The Ghost Manifests
Or Safeguard and Foucault’s Social Subconscious
by Carl Javier
The ghost, it manifests! On the four-cornered tube! The glass teat! The idiot box! TV!
What ghost? Some old notion that the TV is filled with ghosts in the way that a camera takes your soul?
No. Not really, but something like that. Just keep in mind, we create our own ghosts.
It’s really about the last Safeguard soap commercial I saw lately. I may not be a big fan of Pinoy TV shows, but I enjoy checking out commercials. And it was this commercial that struck me.
Maybe in real life ghosts are all around but we can’t see them. But sometimes, one will pop up, show itself. And in the same way, there’s something about TV’s ghosts that we don’t see, and in this particular commercial we had it screaming good and loud, rattling the chains.
The commercial runs simply enough. It has a kid coming home from school with his report card and showing it to his mom. The mother takes it and finds that the boy’s grades have gone down. In her motherly concern she begins to wonder why her son isn’t performing well.
This bit of introspection occurs in the woman’s head. Her conscious mind talking to herself, considering things, trying to piece things together. It occurs to her that her son has been sick lately with colds, forcing him to stay home and miss school. These absences, she assumes, are the reason for her son’s faltered performance.
Now this bit plays out the way most of these kinds of commercials do. Most commercials will have the person stepping back, doing some introspection with the help of a voice over, as done in this commercial, then let the character come to the conclusion that whatever the product the commercial is pushing is the thing he or she needs.
And this is where the ghost manifests. No, not like the ghost in Three Men and a Baby- It is the ghost of the subconscious.
At the point when she realizes what’s wrong, she’s stuck. She doesn’t know what to do. Then an apparition, looking exactly like her, and appearing in such a way that you’d expect two to appear, one on her right with a halo and the other on her left with horns. But it’s not temptation and conscience.
This apparition talks to her. The conscious mind somehow detached from this apparition of the other Self. Of course it would be detached though. It’s not part of her conscious, but rather, the manifestation of her social subconscious. And as such, it tells her, the conscious part of the mother, that if she wants her son to improve his school performance, then she should have him use Safeguard so that she can protect him from germs, viruses, infections, yadda yadda yadda.
The rest of the commercial goes as expected; mom uses Safeguard, kid’s protected, he comes home with a report card and his grades are back up. But the rest of it isn’t important. What’s important is the way that the conscious mind is shown and the manifestation of the subconscious to tell the conscious the correct course of action.
You may think it’s just a commercial and want to put this away. But it’s precisely because it’s a commercial that the piece lends itself to this kind of interpretation.
First off, what’s the purpose of marketing in general? It’s to turn possible consumers of a product into actual consumers. But it’s not so much to convince that person to go running out of the house after seeing the commercial and buy the product. The idea is to embed the product name or gimmick into the possible consumer so that when he or she goes out shopping that person will remember the commercial and buy the product.
To illustrate, let’s say I’m sitting around, channel-surfing. Then I see Michael V. and I stop at that channel because I happen to find Michael V. funny and want to see what he’s doing there and if he’ll be funny. It so happens he’s trying to sell Joy Dishwashing Liquid. I watch the commercial, and owing to Michael’s V.’s performance, I find myself amused and remember the commercial. However, I don’t feel compelled to get up, go to the supermarket, and buy myself some Joy. What happens though, is I have to wash the dishes one day, and I step out of the house and head to the grocery store. I just know I need something for the dishes. Then pop! Some neural passage between the conscious and subconscious connects and I realize, “Gee, I should get some Joy dishwashing liquid because that’s what I remember.
So there, their marketing bit was a success. They had me programmed to believe that when I needed dishwashing liquid, Joy was the way to go. But it’s not like that’s in my mind all the time, that I’m conscious of the idea that if I will buy dishwashing liquid, it must be Joy. And the great part of it is I’m not even aware that they’re pulling one over on me.
I connect this to Foucault’s idea of the social subconscious. According to the Frenchman, society programs us to believe what we do, creates this body of knowledge embedded into our minds from childhood that this is right and this is wrong and this is morally upright and this is sacrilege. And oftentimes we can’t break from that kind of thinking and we’re not really aware why we feel that way or even that we do feel that way about a particular situation. Until the situation arises and the social subconscious kicks in.
The social subconscious is better known sometimes as the conscience, because it serves a similar purpose. However, the concept is different. There is righteousness in the voice of the conscience, supposedly. While the social subconscious is a product of society and the process of socialization.
We consider, then the social subconscious as a part of our identities, although mostly latent until the time for it to pop out arises. Then it goes on to inform our conscious minds what we should do. Think of it this way, sometimes our subconscious minds have answers, but because they can’t encroach on our conscious minds while we’re thinking, they can’t give us the answer.
It’s like when you’ve been thinking about something for so long and you can’t remember what the answer is and you’re just racking your brains trying to get at it. Then, you decide to take a nap, maybe get rested and come back to the problem. Then, after taking a rest, even without thinking more of the problem that you’ve just slept on, the answer just pops in your head.
The subconscious is there to provide answers, but of course the kind of answers the social subconscious will provide will be those programmed by society.
Now, let’s go back to the Safeguard manifestation. It is the ghost of the subconscious popping up, screaming Hey1 This is the answer! But what is the answer? Your kid’s always sick and the solution’s not to pay closer attention to him or, the obvious solution, get some vitamins. The solution offered is a product. But of course, since it’s the product being sold that gives this commercial a purpose.
Pushing the idea further, what is in our social subconscious then? Is it filled still with values and mores and traditions and all the other things that we were supposed to know and believe unwaveringly and without question? Or is it now the doctrine of the product? Another marketing tool?
If we jump from the idea that that ghost is a manifestation of the subconscious, then we can assume that it was created through the tidal waves of commercials rushing in and flooding the neural pathways, washing out old values and bringing in a more consumerist approach to things.
Again, we say that we are consumers. And perhaps that’s how we are being socially programmed, to want to buy things, want to buy particular things.
The funny thing about the commercial is the way that it shows the ghost. It borders on the David Blaine audacity that I will fool you, right in your face, and you won’t even know it.
Things like programming the social subconscious are covert operations, You can’t go around telling people you’re brain washing them. You can’t say to people, Hey, I’m putting an idea into your head that will benefit me. So the closest we come to showing the ghost in other ad campaigns is maybe a bit of introspection. Otherwise, you don’t see it, it’s hidden by the smoke and mirrors of the marketing team.
But here comes the Blaine-like Safeguard commercial. Come here, I’m going to show you something, it says. And it shows you the ghost. This is you. This is the other you, your other Self, that Self you’re not aware of but will take hold of you at times. And you don’t even know it. I’m showing it to you right here. It’s here, I have you programmed, see.
Indeed, the other Self is programmed, can recite things about the product that the conscious mind could not. The other Self informs the conscious Self that Safeguard kills 99.9% of germs. Kind of like the way I remember when I walk into the dairy section that Yakult has Lacto-Bacillus which is good for me. Why should I even know that? What is Lacto-Bacillus? I don’t know, but I’ll probably buy Yakult because aside from tasting alright, it turns out that the Lacto-Bacillus it contains is good for me.
So then that figure shown in the commercial is not only a manifestation of the social subconscious, but could give us some insight on the nature of the social subconscious. What does it talk about? Values? Beliefs? That body of knowledge that the society considers truth?
According to Foucault there is no single truth, but rather truth is created. It is a consensus of the people in control of the Dominant, the paradigm or mode of thought for a society. In this case the truth of the matter is controlled by the makers of the commercial.
And what’s the truth being established? That these products are good for us. These are the things we need. We’ll be much happier people if we buy these products.
So we go back to the ghost, the ghost that the society surrounding us, through mass media, has created. Something that we have also cultivated and shaped by accepting and not questioning. We find a problem, like the mother in the commercial, and the ghost starts talking, feeding us the info. And she takes it as truth. What my son needs so that he doesn’t get sick is to use Safeguard.
These products are good for us, the commercials will tell us. And while we sit back and don’t realize it they are programming the social subconscious, establishing their versions of the truth in our minds.