Excerpt from Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Why We Listen to What 'They' Say

by Douglas Rushkoff

Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff X
Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff
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  • First Published:
    Aug 1999, 321 pages
    Oct 2000, 304 pages

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Before I had the chance to put on my name tag, a young creative executive asked me what it was like working on the Calvin Klein jeans campaign--the one in which teenagers were photographed in a setting made to look like a porn-movie audition.

"It was a media virus," he congratulated me. "The campaign got more publicity because of the protests! It made Calvin look cool because his ads were taken off the air!" True enough, the campaign became the lead story on the evening news once "family advocates" targeted the ads for their exploitation of young people. They never could have bought as much airtime as they received for free. But I had nothing to do with the scheme's conception.

I assured him that I had never met with the Calvin Klein people, but it was no use. He was convinced they had based their work on my book, and there was no changing his mind. Had they? I certainly hoped not.

The succession of featured speakers soon proved my worst fears. With titles like "Mutants Produce Bounty" and "Giving Birth to Mutant Ideas in a Commercial Context," each presenter sought to regain the ground lost to the chaos-thriving hackers who had taken over the mediaspace. The conference's purpose was to upgrade the advertising industry's weapons systems to the new style of war.

I was flattered--and flabbergasted. I felt honored to be appreciated, but horrified by the application of my work. No sooner had I proclaimed the revolution than it was co-opted by the enemy. And I had aided and abetted them.

It was at that moment, in the Bal Harbour hotel ballroom, that I decided to write this book. With my newfound access to the corridors of Madison Avenue and beyond, I would become a double agent--attending meetings, taking notes, analyzing tactics, and then reporting my findings.

For the past two years, I have been studying the ways marketers, politicians, religious leaders, and coercive forces of all kinds influence everyday decisions. I have sat in on strategy sessions with television, advertising, and marketing executives, and read countless documents by professionals in government, law enforcement, the military, and business. I've cozied up to automobile salesmen and multilevel marketers to pry from them their secrets.

What I've learned in my two-year odyssey is that however advanced the tools being used to sway us, the fundamental principles responsible for their effectiveness remain the same. Coercers are like hunters: They can don better camouflage, learn better ways to scent their prey, develop longer-range bullets and more accurate sights, but they still need to find their quarry and then figure out which way it's moving so they can "lead" with the gun barrel and hit it. Sonar, radar, and night-vision specs will only increase their efficiency and compensate for their prey's own increasing skill in evasion.

The prey's only true advantages are its instinct and its familiarity with its environment. Just as a deer "knows" when it is in the hunter's sights, we know on some level when we are being targeted and coerced. The more complex, technological, and invisible coercion gets, the harder it is for us to rely on this instinct. We are lured away from our natural environment and are more likely to depend on directions from our shepherds or the motions of the herd to gain our bearings. As soon as we become familiar with the new terrain--be it the mall, the television dial, or the Internet--it is the goal of the coercion strategists to make it unfamiliar again, or to lure us somewhere else.

The rapid change we have experienced in the past several decades as we have moved from the postwar boom through the space age and into the computer age has provided ample opportunity for our coercers to retool and rearm themselves. Even when a new technology, like the Internet, appears to offer us a chance to reclaim our mediaspace in the name of community or civic responsibility, it fast becomes a new resource for the direct marketer, the demographics researcher, and the traditional advertiser.

Reprinted from Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Douglas Rushkoff. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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