In a controversial critique of Marx's use of "labor" as an absolute reference point for social organization, Boon (1982, 85-97) emphasizes that the eventual question, if we are interested in the distribution of coats across a society, lies only secondarily in the social labor necessary to produce a coat; it is primarily the cultural imagination that makes it necessary for people to wear coats tailored of woven material. The shape of the labor is partially organized by the need to wear symbolically appropriate coats. If coats are to be worn, then the labor of keeping warm in winter must be divided between weavers and tailors. If, further, it is symbolically appropriate that these coats not all look alike, then the machinery that produces them will have to be so organized that it yields different kinds of coats.
This is one of the fundamental points made in the next two chapters. They examine massive economic events - advertising and mass-market movies - in their symbolic organization, as places where American cultture best reveals itself, perhaps precisely because it is being used for ulterior reasons (greed, power, domination). Advertising, as Beeman emphasizes, is communication. "Addressors" send "messages" to "addressees" through a medium that establishes the "contact," using a special "code" in a certain "context" (to paraphrase Jakobson's classical model of the factors involved in communication [1960, 353]). As a message, a commercial is a total social fact that intimately involves all the participants as they make something out of it. As Drummond says of James Bond movies, they would not attract crowds if they did not represent to their audience common experiences transported into the world of myth where they can be made starkly explicit. Whatever our reaction to any commercial, this reaction participates in establishing the legitimacy of the message as something that can be both said and done.
There is no doubt that such products as commercials and popular movies are tools of the dominant commercial interests of our society and, through them, of those who want to master us. In fact, as Beeman reminds us, advertisers are absolutely frank about this. Advertisement is not art, it is a marketing tool. Its function is fully rhetorical. It is above all meant to convince. It is propaganda. The advertisers know this. Those who watch commercials know this. The advertisers know that we know that they are lying. We know that they know we know, and so on. Ultimately, there is no lie in advertising. But there is much of what McDermott and Tylbor (1983, 278) have called "collusion," an activity that "refers to how members of any social order must constantly help each other to posit a particular state of affairs, even when such a state would be in no way at hand without everyone so proceeding."
The economic function of the commercial thus is.only a partial key to the interpretation of advertising as an activity. It is the problem of the advertisers and, through them, those who struggle for social power, as they attempt to control us: What can be so designed that it will make us participants, however unwilling, in our own control? We know that a message will not convince us, or hold sway over our imaginations, if it does not have a form appropriate to a specific historical and cultural condition. The commercial of yesteryear would not work. Mass-market movies produced in India or Japan do not begin to have an audience in the United States.
In fact, as soon as we move beyond generalities about "shared values," we do not know how cultural appropriateness is concretely achieved. Beeman and Drummond advance this search by emphasizing the fundamental ambiguity of the most carefully crafted messages. The advertisers do not know whether they are "successful." The moviemakers, even while they provide us with sleek tellings of our myths, are caught in the historical drift that redefines these myths as they are being told and appropriated. The producers of mass speech are in the peculiar position of having all the technical elements that allow them to shape their message completely. Nothing in a commercial is left to chance. Nothing is improvised; everything has been weighed. If the organization of symbols for sense and persuasion were a mechanical affair, then the advertisers would always be successful. In fact they rarely are, and not for long. The very mechanisms that the commercial uses (choice, novelty, segregation of different groups of likeminded individuals) must kill the commercial when the approach ceases to be new and the product is so widely distributed that it can no longer be pretended that owning it makes us part of an exclusive group.
Drummond goes on to suggest that themes of "man versus machines" and "man versus the state or corporation" that seem to pervade such myths as the James Bond saga, football and rock stardom, are themselves products of a puzzlement produced by our historical condition. This point is not new. Leo Marx concludes his classic study "The Machine in the Garden" with these words: "In the end the American hero is either dead or totally alienated from society, alone and powerless, like the evicted shepherd of Virgil's eclogue . . . . The resolutions of our pastoral fables are unsatisfactory because the old symbol of reconciliation is obsolete" (1964, 364). For Drummond there cannot be reconciliation - and not simply because "the old symbol" is obsolete. The old symbol was never new. Any statement of the myth, any appropriation of it by an audience, threatens the balance, if only because any use of the myth articulates possibilities that can now be examined for their fruits. Man, machine, state, corporation are not neat and mutually exclusive categories. The gunfighter, like the race-car driver or the test pilot, is the mythical representation of the historical event that suddenly offered industrial man sophisticated machines that made individual mastery possible. It also made man dependent on the machine, so that more machines had to be produced. The machine is the tool of individualism, equality, democracy. It is also the paradoxical Trojan horse that might make us finally dependent on the inhuman. Machines are human products that human beings bring to life, but they are not human. Here is a problem that no movie, even if its aim is simply to entertain, can resolve.