I just finished reading John Berger's 1972 book Ways of Seeing. What I thought would be an interesting book about the act of looking, ended up really blowing my mind politically. It took what I know about advertising, and made the connections to political apathy, Art with a capital A, possession/consumerism, pop culture... Let me give you a sample.
"Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion. The industrial society which has moved towards democracy and then stopped half way is the ideal society for generating such an emotion. The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be. Either he then becomes fully conscious of the contradiction and its causes, and so joins the political struggle for a full democracy which entails, amongst other things, the overthrow of capitalism; or else he lives, continually subject to an envy which, compounded with his sense of powerlessness, dissolves into recurrent day-dreams."
And so people buy lottery tickets and watch "reality" television and care more about what Paris Hilton does than George Bush.
"Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world."
Thus American Idol boasts that no American president has ever gotten as many votes - 63 million in last spring's finale - as their show.
"All hopes are gathered together, made homogeneous, simplified, so that they become the intense yet vague, magical yet repeatable promise offered in every purchase. No other kind of hope or satisfaction or pleasure can any longer be envisaged within the culture of capitalism."
The book ends with the image of Magritte's On the Threshold of Liberty, and the invitation and declaration, "To be continued by the reader..."