Letter in Guardian 17.02.2010
A tighter regulation of advertising as advocated by Jackie Ashley (Let’s take on the ads that fuel such waste, debt and misery, Guardian 15 February) could have a real impact on the way we live. It is ironic that she also suggests that Karl Marx, if he were alive today, would call for a ban on advertising. In the country which claimed to be his legacy it was indeed the case. I lived in East Germany during the sixties when there was virtually no advertising at all (apart from a few political slogans).
That’s why it was a shock for any visiting westerner and labelled ‘grey and boring’. Grey it may have been, but hardly boring. You soon adapted to the lack of garish colour and the dictatorship of ‘in your face’ advertising. Instead your eyes were attracted to buildings, to people and places; it also evoked an air of tranquillity and rest for the eyes, something impossible to find in our cities with their dazzling and seductive/offensive advertising culture. These tell you nothing about a product, merely stimulate your sexual/consumer urges.
The other upside of no advertising in East Germany was that products had little symbolic status value and young people didn’t compete with each other on the basis of what they could buy. A natural, relaxed and unhyped sexuality pertained, with no sexual objectification of women, no epidemics of anorexia, bulimia or concepts of corporeal inadequacy.