattoos and offers a social status to those who have been lucky enough to get work done within its walls.
The shop (which should be interchangeable with a brand in our current line of thinking) carries with it the cumulative weight of those who have visited its hallowed walls: the positive reviews, social media coverage and word of mouth – it almost guarantees an experience that has nothing to do with the people who work within the structure.
When searching for an artist, a school or a quality tattoo, virtually everyone will seek the brand that best fits the potential future they envisage themselves within. The shop stands above the apprentices and artists and clients; it offers quality, and with it, that image carries a long list of exploitable nuance that can bolster an individual’s CV. It can also create a false idea or guarantee the future stability of one seeking a full time position inside the industry. A certainty of assumption will be granted from the experience gained from working at an establishment like this.
This is where I take some issue with the interpretations that we use to judge quality and experience, and how we seek when finding answers to our most pressing questions, but before I get to that, let’s look at how the media has shaped our thoughts and beliefs historically before moving onto how the tattoo shop became God.
The History of Media and Our Demand For Entertainment.
I do not have enough energy to go back and write a critique of advertising and media throughout the history of civilization. In fact, I flat out refuse to go back that far. That is a damned PhD thesis and I have only so much time to type out something thought provoking in a day. Let’s just start from the 70s inside of radio broadcasting and work forward.
The world was alive with the sound of music, and in between the songs that peppered our eardrums listeners were sandwiched between advertising blocks that were carefully crafted to increase brand recognition. The tactics used to build recognition focused on a pyramid of functions that almost always guarantee salience in the audiences around the globe.
People in the west switched from AM to FM and rock music was all that jazz (pardon the pun). With the switch to music that was far different from that of previous generations came a revolution of ideals, fashions and politics. The new society was a test bed for marketing companies to experiment on how best to influence a population without having their eyes focused on an image.
Here is an example on YouTube that has pictures that have been added.
This was before the invention of Walkmans, CDs and streaming services so all the media entertainment experienced away from the TV sets that filled a much larger footprint in the homes of western people was taken in through the ears of an adoring public. Media companies started the test to see how they could influence the sale of goods to a populace that really didn’t need them.
The history of print media goes back to ancient China, where the first printing machine was a wood block dipped in dye. While this may be an easy way to spread information when compared to carving it in a rock, we do know that the spread of mass produced, paper media has been notorious throughout Western history. Look at people like Martin Luther – With printed propaganda, he called out the Catholic church and spread a new interpretation of a book that influences millions. We can also look at the Nazi propaganda machine and how they effectively used printed posters and flyers to start a global war.
Print media’s history is full of events where disinformation and alternative facts have been used to sway public opinion. History can hold the answers as to whether these events were good or bad but in our current time the idea of false knowledge and propaganda have become a part of our daily lives.
Using Identity to Formulate Intrinsic Value.
We assume from the statement above that all people involved in the growth and development of a branded business create a systemic hyper-valuation of products that are presented to the public through media channels. This broadly applied philosophy of manipulation through influence creates a system where we can make assumptions about the why’s and how’s but in doing so we are relieved of the possible nefarious consequences of interpretation past the intention of how these messages are created.
One thing that we can know is ourselves. We can, through education and introspection, know a version of ourselves that is involved with a unique experience, and that is fluid. This fluidity makes for a life that can be met with skepticism with is easily enough manufactured, at specific points in time, to manipulate our situation or surroundings.
If we know ourselves and how we view the world, is there a way that we can identify aspects of our personal interpretations that may be universally applied to the population at large? What can we assume to be a universal truth – something, regardless of the situation, is always in the state of being true and can never alter its value?
If we look at the media landscape we encounter when researching things such as popular books, restaurants or music, our senses encounter new forms of universal truths through visually stunning displays of stars, likes and hearts. This convention of creating a trusted source without critical inquiry can be manipulated to give a false sense of security. The trust that is inherited through simple symbols, which is so distant from the reality of what may be reality, can lead a person astray and return an experience that is flawed from the start, all because the value in experience is already applied to the experience before it has occurred.
What do I mean by such offering such a bold critique? Let’s use our friendly thought experiment to help us explain:
Thought Experiment 1- Confirmations.
- You are hungry and visiting a new city for a holiday. Not knowing anyone to give you a recommendation of good places to eat, you hop onto a device and check out what is near you. After typing your query, a list is presented not based on walking distance alone but also based on some algorithm that help you select what is considered the “best” – an algorithm based on reviews, time people spend in the restaurant, how much time the average person spends looking at a menu online, how often a person makes a call after looking at the menu… the list of data points can continue on so I will leave an etcetera from here out. The search engine returns a list with a single restaurant on top. We do not understand why the restaurant is on the top of a search, but we assume that since it comes in first, it must be the best. We can call this point in the search confirmation 1.
- Confirmation 2 comes after comparing the total ratings held by the company to those who came in second and third in the search results. We need not look to the losers in the page ranking list because only first, second and third place get medals in real life, right? If the restaurant holds a value rating total that is greater than the others, it must have earned its place atop the list returned by the search engine.
- Confirmation 3 comes after we see the total number of reviews the company has. If the total rating is equal to the others atop the list returned by a search engine, we hold value in the confirmation by knowing more of these ratings attached to a place give a better value of trust when we compare one to another.
- Confirmation 4 comes after we have settled on a place to eat and look at the high/low ratings of the restaurant before committing. We only really look at the top and bottom value because we want to know how good or bad we will be treated. Mediocrity be damned! If we are presented with reviews that sound human, offer a few recommendations about the best plates, that the wait really won’t be too long and the service staff are friendly – Choice delivered!
This 4 step confirmation gives us a false sense of correctness when making a choice. We assume that we have made up our minds because we are habitually late in our lives and the choices we make nowadays are split second, that as well is attached to the fact that we have been subject to the media influence surrounding these ratings for some time.
Think back – When did the ratings, reviews and likes become something that we trusted without question?. We assume Google wouldn’t mislead us and that every review is from a real, tangible experience. We also assume social media influencers are offering us the best product because… Well, I don’t know why, but we love what they show us.
Tattoo artists and shops use the same tactics to build an image of quality in our lives. With this ability to manufacture authority comes with a host of other issues that affect the ability of a person to make educated decisions. They also can create an environment where they brand they represent falsely applies a value that isn’t really there.
Part 2 explains how these tactics are being used to create an environment where falsehood reigns yet populations flock to the images and brands they create.