Deciphering the Language of Manipulation: From Billboards to Broadcasts

from Walker Percy's 1961 novel, The Moviegoer. The quote is as follows:  "We drive along the highway and see a sign for a restaurant. We stop and eat there, and the food is not as good as the picture on the sign. This is a universal experience. We are always disappointed."  The quote appears on page 12 of the novel. In the context of the novel, the quote is part of a larger discussion about the nature of reality and perception. Percy argues that the images we see on billboards and in other forms of advertising are often more perfect than reality itself. This can lead to disappointment when we experience the real thing, which is never quite as good as the image.  The quote has been cited by other authors and thinkers, and it has been used to explore the relationship between advertising, perception, and reality. It is a reminder that the images we see in the world are not always what they seem.
Percy writes about perception and reality in his 1961 novel The Moviegoer.
In this post, I explore the captivating world of language manipulation and marketing tactics by making my own thought experiment called "Walker Percy's Hamburger."
A plate of french fries and a hamburger
Would you like a yummy hamburger?
Metaphorical Journey into Authenticity
Picture this: You're cruising down a highway, and suddenly, an image of a perfect, glistening hamburger on a billboard catches your eye. This isn't just any burger; it's an artistic masterpiece that sends your taste buds into a frenzy. It's got glistening lettuce peeking out of the bun, a crispy patty, oozing mayo, and an immaculate spherical bun. This image is so compelling that you find yourself making an unplanned pit stop at the advertised restaurant. However, the reality that awaits you, sadly, is far from the tantalizing image promised. This dichotomy between representation and reality is a phenomenon that American novelist Walker Percy masterfully encapsulated. It also presents a fascinating lens through which we can explore the influence and manipulation of language, especially within the realm of our capitalist consumption.

Walker Percy's Hamburger
Walker Percy's illustration of the mouth-watering burger, which ends in disappointment, serves as a perfect metaphor for how language and marketing tactics can manipulate our expectations. These linguistic structures have a unique way of extending our experiences by luring us with attractive phrases, glamorous pictures, and strategically crafted narratives. One could even say that these structures are filled with what some have coined as "non-content fillables". They don't necessarily provide new information or factual content, yet they prove irresistible. Terms like "popular", "famous", or "most visited" are quintessential examples of these fillables. They aren't verifiable facts or insightful opinions, but they command attention and evoke intrigue, often without any accountability from the advertiser.

This practice extends beyond the fast-food industry and permeates our social world, shaping our perceptions and our consumption patterns. One might argue that these manipulative language structures hinder our ability to experience reality authentically or that they foster distrust. Yet, I propose a different perspective: This phenomenon could also serve as a tool to sharpen our critical thinking. It encourages us to dissect and investigate what's presented to us, essentially turning us into detectives of authenticity in an era of manufactured realities.

How This Relates to American Crime Story
This critical lens is even more necessary when representations venture beyond the realm of hamburgers and enter more significant domains. Consider the recent series "American Crime Story", which dramatizes the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It's a fictionalized version of real, historical events, filling gaps based on assumptions and calculated conjectures. It's a mesmerizing blend of fact and fiction, served with the understanding that it is a dramatization of real events. Yet, just like the hamburger that doesn't match the billboard, we watch with an understanding of the divide between representation and reality.

In a world where language is frequently "puffed up" and can easily blur the lines between fiction and reality, it is imperative to hone our ability to decipher and discern. Language does matter, and recognizing when it doesn't match up with reality allows us to resist manipulation, question authenticity, and seek out truth. At the end of the day, just as we accept that the perfect billboard hamburger is, in reality, an orchestrated mirage, we must also understand and challenge how language is used to shape our perceptions in all aspects of our lives.

I Hope Your Share This (LOL!)
In conclusion, remember that enticing billboard hamburger next time you encounter an exaggerated claim, a dramatized story, or a perfectly crafted narrative. Let it be your reminder of the critical lens necessary to navigate our language-saturated world, where what's presented to us often isn't what it appears to be. Like a highway dotted with alluring billboards, the path to discernment requires constant navigation and a keen eye for the reality behind the representation.

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