Mad World: Can't Buy My Love Virtual Book Club

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Last week, we had our first-ever Mad World Book Club meeting, and it was great! As many of you know, we discussed Jean Kilbourne’s Can’t Buy My Love, and everyone had lots to say about gender, persuasion, advertising, and fried dill pickle chips (we met at Bernie’s Southern Bistro). However, as many of you also know, most of our readers don’t live close enough to meet us in person for pickle chips, which is why we’re hosting this virtual version of the Book Club.

Can’t Buy My Love is a book about advertising, but it’s also a book about addiction and the ways in which advertising and addiction are related. It’s a book about women, and men, and children, and the cultural climate in which all of us exist. The book covers a lot of ground, which means that there’s a lot to say about it in a cozy virtual Book Club setting. Let’s get to it!

Here are some questions to get the virtual Book Club ball rolling. Note: These questions are related to Can’t Buy My Love, but feel free to chime in if you’ve got something to say, even if you haven’t read the book (yet)!

• What, if anything, did you find yourself responding to most in the book? Did you have any “aha!” moments? What were they?

• What, if anything, did you dislike or disagree with?

• Did any of the ad campaigns that Kilbourne used as examples in the text strike a particular chord with you? Why?

• If an updated version of Can’t Buy My Love were to be released, what would you like to see included?

• Have you seen the effects of advertising on your personal life? In what ways?

• Which advertisements persuade you the most/least? How do you think this ties in to the connections Kilbourne makes between advertising and addiction?

• What have your experiences been with media literacy? Did Can’t Buy My Love inspire you to become a media literacy advocate in any way? How?

Bitch has the very exciting opportunity to interview Ms. Kilbourne next week. (Yay!) Do you have any questions you’d like for us to ask her?

These are just starter questions, so please jump in with your own questions/comments about the book as well! And don’t forget: Our second Mad World Book Club meetings (both physical and virtual) are coming up next month! We’ll be discussing Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alissa Quart!

OH_Logo.jpg This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program.

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

I haven't read through the

I haven't read through the whole book yet, but it's really making me think about the choices I make as a consumer and why. I feel like it will be me a smarter consumer and that's empowering.

What I appreciated most

What I appreciated most about this book is Kilbourne's visual analysis of advertising. A lot of her insights were eye-opening to me, especially around images of physical violence in cigarette ads, and the way they are designed to invoke stressful feelings in viewers. I also was interested in ads for alcohol that a) normalize problematic drinking habits, and b) show alcohol as the primary relationship in a person's life. The focus on addiction was unexpected, but thought-provoking, and I think, important.

However, I think some of the ways in which she talked about addiction were problematic and over-simplifying. She over-relied on the trope of the sexually and emotionally abused young woman as addict. I understand that there are high-risk populations, but I think her language, in many places, implied that most women addicts were the victims of some kind of trauma, or at least allowed that inference to be made too easily.

Overall, I found this book very interesting and worthwhile, but at times wished for a more nuanced argument. I felt like she would offer these great detailed analyses of ads, that then slide into oversimplification and emotion to make her argument, rather than keeping up the rigorous analysis.

In a future edition, I'd love to see her talk a little more about food advertising aimed at children. Recent research has shown that high fat, high sugar food does invoke addiction-like reactions in the body, and that young children are being targeted very blatantly, with disastrous consequences. I think this is becoming a big area of attention and research right now, and could fit into her book very well. It complicates her current arguments around food quite a bit, but I think, frankly, that most feminist ideas around food need to be re-thought in light of research showing that some foods really are bad for us, and should be eaten in moderation only.

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