There’s an initially obvious dissonance around the advertisements and business schemes that corporations are carrying out amid this year’s pandemic. It’s clearly distasteful for these companies to be profiting off of a disaster, and this naturally creates a sense of unease despite the attempt from these companies to convey earnest intentions. But it seems like nothing more than the usual commercialized shallowness until you realize that it has a very political purpose: to keep the people confused and socially fragmented during a time of economic crisis and growing class conflict.
In the last few months, tens of millions of people have permanently lost their jobs, which is creating a collapse of retail, exacerbating the new housing crisis, and bringing financial ruin to much of the American population. In August, which is when the government will stop givingspecial relief funds for the unemployed, the situation will get even worse. As this prompts our society to gain more negative attitudes about capitalism, the ruling oligarchy is trying to perpetuate the status quo by keeping people politically demobilized and uneducated about how to bring about revolution.
Throughout the history of neoliberalism, these traits have been instilled among the masses through a combination of engineered scarcity and propaganda. When poor and working people are struggling to survive, they’re more prone to ignore politics in favor of day-to-day concerns. And when the only information they’re exposed to is pro-capitalist political propaganda or advertising, they can’t develop the consciousness required for joining a revolution.
The pro-capitalist propaganda that we’re being exposed to in this moment usually involves the promotion of imperialist narratives; the anti-Chinese and anti-Venezuelan bluster that’s now being weaponized by both major presidential candidates represents the kinds of anti-socialist, nationalistic sentiments the ruling class seeks to propagate among the people. And to keep the population loyal to capitalism, or at least sympathetic towards those who profit from it, there’s an onslaught of Covid-19 commercialism and public relations campaigns for corporations.
We’re seeing companies create comforting ads about life in quarantine, seeing somber messages from companies about how much they care about our experiences during the pandemic, and sometimes seeing corporate brands be awkwardly placed next to directions towards Covid-19 testing sites. We’re also seeing the companies and wealthy figures who stand the most to gain from this crisis work to sell the solutions they’ve come up with. Google’s CEO is marketing a series of technological fixes to the state of New York. Bill Gates is also partnering with Governor Andrew Cuomo to proliferate his technologies throughout the state.
“It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent pandemic shock doctrine is beginning to emerge,” commentator Naomi Klein wrote last month. “Far more hi-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.”
In another fulfillment of the established patterns of neoliberalism, the social conditions that these companies are profiting off of is an exaggerated version of what life has long been like under late-state capitalism: systematically isolated from the community at large, filled with transactions that make daily activities commodified and artificial, and culturally defined by consumerism. Reflecting how advertisers have long tried to get people to associate their products with their personal identities, companies like Google and Amazon are now trying to get people to see them as friends that will help us all out during a difficult time.
And as far as the goods and services of these companies will benefit people during the pandemic, they’ll be able to make a case that they’re improving people’s lives. But look below the helpful Amazon deliveries and useful Google communications tools, and you’ll find the realities of current global capitalism that the Covid-19 ads don’t talk about.
You’ll find large corporations refusing to re-hire many of the workers who lost their jobs this year, all in order to save money. You’ll find that the executives of these companies have collectively gained hundreds of billions of dollars by profiting off of the pandemic, all while poor and working people suffer under a plutocrat-controlled government that’s soon to impose even more austerity. You’ll find that these companies are getting hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare. You’ll find that at the same time, income inequality throughout the neoliberal world is sure to vastly increase as a result of the pandemic.
You’ll also find that despite the humanitarian image these companies project, the system they’re perpetuating is making Covid-19 lead to a myriad of human rights abuses and humanitarian crises. ICE is putting putting and more refugees and undocumented people into overcrowded and unsanitary detention facilities. U.S. global bombing campaigns have been increasing during the pandemic. Recently tightened U.S. sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, and other countries are killing people in what amounts to genocide. The Navajo nation is being devastated by the virus, and other colonized communities dying from the pandemic far more than white ones are. America’s broken neoliberal healthcare system is unable to protect the poorest people from the pandemic, and the homeless are among the most vulnerable.
But these things aren’t shown in the messages that the corporatocracy produces. We’re supposed to think about how much a certain company cares about us, or how much a certain product can improve our lives during the pandemic, or which imperialist presidential candidate is tougher on China. And despite the advertising slogan “we’re all in this together,” we’re not encouraged to think about what’s happening to those in less comfortable positions than us. The cruelties and horrors that are happening can’t be acknowledged, because this would expose the deep rot of the system. And when evils like police brutality can’t be ignored, companies try to co-opt and sanitize the calls for justice.
The result is an environment where people can’t find a cohesive cultural narrative to grasp onto, aside from what’s presented to them by corporations and imperialist demagogues. Perhaps more than ever, neoliberalism has separated them from the rest of society and subjected them to the influence of advertisers. Covid-19 commercialism isn’t just about making money, it’s about deterring capitalism’s victims from thinking for themselves.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here: