Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The ghost of Anthony Frank Duke

Last month was the anniversary of the death of Anthony Frank Duke. He died twenty years ago after a protracted illness - emphysema - and all the complications that are part and parcel of this harrowing condition. He'd been a 'lifelong smoker'. He had a wonderful sense of humour and one or two talents such as playing a raft of different instruments including the piano, accordion, guitar, and the ukele banjo. He was also a political animal, an organiser par excellence and my father.

The traditional pastime

He'd been a member of the Communist Party in the 1950s and was, in the mid 1960s and early 1970s, the Chair of the local Quarrendon Tenants' and Residents' Association in Aylesbury. This was no ordinary Tenants' Association. It was huge. As a seven or eight year old, if I wasn't trudging the streets delivering leaflets for him, I'd be sat in our living room crammed with members of the Tenants' Association committee as they planned local activities for residents and the wider community. These included social events, dances, carnivals and most importantly rent strikes. And when they organised a rent strike, they won. Most of the committee smoked. I'm not suggesting that our living room was an 'autonomous zone' but clearly the 1956 Clean Air Act held no sway among these latter day Woodbiners. You could almost cleave the fumal strata with your hand into solid blocks of differentiated fug.  I also vividly remember how after twenty minutes exposure to the acrid fumality,* my eyes would stream in agony.   

Caveat emptor

Throughout the late 1970s I watched as his health deteriorated. He went from being healthy and fit enough in his late thirties to race my brother along the street (and win!) to a hollowed out man. I'd pleaded with him many times to give up smoking. It fell on deaf ears. Like many people, he smoked because he found it enjoyable and it helped relieve stress. But in truth, he was thoroughly and chemically addicted to nicotine. And like many other smokers, denial was part and parcel of the addiction. He'd explain away his failing health with a multitude of carefully crafted arguments. He'd worked in light industry for a long time in the days when health and safety was the exception to the rule in factories. His concerns about the damage heavy metals had exacted on his lungs was no doubt very real, yet he seemed stubbornly resistant to the idea that smoking was damaging his health. In retrospect, his earlier switch from high tar to medium, from non-filter to filter, was in itself an inward admission that smoking was the real cause of his creeping breathlessness.

I write about this not for sentimental reasons, but because I have an almost genetic contempt for the advertising 'industry'. The tobacco and advertising conglomerations managed to take two large bites from the cherry that was Anthony Frank Duke: once when he was healthy and later, when smoking-related illnesses had began to extract their inexorable physical tithe.

Cherry bite #1

I smoke for medicinal reasons
Anthony Frank Duke was no fool. He was intelligent, articulate and no armchair Marxist. He'd introduced me to the labour theory of value and the concept of the Marxist dialectic when I was eleven or twelve. So why did he continue to smoke when it was obviously detrimental to his health? Today, we're all aware of just how addictive nicotine is. It's an essential ingredient to keep smokers smoking. But in the 'ciggie' game you have to grab your 'market-share' first and that's where the marketing/ad agencies come in. When he first contemplated smoking, he probably thought that cigarette clenched lightly between his lips would make him look adult, intelligent and a tad glamorous. Marketing and advertising in all its multifarious forms did this. It did it to hundreds of millions of others. Hollywood also played its role in promoting the cigarette as the universal 'glamouriser'. However, although fully addicted by the nicotine, the marketing/ad agencies hadn't completely finished with Anthony Frank Duke.

Cherry bite #2

Later in life, he switched to a new brand of cigarette - Consulate menthol cigarettes. He did this because he thought they'd be less irritating to his throat and his chest. Thinking they were less harmful than ordinary cigarettes, little did he realise that the menthol (extracted from the peppermint plant) is likely to have led him to inflict further damage on his already weakened lungs. Research has shown that because of its capacity to offer the smoker a 'cooler' smoke, has resulted in many smokers inhaling more deeply.(1 Smokers of menthol brands, despite often smoking less, find it harder to quit because they take in greater amounts of nicotine and carbon monoxide.(2) Why on earth did an intelligent man think that menthol cigarettes were better for him than those he'd smoked for years? The answer lies in the power of marketing. Menthol cigarettes had been partly sold to smokers as a healthy alternative to ordinary cigarettes.

The power of advertising -v- the power of the individual

Justifiably, the tobacco industry has and continues to be excoriated (and sometimes punished in its collective pockets) for visiting these modern day biblical plagues on humanity. The lack of willpower so often associated with smokers is also reflected in the lack of will of any political ruling elites to stop the manufacture of tobacco-based products and an industry from profiting from the deaths of millions of its 'consumers'. Yet the companies that helped mass-market cancer, heart disease and other deadly ailments have largely escaped any scrutiny. I'm certainly no fan of the 'advertising industry'. It's not primarily because it's full of pretentious self-obsessed tossers who think they're capable of directing a German Expressionist film in the 1920s. Nor is it because of my dad or the millions of premature dead who like him, wander mournfully like lost purgatorious souls through the subconsciousnesses of those who remain. I have a more fundamental dislike of this so called 'industry'.

Yes I fully understand the role it performs in the wider capitalist system. But it might be worth remembering that the consumer is secondary to the overriding objective of capital - to produce commodities for sale, whether they be useful to society or not. Armaments manufacturing is likely the single biggest 'industry' in the world. The sub-Saharan multitudes who annually starve can't eat them. So they're hardly aimed at a civilian mass-market. 

The prevailing wisdom: neo-Victorian values and their adherents

M'dear... only a fool would argue that my 
rotundness is as a consequence of the 
manner in which society is structured
for the production of surplus value
Ad agencies are remarkably adept at selling us the shit that we really do not need and likely can't afford. An example might serve to elucidate. Governments are just waking up to the fact that there is an intergenerational time-bomb ticking away that promises to dwarf even the awful tobacco-related holocaust that's plagued the West. The culprit: obesity. Well, more correctly the overweight individual, who is almost daily held up by the press and media as the death-knell-sounder of the National Health Service and not David Cameron.

Such is the media-driven hysteria, that some are now suggesting that obese people should be refused treatment on the NHS. In this paradigm, obesity is the fault of the individual. Foregoing the old arguments about the 'deserving' and 'undeserving poor' which underlie these commentaries, rare are the occasions when a finger wagger draws into focus the social responsibility that the manufacturers of the fat-filled foods have for obesifying almost an entire generation. Rarer still are the marketers and advertisers of high fat, high sugar foods held to account for their central role in convincing humanity to eat what is ostensibly nutrition-less crap. 'Come off it' you say. 'The public are informed, can make rational choices on the information available and can always choose the healthy salad option from the menu.' 

Choice - a silly beggar of a word

A Ginster or more correctly two Ginstae...
and they're not in the opinion of this
author, shite
There's a saying that goes 'the shiter something is, the cheaper it is'. It's a saying I probably just made up. But let us put price to one side, and consider for the moment the packaging of a ready meal. How much of the valuable 'cover space' is devoted to making the food look appetising with words that promote its intrinsic wholesome-ness? Extract your magnifying glasses and delve into the micro-world of the list of ingredients. Fizzy drinks manufacturers rarely plaster pictures of rapid-onset gingivitis on the cans. I don't recall cigarettes ever being marketed as having been rolled on the thighs of thrombosal amputees with nicotine stained fingers. Even rarer is the hoarding that advertises a car by the number of children killed on the roads annually. Advertising is about selling me the 'up side' of a product not those troublesome downers.

Advertisers and marketers - clever devils

Don't get me wrong, some of it's very clever. Although I know they're selling me a sackful of over-vanked vas defrens 'vell' past their sell-by date, I still find a new Dyson very hard to resist. I'd be the last trouser-warmer in a Whitsunday farting party to put up my hand and state that I've been led by the nose with millions of other sheep consumers, to exchange fist-fulls of my wife's hard-earned for the latest computer game or digital camera? But it must work as the global spend on advertising in 2012 will be somewhere in the region of US $489 billion.(3) Capitalists aren't in the habit of blowing $489 billion if they didn't feel the payback would be many, many times this outlay.


My contempt for this 'industry' is also driven by the way in which advertising insinuates itself into the DNA of our lives. It's a consequence of the dominance capitalism exerts over every aspect of our lives from the cradle to the grave, creating mass alienation among billions of increasingly atomised individuals. By alienation I don't mean the cod-psychological form of 'alienation' often referred to in the media, but a more structured form of alienation that is the consequence of the way capitalism has organised itself, the workplace, the social and political institutions we interact with throughout our lives.

The division of labour and its impact on radical urination

Profit is the be-all and end-all under capitalism. Everything is subordinated to this end. Someone, somewhere will be making a profit from the nappies you wore as a baby, the clothes you wore to school, the food you eat as an adult and the coffin you'll be buried in. And to make substantial profits efficiently, capitalism requires the workplace and society to be divided - the mass division of labour. Largely gone from this world of mass production are the craftsmen or craftswomen. It's simply not an efficient or profitable way of mass producing goods and profits. Take Garment Worker A who sews gussets day in-day out. The job she does is clearly defined and limited. She's largely a Chaplinesque cog in the global knicker machine. Is it fulfilling? Having worked on a factory production line or two (not in a knicker factory) I recall that it was utterly soul-destroying. The work required very little skill but demanded just enough attention to stop me plotting the overthrow of capitalism and pissing in my boss's fuel tank.

But let's compare Garment Worker A's role to that of Mr B Spoke Tailor from Jimmy Saville Row who begins and completes every gold lame shell suit he makes. His is a hugely satisfying job and he gets to see his wealthy distressed-haired client walk out dressed to the nines. The two jobs are worlds apart. Yet alienation for Garment Worker A doesn't end here. Not only does she not produce the complete product, she can only unlock the usefulness of the finished item she makes through the exchange of a portion of her wage.

I'm still not convinced this universal gusset-stitcher is 
going to catch on in the wider pant game

The functional value and sheer brilliance of the advertising executive

Moreover, Garment Worker A is also prone to spending her hard earned wages and other money borrowed on credit cards, on things she really doesn't need and can ill-afford. This is where the modern day symbiosis between the advertising industry and capitalism (including the political system) comes into its own. In many respects, advertising has become and end in itself and inherently useful in ideological terms to the demands of and continued domination of capitalism. Advertising execs are virtuosos when it comes to feeding on our alienated states, exponentially magnifying our insecurities thus creating false needs and wants.

An indebtedness to Margaret Thatcher among others

Margaret Thatcher stated that every person should have the right to 'own' their homes and a whole industry developed to convince us that we can only be truly satisfied by mortgaging ourselves up to the eyeballs. She could have made a bigger fortune as an ostensibly female Don Draper in the advertising business. Indeed, so powerful did this message become - that individual ownership is preferable to social ownership - that it provided an ideological framework upon which a whole raft of privatisations could be enacted. It also provided the basis for the current global economic crisis as over-inflated property values were used as collateral by millions of people in the UK and US, to borrow in order to go on holiday, buy the cars and the 'must have' pretty things that nightly adorn our TV screens courtesy of the ad agencies.

The creation of a false consciousness

The East Anglian cockchafer... not 
rumoured to chafe cocks
Advertising has played an integral role in consigning many tens of millions of average or low-incomed families to years of debt and penury. It has also sustained and concretised division and inequalities within society.  It has created its own form of false consciousness among substantial sections of Western societies, of what is and what is not socially acceptable, or to use the buzzword of the day 'appropriate'. To compete for that job, wrinkles and grey hair on women (ie 'ageing') are unacceptable. Hygienic deoderants and anti-itch cream are almost uniquely marketed to women as men clearly never have rancid knackers or severe groinal chafing. The physical constraints that capitalism imposes upon the individual are hinted at in the way luxury 4x4's (or if one uses upper case $x$'s) are pitched to us, helped along by programmes like the puerile 'Top Gear', itself little more than a glorified advert for the motor industry. 4x4s are marketed as an essential means of 'escape' and entirely necessary in overcoming the very real propensity of nature to re-impose itself without any prior warning in our towns and cities. Whereas these big polluters are largely aimed at a male demographic, cock sprays aren't.

Get 'em while they're young

The Australian Crazy Keith...
nor does he
My granddaughter knows the words and catchy jingles to a host of adverts. Most of us can recall several advertising jingles from our youth. It signifies the power this 'industry' exerts over us. Parents often feel helpless in the face of 'pester-power'. Children are also helpless in the face of intensive branding strategies formulated by well paid marketing executives who rely on 'peer pressure' to raise brand awareness and consumption. At a societal and individual level, this can result in the real-world bullying of vulnerable and disadvantaged children whose parents simply cannot afford the latest 'must-have' trainers or iPhone. It also nightly ruins my enjoyment of the very few decent programmes on TV with the possible exception of the BBC, a statement I shall qualify below.*

A Freudian slip?

Advertisers and the advertising industry have cleverly tapped into the widespread levels of alienation that exist throughout what has increasingly become an homogenised global capitalist society. And the more alienated individuals become, the greater is the propensity to try and find personal fulfilment in the impersonal world of consumer goods. Selling us this dream is almost a science. Edward L Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, recognised the role Freud's ideas of psychoanalysis could play in selling consumer products. Bernay was almost single-handedly responsible for promoting the idea among women in the 1920s, that smoking was socially acceptable.(4)  Marketing/advertising is the velvet glove that envelopes the iron fist of capitalism. Advertising is neither benign nor is it beneficial to society. It is a waste industry that imbues no value into the commodity it promotes, nor does it enhance our lives. It certainly didn't add anything of value to the life of Anthony Frank Duke.

Is being told what to do the natural condition of humanity?

Make a start by singing from  
the same hymn sheet?
In our natural condition we are social beings. We are wonderfully creative, natural producers, thinkers and shapers of the world around us. Whilst we are alienated from the tools necessary to be creative and produce the things we actually need - the social ownership of the offices, the schools, hospitals and factories - instead of the things we're told we need, nuclear submarines will always take precedence over CT scanners,  gas-guzzling cars over a cheap, reliable public transport transport system.

Alienation is the antithesis of our natural condition: it is the unnatural condition for humanity, imposed upon humanity by a system organised for the principal benefit of a tiny minority. Advertising draws deeply from this wellspring of unhappiness and unfulfillment, promising us a better life in the here and now. The irony wouldn't be lost on a chap called Karl Marx. Like religion that went before it, it offers us the promise of a 'heart in a heartless world' and a 'soul in soulless conditions'. The brand has become the 'opium of the people'. It rarely if ever delivers.

Throwing off the muck of ages

Luckily, it's not all doom and gloom. We can not only resist, but we can fight back. Class struggle is central to usurping the power of the the unrepresentative minority who control our lives. Ask an Egyptian, Tunisian or Libyan if they feel empowered and more in control of their lives. The fight back can be small to start with. So when a tiny minority decides that it's essential that hundreds of thousands be spent in re-vamping her/his office space and that over a hundred teaching staff be voluntarily severed, you can begin to break down your own alienated state and that of others in the same boat as you, by arguing precisely the opposite and organising to resist this policy. Your success will of course depend entirely on how well organised you are, how much you're up for a fight and your tactical use of socialised collective action.

But don't take my word for it. Ask anyone who's been on a huge demo or taken mass collective strike action. That feeling of empowerment - that we're not alone, that we can really change the world - that's your alienation falling away. So be confident. Be bold. Protest. You never know, you may win.

I'd like to think that the ghost of Anthony Frank Duke would be marching right alongside you.

Notes and References

* Made up
** The BBC are increasingly guilty of peppering their own output with adverts for their own output. They have also been criticised for spending vast sums on star-filled trailers/musical extravaganzas that are nothing more than glorified adverts for their output.

(1) 'The First Conference on Menthol Cigarettes, 'Setting the Research Agenda' Executive Summary,' US Department of Health and Human Services, March 2002, sourced at http://dccps.nci.nih.gov/tcrb/MentholExecSumRprt4_10-16.pdf
(2) Sourced at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090110085918.htm
(3) Rochester Institute of Technology sourced at http://printinthemix.com/fastfacts/show/543
(4) Held L, 'Psychoanalysis Shapes Consumer Culture: Or how Sigmund Freud, his nephew and a box of cigars forever changed American marketing. December 2009, Vol 40, No. 11
Print version: page 32 Sourced at http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/12/consumer.aspx


  1. Nice work Gary, an interesting and thoughtful read. I'd say publish it somewhere 'cos it's too good for a blog, but then again, if you're going to write a blog, it may as well be high quality...

  2. Ditto, excellent piece Gary and by reading it I see you have shaped yourself in the same mould as your father.
    I'm sure he would be proud.