The "Therapeutic Ethos"

Jackson Lears accounts for the rise of modern advertising in a context of a complex relationship between power relations and changing moral values. Convinced that advertising cannot be considered in isolation, he explores the crucial moral change that took place from the asceticism of the Protestant ethic to what he calls the "therapeutic ethos," which, as he puts it, is "an ethos characterized by an almost obsessive concern with psychic and physical health defined in sweeping terms."

Lears captured the intense inner conflict of the middle class in the emerging consumer culture, and he says that this was reflected in advertising. He states "advertisers began speaking to many of the same preoccupations addressed by liberal ministers, psychologists, and other therapeutic ideologues. A dialectic developed between Americans' new emotional needs and advertisers' strategies; each continually reshaped and intensified the other." Lears here is primarily addressing the conflict of "a bourgeoisie suffering from identity diffusion and inner emptiness," and he argues that what this inner conflict led to was the need for something that would replace the figure of the priest, that would allow people to consume and still be "absolved." In this way, Lears shows the importance of indulgence in advertising.

In this ad for "Milky Way Lite," we can see the point Lears makes about "indulging." This ad reminds us that we can enjoy the pleasures of real chocolate, real caramel, and all this with only 5 grams of fat! The fact that "Milky Way Lite" is only 170 calories tells us that it will not be a compromise to our health or our beauty. We can consume it feeling assured that we are not "damaging" ourselves physically or psychologically. We are absolved of our "consumption sin." In this sense, this ad is reminiscent of the "many Victorian advertisements that appropriated the prestige of science and played on intimate self-doubts while promising to restore or preserve the buyer's health and beauty."

Luisa Quiñoy