To begin, I would like to argue that the theory of Paulo Freire (1971, 1972) provides strong rationale for educators to study advertising. He saw education for liberation as the essential calling of the educator. This belief included a specific worldview and some central concepts. The worldview understood society as dual, as actually two societies. He referred to these societies as the oppressor and the oppressed society, but he also used terms such as director/dependent, author/silent, subject/object, and invader/invaded. Concepts of central interest to educators studying advertising are "possessive consciousness" and "cultural invasion".


Freire described the psychology of the oppressors as believing themselves to be the only humans, while they conceive of all others as things. The oppressors understand through a "possessive consciousness" where "to be is to have". Through domination and violence, they "transform all into an aspect of their purchasing power". They treat nature and the labor of others as objects; they "in-animate everything". He described the possessive consciousness as a form of sadism. (Freire, 1972, pp.43-45)

Oppressors must deposit myths "indispensable to the preservation of the status quo" into the culture of the oppressed. These myths are the legitimizing beliefs of a free society -- ideas that one is free to work, quit, change jobs, become an entrepreneur, that one is treated equally by institutions, that elites earned their status through hard work and charity, that the oppressed are lazy, that technology solves all problems, and that private property is natural. (Freire,1972, p.135) Oppressors manipulate the oppressed mainly through belief: the oppressors must "anesthetize the people so they will not think", and "inculcate individuals with the bourgeois appetite for personal success". The oppressed must believe in "the possibility of their own ascent" as individuals only, with no vision of collective action. (Freire,1972, p.144)

In spreading possessive consciousness, oppressors must treat ideas like alienation, domination, liberation, humanization, and autonomy as ridiculous or dangerous. "Attracted by the lifestyle of the director society", the dependent society is never truly committed to the lived reality. The dependent society has the values of the director society and is unable to formulate the ideas that would end dependence. (Freire, 1971, p.3) In the alienated cultural processes characteristic of dependent or object societies, there is no authentic thought: "Reality does not correspond to the reality being lived objectively but rather to the reality in which the alienated man imagines himself to be". (Freire, 1971, p.20)


In order to spread possessive consciousness to those who possess little, oppressors must promote cultural invasion. The invaders "penetrate the cultural context of another group in disrespect of the latters potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression". Freire calls this process "an act of violence". Invaders author, choose, mold, act. This leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded. They see reality with the outlook of the invaders; they want to be like the invaders. (1972, p.150)

Cultural invasion involves a parochial view of reality, a static perception of the world, and the imposition of one worldview upon another. Central to both possessive consciousness and cultural invasion is "the illusion of deciding" when decision-making power is outside the invaded culture. The oppressed must believe themselves to have freedom, to have control over their lives. Choices in consumption are the freedoms available for the oppressed, while for the oppressors are reserved production decisions that define societys possibilities. (Freire, 1972, p.159) The oppressors "study all the possibilities which the future contains in order to 'domesticate' it and keep it in line with the present". (Freire,1971, p. 20)

Freire saw the logic of cultural invasion as much advanced in mass societies like the United States. "In mass societies, ways of thinking become as standardized as ways of dressing and tastes in food. Men begin thinking and acting according to the prescriptions they receive daily from the communications media rather than in response to their dialectical relationship with the world". Behavior is automatized. Technology emerges as a New Divinity, as a cult of worship. (Freire, 1971, p.49)

Freire did not see technology as necessarily evil, but he believed that the Right mythologizes science and technology by subordinating to its own ideology, "using them to disseminate information and prescriptions in its effort to adjust people to the reality which the communications media define as proper". The Right, which has the power to direct how communication technologies are structured into society, invents new forms of cultural action only for domination, to indoctrinate people in a mythified version of reality. Crucial to the Right in this task is an elite who think for it. Freire believed that fundamental to change was an elite that did not promote possessive consciousness through cultural invasion, but instead denounced the myths and proclaimed a new reality... (Freire, 1971, p.46)


Here is where Freire differs from a strict Marxist. A Marxist understands the culture as the superstructure reflecting the economic base. Mostly due to class interest, those with the privilege of creating culture will promote the values necessary to maintain the status quo. Economics drive culture. Freire believed that the potential existed for the culture to drive economics. People could create a culture that transcended economic interest and promoted human evolution. For culture to transcend, elites must seek to become engaged in social reality. Elites must begin to see the laborer not as an abstraction but as an equal. The Arts must find inspiration in the hard life, not merely celebrate the comforts of luxury. Elites must join with the popular masses in all realms of culture-- literature, the plastic arts, theatre, music, education, sports. (Freire, 1971,p.39-40)

And among the elites, he saw educators as holding a crucial role in cultural transformation. In this time before the transformation, he saw education as having a fundamentally "narrative character"; that is, the narrative subject (teacher) talking to the listening object (student). While being narrated to, the student becomes lifeless and petrified. Freire declared that "education is suffering from a narration sickness". (Freire, 1972, p.57) The idea of filling up students with the contents of the teachers narration, the banking concept of education, viewed the student as consumer antithetical to the meaning of education "to draw ou"t. Here again in Freire's thinking we see the subject/object dynamic paralleled with the production/consumption dynamic.

Education must give students the tools to be creators of their own reality. In an education that orients one to the world, subjectivity and objectivity are united, and students acquire a critical perception of reality. (Freire, 1971, p.6)

What Freire called "potential consciousness" sounds a lot like what is presently referred to as "metacognition". He believed education could be structured to bring out "perception of the previous perception. . . knowledge of the previous knowledge". Students become aware of their own cognitive processes. Once one can reflect on ones own perception, one can move from being submerged in reality and emerge from reality. When one realizes ones potential consciousness, one can act to transform the world. (Freire, 1972, p.75)

Freire in fact defined education as cultural action for freedom, "a dramatic unity of denunciation and annunciation". Education "denounces what in fact is. . . to formulate a type of education which corresponds to the specifically human mode of being, which is historical". "We must seek through reflective action to achieve that announced future which is being born within the denunciation". (Freire, 1971, p.20)

This means that as educators we must not merely denounce aspects of our culture that limit our students potential. It is not enough to denounce the advertising billboard; we must announce a future where advertisers spend their community-level advertising dollars in sponsorship of mural projects, community publications, and cultural events. It is not enough to denounce the nearly complete commercial control of our public airwaves; we must announce a future where children have access to cultural production and distribution. A positive vision must accompany any negative denunciation. Though we have undergone a heightened awareness about the extent of manipulation in our culture, it has resulted in a cynicism that is ultimately self-defeating. At this point, advertising is so sophisticated that it incorporates peoples cynicism about advertising to create engagement. Freire would argue that in order to achieve potential consciousness we need historical understanding. A history of advertising will be necessary so that we may understand how it has evolved to express our fears about manipulation. It is only after such historical understanding that we may announce a future where advertising is not in conflict with the goals of the educator.


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