Spot on, sir. I had this epiphany some while back. When you're constantly subject to media persuasion, it is difficult to know when you're being told something or when you're being told to think something. I came to the conclusion that people watch television and read magazines, newspapers, et al less for information about the world and more to determine their own courses of action. The TV is the new Church!
As a result, I pulled the cable out of my television about 4-5 years ago and have never plugged it back in. Recently I spent a few days at a friend's of mine and, he being a normal person, much of our activity centred around watching television. I was pretty appalled at what I saw. Having been away from it for so long now, I saw how much of it really did revolve around subtly adjusting our minds. For instance, the UK economny is pretty poor at the moment - What did I see on TV? Three programmes in a row were:
1. A holiday programme that, contrary to their previous stances (in my recollection) and my own personal experience, made it pretty clear that going abroad is absolutely rubbish and the best holiday should be had in Britain. If you leave the Isles, you're the one missing out.
2. A property programme showing how happy someone was to not buy an extravagant mansion in the US but instead by a dilapidated barn in East Anglia despite it costing more. (Of course, renovation of unsaleable properties is a way to help the economy above buying them in the first place.)
3. A Gordon Ramsey (chef) programme that, contrary to the tradition of cookery programmes (learn to cook yourself), went on and on about how we must eat out more (also contrary to all those 'undercover' documentaries that showed us why we should eat out less).
Well, anyhow, you've hit on yet another of my bugbears: the dominant characteristic of a citizen is that of being a consumer. I was surprised when, after refusing to ratify the Kyoto agreement, Bush's explanation was along the lines of: We want to help protect the environment, but not at the expense of the American consumer. I was more surprised that I heard nobody speak of this description of Americans. How depresssing to be one.
Since turning away from TV and newsprint (there's not a single paper in the UK that can tell you news without telling you what to think about it), my new thing is material possessions. I had a lot, got rid of most and am still whittling them down. If you get out of the habit of attaching yourself to material goods, it makes it a lot easier to ignore people trying to sell you more.
You've reminded me of Pasolini's view that advertising and consumerism were extensions of fascist government (clearly this line is easier for Pasolini, an Italian under Musolini, to draw than for me). In his view, after WWII it became clear that controlling people with force was not an option: the Nazi's had given it a bad name, I suppose. The use of propaganda on all sides during the war provided the launch pad for a much more peaceful and effective method of control. The application of this principle to the homeland manifested itself in advertising. We've been happy shoppers ever since.
Sorry, that was a long post. You've just hit a topic I have a lot to say about, I guess.