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The Nation: Ads Are Us


I recently took a look at The Nation’s website. What a depressing adventure that was. Not so much the substantive content in the essays – oh, yes, that was barely progressive much less radical or revolutionary in many respects and so of course not my taste. But, okay, that’s the niche the Nation occupies. That’s who they are. So be it.

And my depressing visit, this time around, was not a result of the masthead with its corporate structure revealed and even celebrated though that structure is barely discernable from that of any mainstream periodical. Again, that’s who the Nation is – not seeking a new system, not revealing new social relations – just trying to pursue some good policy angles.

But here is the thing – well, after all, just who are they? Or who are they becoming, at any rate?

That is, what about the view, the landscape, the stuff you see on the pages of the site alongside the less than revolutionary essays?

Well, all over the site, from the top page in and from the bottom page out, there are ads by Google – which is to say there are ads from all manner of sites that are, I guess brokered by Google.

Okay, so you might reply, well, yes, that’s not optimal, but you know they have bills to pay, and this is capitalism, and so of course they take ads which is to say, they sell their audience to advertisers. But, you might continue, they do it just to get money to do better things. What’s so bad about that?

There are numerous replies but mostly – it is bad because by orienting your budget to depend on ad money you place pressure on yourself to appeal to outfits who buy ads – which means attracting an affluent user base, first, that those companies want to buy access to, and second, providing a venue that is ad friendly which means the readers of the site are not put in a mood by the site that renders the ads dysfunctional. Advertising sexist, racist, corporatist crap with images that are repulsively supine to oppressive norms is not likely to work well in a periodical or site that inoculates its user against such content, and that even, we should certainly hope, arouses its users to anger at such content. So to get steadily more ads there is pressure to make the site’s content not overly effective at producing anti capitalist and anti sexist sentiments and inclinations in the posh readership.

What a sad path to party down – cruise, anyone?

But you know what – while I don’t think the slippery slope of advertising is one leftists should traverse – I can at least understand how, backed up against a budget crunch and desperate to survive, one might opt for a very limited advertising policy such as displaying ads for only books of merit, or music of merit, or even projects of merit, etc. But I can’t see seeking to survive by featuring the heart of capitalist and sexist darkness. And ads are, of course, featured. Try any page – the ads are what jumps into your line of vision.

Of course, even allowing for desperation, in fact The Nation has more financial resources and reach than any other nominally progressive operation I know of, much less truely leftist outfits, so saying it is desperate and must traverse an otherwise repellent terrain is a bit much to abide – yet, even if we give them the benefit of that doubt too, the problem is, the ads are, well, rather horrendous.

Here are just a few I saw in a short period of clicking around on the site –  a Lufthansa corporate ad, an ad for something called soda head (no, I don’t know what it is, either, except on visiting the first thing I saw was an ad for a flat stomach, which ad I then saw on The Nation too), a phone company ad, an ad to write a novel online, a Dunkin Donuts ad (why is this any better than McDonalds, say, or ANY CORPORATION at all that pursues profit over the dignity and well being of its workers, an ad to find a Russian wife which, when clicked features bodacious brunettes among other sundry stuff (this was literally hard to believe, does Katha Pollit look at this stuff?), an ad for cool tools, an ad for tylenol sinus (pharmacueticals (whee!, maybe next will be a Marines recruitment poster), an ad for Iron Key flash drives, an ad for The Naughty Contessa, I think it’s a TV show, and so on…

Alright, enough, except of course, for the on site explanation. On the Nation site’s ad policy page, there is not a lot offered and by way of explanation I saw only this brief advisory:

"If your product or service meets the standard that our readers set for themselves, then contact us to learn more about how to advertise."

Incredible. It is the consumer’s fault.

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