Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Advertisements

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Julian Figueroa (#30973127)

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An Allegory of Advertisements
How does Plato’s allegory influence the way we consume art today?

Every minute of every day, millions of people are exposed to advertisements. They plague televisions, streets, radio waves, and all means of communication. These advertisements employ many methods of persuasion and their influence is irresistible. Just like prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we are told every day to invest our time and interest into the subject of these advertisements, and to accept the forms of reality they serve us. Whether it be a commercial for a must-have new car, to a spot featuring desirable fast food, or to magazines with photoshopped models; we are seduced to accept these false forms of reality. In actuality, the car is hardly distinguishable from models in the years past, the food is not near as glossy and fresh as the commercial depicts, and the bodies of models have unfeasible proportions. Like the prisoners in the cave, we still accept these forms to be reality, even though they are imitations and falsities of their actual subjects. Puppeteers, like prisoners, are still within the boundaries of the cave, and some believe in their imitations whilst others know the falsehood they are presenting; just like advertisers of today. Even philosopher-kings must be part of the cave in certain ways, as they contribute their own forms of imitation to the prisoners, akin to puppeteers. The Allegory of the Cave has an abundance of meaning to our generation and future generations to come, as the themes and elements it contains relate directly to our society’s consumption and production of promotional media.

In Plato’s allegory, several metaphors are summoned to illustrate the effect of education on the soul. The allegory starts with the description of a cave; a place containing prisoners, shadows, puppeteers and fire. The prisoners are bound to look at the shadows, cast upon the wall by the fire and the objects utilized by the puppeteers. There is an exit to the cave, which is illuminated by the light from the sun outside. The outside represents true knowledge whereas the inside of the cave represents ignorance; a reality other than the truth. Plato considers the puppeteers to essentially be artists; using their creations to depict a false reality for the

Julian Figueroa (#30973127)

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prisoners. However, those who free themselves from the cave are the only ones who can realize true form. Those who do this are labeled as the philosophers. For the purposes of this essay, only the aspects of art and art interpretation in the allegory are important. What makes the allegory decisive in comparing it to our consumer-producer society is that the metaphors Plato uses directly correlate to the mantras of advertising.

Notwithstanding, for any of this argument to be relatable to Plato’s allegory, which primarily focuses on artists and their creations, one must first know what makes promotional media a form of artistic expression. Let us assume Plato’s definition; that art is a poor imitation of reality. He views the creators of art, or as he sees them, imitators “by nature third from the king and the truth” (Republic, 597e). Artists in publicity take this notion and exaggerate it to the furthest degree. For instance, what makes us want a Burger King burger over any other local burger joint product? The answer to that is clear; advertising. Without its advertising in mass, one wouldn’t be able to distinguish a Burger King product over any other competitor’s. On the contrary, we are drawn towards their burgers because of their glorious depictions in media. From passing the giant billboards of lucious burgers, to seeing a family enjoy them on a television commercial; we are told to believe that these titillating combinations of veggies and protein are absolutely marvelous. These advertisements are nothing but mere deceptions of reality. The billboards show us...
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