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Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say [Paperback]

Douglas Rushkoff
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 11 2002
Noted media pundit and author of Playing the Future Douglas Rushkoff gives a devastating critique of the influence techniques behind our culture of rampant consumerism. With a skilled analysis of how experts in the fields of marketing, advertising, retail atmospherics, and hand-selling attempt to take away our ability to make rational decisions, Rushkoff delivers a bracing account of media ecology today, consumerism in America, and why we buy what we buy, helping us recognize when we're being treated like consumers instead of human beings.

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From Amazon

In 1994's Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace, Douglas Rushkoff extolled the democratic promise of the then-emergent Internet, but the once optimistic author has grown a bit disillusioned with what the Net--and the rest of the world--has become. His exuberantly written, disturbing Coercion may induce paranoia in readers as it illuminates the countless ways marketing has insinuated itself not just into every aspect of Western culture but into our individual lives. Rushkoff opens with a series of pronouncements: "They say human beings use only ten percent of their brains.... They say Prozac alleviates depression." But "who, exactly, are 'they,'" he asks, and "why do we listen to them?"

Marketing continues to grow more aggressive, and Rushkoff tracks the increasingly coercive techniques it employs to ingrain its message in the minds of consumers, as well as the results: toddlers can recognize the golden arches of McDonald's, young rebels get tattooed with the Nike swoosh, and news stories are increasingly taken verbatim from company press releases. "Corporations and consumers are in a coercive arms race," argues Rushkoff. "Every effort we make to regain authority over our actions is met by an even greater effort to usurp it." As he surveys the visual, aural, and scented shopping environment and interviews salesmen, public relations men, telemarketers, admen, and consumers, Rushkoff--who admits to being one of "them" in his occasional capacity as paid corporate consultant--concludes that "they" are just "us" and that the only way the process of coercion can be reversed is to refuse to comply. "Without us," he assures, "they don't exist." --Kera Bolonik --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why we buy? May 12 2004
I was wondering why I bought this tape. Well, it was because Walgreen's had a bunch of bargain tapes prominently featured in their store, and the music playing had a subliminal message that said buy me. Seriously, Rushkoff does a good job of detailing how people are influenced to buy a product, subscribe to a belief, or follow a messianic leader.
I think Rushkoff is suspious of all people or companies trying to sell a product. However, in most cases, he details how Western style societies have been influenced by consumerism, and how companies have refined their selling habits to sell their services and products. Rushkoff does not just stop at the selling of products. He talks about why people join and stay in cults, why people follow political leaders, the effects of the worldwide web and internet on people, and pyramid schemes. In modern marketing, as well as these, people are coerced in subscribing to alien beliefs or products. This is why people need to understand these principles in order to avoid the damage of coercion on their person.
The book is relatively interesting. A good book for those interested in the decision making process of the Western consumer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mediocre and annoying Nov. 13 2002
By algo41
This is a very mediocre book, and somewhat annoying to read. It is annoying because Rushkoff attempts to coerce the reader into accepting his subjective views with a breathless, repetitive use of the same adjectives and opinions throughout. It is mediocre because it is short on substantive research - either psychological or market research; possibly, a lot of the good market research is proprietary. Its strong points are Rushkoff's anecdotes, and some good summaries of what is going on in marketing, including advertising, sales environment, and salesmanship. Incidentally, I am fairly liberal, so it is not my ideology speaking.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How "they" short-circuit our better judgment Nov. 11 2002
Douglas Rushkoff used to be a lot more hopeful that the rise of the Internet would free us from the "arms race" of manipulation and counter-manipulation to which we're subjected through the major media. He's changed his mind, in part because he found that his earlier work (notably the famous _Media Virus!_) was being taught in marketing classes to people who wanted to _create_ media viruses.
But he hasn't turned into a pessimist; he still thinks we can break the cycle, and this book is supposed to help us do it. And given his subject, he writes with a refreshing lack of paranoia: he's well aware that all of these techniques are (a) based on common features of "human nature" that ordinarily serve us just fine, and (b) used all the time, to some degree, by all of us. "We are all coercers," he says," and we are all coerced."
As you read the book, it will help to be aware of something Rushkoff doesn't actually get around to explaining until his closing chapter: by "coercion" he means the sort of "persuasion" that is intended to make it difficult or impossible for us to exercise our better judgment -- as distinguished from genuine, no-scare-quotes persuasion, which engages our reason rather than trying to short-circuit it. Bear that in mind if you think -- as I initially did -- that he's confusing coercion and persuasion.
What he's actually talking about is what people of approximately my generation would at one time have called a "mind-cop." (That term, by the way, has very nearly the same literal meaning as "geneivat da'at," or "stealing the mind" -- a term used in Jewish law for certain sorts of deception.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A look at salemenship for a consumer Oct. 21 2002
Douglass Rushkoff , to put it simply, here tells us about the psychology of a purchase, whether we are sold on a product, service, idiology, or way of life. He explains the strategies and techniques used to get us from a "no" to a "yes", using case studies, interviews, and analysis of several different kinds of sales. Some of the techniques he explains are relatively benign, but Mr. Rushkoff spends most of his time exposing some of the more subversive and invasive techniques of marketing. He sees salesmenship and marketing as an exercise in mind control, which, to a large degree, it is.
In doing so, he is raising questions about our consumer society, giving us a critique of ourselves, our way of life, and capitalism itself (Though I doubt he's a socialist). He is simply being honest. I guess the question he seams to be raising with this book is "To what degree have we allready been "coerced" into our current way of life?". Of course, the real answer to that question is: Completely.
The quickest way to explain this book is that it is a book on salesmenship, marketing, and propaganda, not for a salesman or marketing specialist, but for a consumer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Douglas Rushkoff is a Double Agent Feb. 2 2002
In the early 90's Douglas Rushkoff wrote a book titled "Media Virus." It described how the Internet Age would render marketing usless. Unfortunately, this book was studied by marketers to develo new and more effective strategies to sell to us. More frightening and more transparent than before.
His book was so successful that he was invited inside "their" world to work on marketing strategies. This book, then, is his report back to us.
His descriptions of how "they" turn "us" into mindless consumers is scary. Some examples are:
The Muzak that's pumped into every store in the world is secretly timed to influence our moods and emotions and most importantly, our buying patterns. Ever wonder why so many stores have buying frenzies followed by periods of no activity? Well this is it. The music, no matter what genre, is designed to bring us to a fevered pitch of buying where we grab whatever it is we have and get on line.
Every sales associate in The Gap is trained in "in with two out with five." This means that if you walk in with 2 items, they want to recommend 5 other items for you to buy, and they always tell you you look good in them.
And Mall Designs. The first mall was designed by Victor Gruen in 1958 as a new version of Downtown. They're designed in very specific ways to do very specific things to us. They're designed to disorient us, make us confused. That's why you can't see one department store from another department store. The more confused we are, the more likely we are to become mindless buying zombies. This is called the Gruen Transfer.
So what about stores like Ikea, where so-called educated consumers to go a warehouse like environment and get their own products from the stock shelves?
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening analysis of our vulnerabilities
Even those of us who believe ourselves to be savvy consumers, and strive to be rational beings, are prey to subtle forms of manipulation that affect not only what we buy, but how... Read more
Published on Sept. 23 2011 by M. A. Beauchamp
3.0 out of 5 stars coercive tactics presenting coercive tactics
i first read this book last year and it blew my mind. since then i have read alot of political authors including but not limited to noam chomsky, morris berman, howard zinn, al... Read more
Published on March 16 2004 by Dr. Putnam
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read.
This book is a little long which, for me, translates to it having missed the mark. Although I've a long standing belief that people are coerced into acting, buying and believing a... Read more
Published on April 21 2003 by William Oterson
5.0 out of 5 stars Effective mix of empirical and anecdotatal evidence...
This is an enlightening read--a broad overview of subtle coercion and a definitive explanation of the ubiquitous "they" who have so much influence over most of us. Read more
Published on Sept. 9 2002 by OldBookGuy
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!
This is a very interesting book written by a very accessible author. The book deconstructs the various methods of control that big business exerts over consumers. Read more
Published on April 20 2002 by steve h
5.0 out of 5 stars PLUR Generation Founding Myth
A charismatic Brit and his entourage of overeducated dropouts take over a piano factory in Oakland, intending to squat there and throw the most massive raves the Bay Area has ever... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars "We are all coercers, and we are all coerced."
Douglas Rushkoff, a man best described as a cross between Marshall McLuhan and Malcolm McLaren, here presents a brilliant expose of the all-pervasive coercion in modern Western... Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2001 by Timothy Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Great bathroom read!
I thought this book was easy, entertaining and scintillating. It's also highly relevant in this uncertain time, e.g. [...] article on how TV acts as an opiate for the mind.
Published on Oct. 18 2001 by H. Russell
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