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Fables of Abundance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Author Jackson Lears connects advertising and commerce to other aspects of culture and explains how they developed together. The book begins with a contrast of the Old World’s conception of abundance as a sign of Earth’s fecundity, often personified as female, with the modern age’s focus on efficiency, with managerial methods associated with men.

Early peddlers were seen as exotic and tempting. Exchange with them was perilous, both because of the fear of being cheated and because the glamour of the marketplace detracted from supposedly proper values. Advertising was highly personal, based on the individual peddler. As advertising began to reach broader markets, it could still use the appeal of the exotic because many products were being introduced into new markets. Advertisers found it difficult to shake the stigma of the untrustworthiness of peddlers, particularly because patent medicines used advertising heavily.

Female images in advertising became those of consumers rather than producers, and factories rather than the land were presented as the source of plenitude. Advertising in the early twentieth century began to focus on cleanliness and efficiency, mirroring concerns of society as a whole. Managerialism entered the home as women were expected to be managers and to solve household problems efficiently (through buying goods), and leisure became a way of building up energy and preserving efficiency in the workplace. Smoking, for example, was advertised as an “efficient” way to relax.

Advertisers saw themselves as providing information but also came to appreciate psychology and the ways of creating an image surrounding a product. A culture of conformity surfaced after World War II, and advertisers sought to convince potential buyers that their products could...

(The entire section is 421 words.)