Coercion: Why We Listen to What ""They"" Say

Douglas Rushkoff, Author
Douglas Rushkoff, Author Riverhead Books $24.95 (321p) ISBN 978-1-57322-115-3
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-55927-560-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-57322-829-9
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Until recently a cyber-optimist who, in popular books like Cyberia and Media Virus, augured a digital revolution, Rushkoff now warns that the promise of the Net as an open-ended civic forum is fading as relentless corporate marketers peddle their wares and capitalize on shortened attention spans. In a scathing critique that extends far beyond cyberspace in scope, Rushkoff identifies the subtle forms of coercion used by advertisers, public relations experts, politicians, religious leaders and customer service reps, among others. Retreading territory covered by critic Neil Postman and others, Rushkoff provides additional examples of how the ordinary person is often unsuspectingly manipulated, whether in the shopping mall, at a sports event or in a Muzak-drenched store or office. This analysis is particularly strong when deconstructing the ""postmodern"" techniques of persuasion that advertisers use to reach increasingly cynical target audiences, including commercials that self-consciously mock the marketing process. Rushkoff also argues that mass spectacles (e.g., rock festivals, Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, Promise Keepers rallies) foster ""tribal loyalty"" but are often contrived, commercial or downright destructive. He devotes a chapter to pyramid schemes used by cults, infomercials, Internet con artists and get-rich-quick marketers. His freewheeling survey underscores the social cost of these coercive strategies, which, he says, tend to make us see one another as marks. Despite his up-to-the-minute examples, however, his overall analysis is not fresh or original enough to take the place of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders. (Sept.)
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