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Culture as Weapon: Art and Marketing in the Age of Total Communication

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One of the country's leading activist curators explores how corporations and governments have used art and culture to mystify and manipulate us. The production of culture was once the domain of artists, but beginning in the early 1900s, the emerging fields of public relations, advertising and marketing transformed the way the powerful communicate with the rest of us. A cen One of the country's leading activist curators explores how corporations and governments have used art and culture to mystify and manipulate us. The production of culture was once the domain of artists, but beginning in the early 1900s, the emerging fields of public relations, advertising and marketing transformed the way the powerful communicate with the rest of us. A century later, the tools are more sophisticated than ever, the onslaught more relentless. In "Culture as Weapon," acclaimed curator and critic Nato Thompson reveals how institutions use art and culture to ensure profits and constrain dissent--and shows us that there are alternatives. An eye-opening account of the way advertising, media, and politics work today, " Culture as Weapon "offers a radically new way of looking at our world.


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One of the country's leading activist curators explores how corporations and governments have used art and culture to mystify and manipulate us. The production of culture was once the domain of artists, but beginning in the early 1900s, the emerging fields of public relations, advertising and marketing transformed the way the powerful communicate with the rest of us. A cen One of the country's leading activist curators explores how corporations and governments have used art and culture to mystify and manipulate us. The production of culture was once the domain of artists, but beginning in the early 1900s, the emerging fields of public relations, advertising and marketing transformed the way the powerful communicate with the rest of us. A century later, the tools are more sophisticated than ever, the onslaught more relentless. In "Culture as Weapon," acclaimed curator and critic Nato Thompson reveals how institutions use art and culture to ensure profits and constrain dissent--and shows us that there are alternatives. An eye-opening account of the way advertising, media, and politics work today, " Culture as Weapon "offers a radically new way of looking at our world.

30 review for Culture as Weapon: Art and Marketing in the Age of Total Communication

  1. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Vinyard

    I'm writing this review a few months after reading the book. I skimmed it again today to refresh my memory and I'm glad I did. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about power and to those looking for a ray of hope. In Culture as Weapon author Nato Thompson explores the integration by the powerful of principles of art, design, and persuasion into strategies and tactics to supercharge capitalism and other movements during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book appeals I'm writing this review a few months after reading the book. I skimmed it again today to refresh my memory and I'm glad I did. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about power and to those looking for a ray of hope. In Culture as Weapon author Nato Thompson explores the integration by the powerful of principles of art, design, and persuasion into strategies and tactics to supercharge capitalism and other movements during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book appeals to my non-linear learning style by demonstrating its ideas with a wide array of examples from history but not in chronological order. From Edward Bernays to Tipper Gore vs. Prince and Twisted Sister to David Patraeus, dozens or perhaps hundreds of figures who have attempted to persuade 'the masses' are cited, quoted, and examined. But the book is structured with chapters exposing strategies and tactics categorized by cultural arenas. The most surprising arena explored here for me is charitable giving and non-profit culture in the chapter "Sounding the Trumpet." The appeal to empathy through our emotions is used by forces less charitable to whitewash the overall destructiveness of their other enterprises. On some level I knew this, but Thompson's exposition of the cause related marketing (CRM) phenomenon is eye-opening. The topic is explored with a frank rather than scornful tone, and I appreciated the author's adherence to a somewhat objective fact-finding approach. While it is not surprising that the U.S. military has gotten in on the 'culture as weapon' strategy, I had not known that we can all access such literature as Field Manual 3-24 on counterinsurgency or the cheat sheet handed out to soldiers known as the Iraq Culture Smart Card, a sixteen-page laminated sheet, both available online in pdf form. Thompson's commentary: "Having a field manual on counterinsurgency updated to reflect basics in contemporary anthropology and lessons ranging from the Philippines to Algeria to Vietnam does not mean that eighteen-year-old soldiers on the ground suddenly become masters of cross-cultural relationships." Yeah. The chapter "The Insurgents" from which I pulled the quote, is by itself worth the price of the book. The overall message here is there are powerful interests attempting to manipulate our opinions, and thereby our actions. They understand that no one is a truly rational actor, that we all operate based largely on emotions, and that we can be influenced by appeals to our emotions. This leads me to question, and question thoroughly, my opinions to see if they align with my true values. Have I been persuaded to harm myself and others by forces that do not have the best interests of everyone at heart? Am I capable of noticing when I am being manipulated? Am I willing to allow it? Or will I shift my opinions and behaviors independent of the cultural push? I find myself wishing that the information in this book could be easily conveyed to those citizens who rarely or never read. I think questioning our cultural conditioning as individuals and collectively could benefit every citizen and those who will inherit Earth from us. But even if everyone doesn't get this message and take on the introspective project I'm hopeful because, as Thompson points out, no matter how powerful those forces are that use the power of art and culture to promote their own interests, they cannot see the future nor predict all events. That gives me hope, and I needed some hope today.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mack

    This books absolutely needed another round of copy editing, but beyond that I appreciated its ability to give me a general understanding of each of the pieces that Thompson uses to illustrate the power of culture and the puppet masters in every field who have given us our current landscape. Would recommend

  3. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    My first exposure to N. Thompson and a good one, so will see what else he has written. Thompson is an artistic director in NY with an obvious focus on performance art in all its different forms. Art is culture; We humans respond more (affectively) to narratives and emotions than to reason. Advertisers, campaign managers, capitalists, politicians figured this out long ago. In this unprecedented world of instant and global communication, we are bombarded w/ 'messages' often hidden to our consciousn My first exposure to N. Thompson and a good one, so will see what else he has written. Thompson is an artistic director in NY with an obvious focus on performance art in all its different forms. Art is culture; We humans respond more (affectively) to narratives and emotions than to reason. Advertisers, campaign managers, capitalists, politicians figured this out long ago. In this unprecedented world of instant and global communication, we are bombarded w/ 'messages' often hidden to our consciousness. The obvious threat is we are being manipulated to make poor decisions for ourselves and for our environment. Because art also works at the emotional level, Thompson documents how the line between art and advertising/campaigning/capitalism-consumerism has blurred. He tackles gentrification, the Apple Store and Starbucks and IKEA 'feel and community', the commercialization of art and charity, the success and failures of Petraeus counter-insurgency war manual, Notes P. Intro Plato said ban artists - they distort reality. Art and life have merged x Study why people don't act rationally xi Facts: fear motivates faster than hope; appeals to emotion don't rely on truth; rationality need not drive enthusiasm 1 Culture Wars (Buchanan, libs, conservs) 5 Not new to politics , but the scale has changed 6 artist types: oracles (Warhol); resisters (Pepes); world makers (Mapplethorpe) 8 Morning in America - Reagan '84 47 Hitler as artist knew something about appeal to emotion 49 Nazi rallies were mega-events: search lights, crowds 52 H. Arendt: Eichman trial: "E is a clown" 55 Adorno - Horkheimer, Frankfurt School: "culture industry" 62 Music is a market force in the 60's (baby boomers, radio, tv, money to spend) 63 TF impact on VietN war, civil rights enormous - demonstrations, rallies, violence 64 W. Burroughs saw the impact of media early on 65 WB - man not rational; image/sound create associations in the mind (emotions) 66 WB, nephew of Ivy Lee (early PR man); Warhol , orig. commercial designer, embraced capitalism, money, fame. WB worried about mass media 67 advertising rules by the '50's 68 hathaway shirt man - eyepatch, ad only in NYer mag; big success 69 Marlboro Man - advert. most iconic image. Artists and acmen understood power of visual, evocative, emotive association 70 DDB firm created the 'ugly' VW beetle ad, and the LBJ/Goldwater 'daisy - Hbomb' ad 73 68 nixon: Haldeman 20 yr vet of giant ad firm. The new service econ meant immaterial goods being sold - which needed personalities, a msg 74 although we were never a culture of reason, the new media increased the scale of emotion and changed everything. Thompson thesis: culture and affect linked to politics and capital; affect used to sell and exploit; we live in a world of affect and feeling 76 fear and politics 77 Willie Horton ad: Bush vs Dukakis. Lee Atwater, campaign manager, knew 'fear' would work. R Ailes was co-writer, producer 78 Ailes helped fear go mainstream 80 the New Jim Crow (M. Alexander) exposed Reagan's "War on Drugs" as racist 81 Media and politicians exploit sensationalism in movies, gang rap, 84 steve kurtz persecuted as a result of 9/11 hysteria 87 'availability index' Barry Glassners 'culture of fear'. local media expoilts our fear index 90 Obama, 8 yrs later, unable to fulfil promise to close Gitmo 92 progressives need to play emotion game 96 Black Lives Matter (BLM) child of social media - smart phone video, but still the (black) fear kickback factor 98 Richard Florida, Ted Talk, Vaudvillian 99 RF central protagonist in this book; a feel-good speaker (but what's the content and the analysis?) [TG - my criticism of the new NPR news - feel good, laugh factor] 101 the RF creatives 102 branding the city; bikepaths are cool 103 'starchitects' build beacons to capital 104 Bilbao example w/ Gehry guggenheim museum - now a tourist must see 105 chicago cows on parade; them many copycats/cows/dragons - a viral icon 106 chicago rebranded hip 107 creative corporate Bohemia drives out the real artists 110 arts funding (NEA) is econ. sound INVESTMENT 111 'art works' - new NEA motto 112 'inner tourist' 115 gentrification 121 Rev. Billy, NYC, fights consumption 123 no more major city demolition/rebuild projects; now it's more subtle rebranding but often same effect 125 chp 6: War, Defense & Culture 128 Petraeus rewrites counter-insurg. manual - culture is added 129 'the narrative' is defined along w/ its importance in the manual 134 P is effect'ly mayor of Mosul; becomes head of Iraq Command; makes shift to culture no just military actions. Not clear if he appeared on the scene at the right time or the methods really did have the effect he's credited w/. 136 Rand paper documents that US backing right-wing gov in central america violates all the principles we stand for 137 P goes to Afgh. 138 Galula 144 McFate, anthrop. teams w/ DOD; creates debate among her academic peers 148 anthrop w/ US troops in Afgh didn't work (2008) 151 tabloid stories re US military in Afgh (P. etc) 155 chp: Sounding the Trumpet - Charities (biblical ref) 156 Warhol C. Soup Art; a child of the depression - ate C soup every day 158 'Pink business' breast awareness - capitalistic charity?! 162 vs the Soil Kitchen in Philly (authentic charity) 163 'giving' is a real mix of motives 164 giving is never simply (freewill) giving (Mauss);Charity is power 166 as wealth disparity grows in US, levels of giving have also exploded - 'conscience laundering' according to Peter Buffet 168 "do they know its Christmas time at all" to raise famine relief money for Africa. - philanthropic colonialism' 169 enormous charity business/industry implies something is fundamentally wrong w/ our underlying system (capitalism), colonialism, consumerism) 171 CRM Cause Related Marketing: a win-win for charity and business, but do we dare look behind the screen? 172 McD ironies and paradox: charity $$ come from a business that pushes poor nutrition and pays sub-standard wages 176 where is the line, in the Faustian bargain, where one has compromised too much for short gain $$? Especially if capitalism is the root cause of many of the ills that charities are trying to ameliorate. 177 Mark Fisher, Capitalism Realism: 178 Ted Peru's "what we want is free: generousity & .." 183 Chpt 8, Ikea, Apple Store, Starbucks 185 comforting atmosphere, food at IKEA 187 CEO left Sweden to avoid taxes 193 IKEA Effect - you assemble, you thus value it more 194 Apple Store - an experience 199 No cash register! 204 Starbucks interesting history. a Cafe experience 206 social participation art, eg cooking food at a museum. [tg: are tv cook shows part of the scene?] 208 public experiential art (unmonetizable moments) - an escape from marketing of art 209 Whole Foods another example of an experience marketplace 210 B&N went to Cafe bookstore - couldn't compete w/ Amazon simply as bookstore. Employees are performers. 1998 book - "Experience Economy" 211 reminder what Plato said ab0ut danger of art in social arena 213 Personal Computer 214 challenges the radio or even the printing press as the most world-changing invention 216 history of computers; transistors, microchip, Atari, video games 222 Gates early BASIC hobbyist, user, wants copyright on S/W. Jobs & Wozniak part of Open S/W user group. Jobs goes to Atari. Apple the name evidence of Jobs market genius. Gates makes billions on S/W. Jobs knows computers can be extension of people's everythings 224 Apple Mac is marketed for 'special' people 228 DIY culture develops with the new media: pirate radio, tv, book printing, copying machines 231 Zapatista in Chiapas 234 an uprising that used modern media to connect to outside world for support 236 Porn dominates internet use 238 civil disobed comes to the internet 244 google and apple engineers don't get 'social' (b/c they're engineers) 250 marketeers target specific emotion spaces. joy and sadness are filled. Try anger and surprise 251 Trump hs the surprise, angry-fear spheres 255 all social media movements may not be successful but they can still shift the center of discussion, eg BLM 74

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nana

    This is a book with a lot of interesting observations and ideas, though it is difficult to actually whittle down its thesis or focus. Basically, this book is all about how culture (the abstractness of that word aside) is manipulated and monetized by everyone from PR professionals, activists, real estate developers, and military leaders. The author also discusses things like modern product design, internet culture, and the charity industrial complex. If those things sound rather disparate, you ar This is a book with a lot of interesting observations and ideas, though it is difficult to actually whittle down its thesis or focus. Basically, this book is all about how culture (the abstractness of that word aside) is manipulated and monetized by everyone from PR professionals, activists, real estate developers, and military leaders. The author also discusses things like modern product design, internet culture, and the charity industrial complex. If those things sound rather disparate, you are not wrong - I wasn’t always sure how his points tied into his thesis, but I was always interested in them. Hence the four stars. Particularly intriguing for me were the chapters on urban planning, the history of PR, and counterinsurgency tactics. Worth a read if you are interested in public relations and culture studies.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jack Tomascak

    Good primer on cultural production's connections and reflections across omnipresent state / capitalist forces, most appropriate for folks less versed in these histories. There are a few interesting tidbits of lesser-known histories and iterations of concept in art worlds attempting to circumvent capital, but admittedly as someone with a degree in "Media|Society|Arts" I'm not the target audience for this book. Thompson is a very good writer though - he distills these many concepts with ease and i Good primer on cultural production's connections and reflections across omnipresent state / capitalist forces, most appropriate for folks less versed in these histories. There are a few interesting tidbits of lesser-known histories and iterations of concept in art worlds attempting to circumvent capital, but admittedly as someone with a degree in "Media|Society|Arts" I'm not the target audience for this book. Thompson is a very good writer though - he distills these many concepts with ease and is a natural at connecting these greater trends to his area of expertise, socially-engaged art. The lack of formal conclusion, as mentioned in other reviews, is definitely frustrating -- a short wrap-up regarding the role of affect hinted in the introduction would have been fitting and welcomed.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Well this somehow made me hate marketing even more, didn't know that was possible. Other than that, I'm not sure what else to take away from this although I liked it. I find myself agreeing with the author, but not really knowing what to do. Oh look, people are motivated by fear and it's ruining politics. Yep, because people base decisions on emotions and not logic, kinda knew that already. Here are some rejected subtitles for the book: "How to make money and manipulate people" Wait that's redunda Well this somehow made me hate marketing even more, didn't know that was possible. Other than that, I'm not sure what else to take away from this although I liked it. I find myself agreeing with the author, but not really knowing what to do. Oh look, people are motivated by fear and it's ruining politics. Yep, because people base decisions on emotions and not logic, kinda knew that already. Here are some rejected subtitles for the book: "How to make money and manipulate people" Wait that's redundant. "How capitalism ruins everything (including art)" Nah too one sided. "Never buy anything you've seen advertised" Isn't that stolen from Michael Pollan's food book?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I have no issue with the premise of this book or the arguments in it. But I have to wonder who edited it. It's full of repeated grammar mistakes like "chalk full of", "hone in on", and typos, all of which are pretty distracting. And while there's a conclusion for the final chapter, there's no conclusion for the book overall. It feels like there's a missing chapter.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Maudlin coy and jittery: hyped but empty. I had not expected to find the author re-enacting the problems he purported to analyze, and I was unprepared for the foolishness. Really?!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    "The computer is a very powerful device. We see its effects in small things already. The twitchy behavior of friends needing to check their phones. The inability to let a question linger too long before one looks it up on google. The worry that everyone knows what you have been, and are, up to. The inability to get lost." "Facebook is neither neutral nor democratic. It uses its power of collective culture as a weapon to garner revenue. " "Google continues to operate like all businesses, with one g "The computer is a very powerful device. We see its effects in small things already. The twitchy behavior of friends needing to check their phones. The inability to let a question linger too long before one looks it up on google. The worry that everyone knows what you have been, and are, up to. The inability to get lost." "Facebook is neither neutral nor democratic. It uses its power of collective culture as a weapon to garner revenue. " "Google continues to operate like all businesses, with one goal in mind: longstanding financial growth."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim Belonax

    Certainly an interesting introduction to cultural production through the lens of marketing. The book touches on a wide range of topics, from real estate to the military to charities, without losing its focus or strength. Only in its final chapter and conclusion did I feel it losing steam. I'll be looking into Thompson's other books because of this one. An interesting read following this book would be "I Hate the Internet" by Jarrett Kobek.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris Stave

    Strange -- the title of my copy has the subtitle of The Art Of Influence in Everyday Life. If you like the sociology of mass media, this is a fantastic book. Offering a series of very specific chapters, this is a readable overview of everything from advertising to computers to charity to IKEA. Thompson's point of view is clear and informs the topics discussed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robin Anter

    I'm very much enjoying this book. It's exactly what it claims to be, a critique of American culture from the perspective of an art curator. Thompson's voice is never authoritative or preachy, but instead is consistently conversational and interesting.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mitzi Moore

    Much of this book is common knowledge, if you've been alive for the last few decades. Still, it was interesting to see how public opinion can be mobilized to effect an outcome.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrii

    It is an interesting book that critically assesses several aspects of modern culture under influence of the internet and capitalism. In some ways, it is prophetic of current (2020) media developments, especially in the USA. Yet it could have been better structured to deliver a clear message and to better reflect the title.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Audioiter

    This book taps right in the middle of my perceptions of art in recent years. It is well researched, it inspires a lot of questions. I will be going back to my notes and rereading parts of that book. Strongly recommened.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kacper

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This books sucks and is boring. Read The Conquest of Cool instead by Thomas Frank.

  17. 4 out of 5

    King Ludd

    Any book that mentions Mitzy McFate (in a negative light) automatically gets 4 stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Margit Hundley-Stritzel

    Excellent !

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Excellent book, well worth the read. Put a number of things into a useful context for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carlz Readz

    Not my type of book... read it for a class

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jaxum

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ash

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam Pearce

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tran

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Brierley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  29. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Halquist

  30. 5 out of 5

    Portia Craig

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