• James Rorty’s Voice: Introduction to the mediastudies.press edition

    Jefferson Pooley (see profile)
    Cultural Studies, Digital Books, Open Access Books Network
    Advertising, Public relations, Mass media--Study and teaching, Social sciences, History
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    publicity, Great Depression, capitalism, Media studies, History of social science
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    An introduction to a new edition of James Rorty's classic 1934 book Our Master's Voice. The book presents a coherent and original theory of advertising. Its main tenet holds that the ad business can only be understood within the totality of the country’s economy and culture. The alternative—to treat the business of publicity as a “carbuncular excrescence”—misses its centrality, its foundational place in American life. Rorty thus insisted on a holistic approach—in conscious contrast to the bounded inquiries of his analytic rivals in the university system. Rorty believed that the ad-man and his persuasive copy propped up American society—its capitalist economy, its culture of competitive emulation. The introduction argues that Rorty makes his argument at two levels. The first is economic: All the billboards and radio spots, according to Rorty, provide the fuel that keeps people buying—the coal powering the country’s merchandising juggernaut. American business would collapse without the ad-man’s ventilation. The book’s second, complementary point is that the system—an exploitative one, in Rorty’s view—relies on advertising for its ideological warrant. This claim emerges with greater subtlety, or at least erected around a series of sub-arguments, in the book’s first few chapters. But the key takeaway suggests that advertising serves to ratify the prevailing American regime of class-stratified consumption. Rorty’s former coworkers are, as it were, the master’s voice.
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    3 years ago
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