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Deon 1

Media Consumption in White Noise

Angela Deon December 4, 2009 Professor Eldred

Deon 2 Look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the slice-of-life commercials, the products hurtling out of the darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras. µCoke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it.¶ The medium practically overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get past our irritation, weariness and disgust (51).

The public is influenced and consumed with what they see and hear in the media. They take what they see in advertisements and other marketing approaches to influence their purchases as well as their behavior. Society models their lives on what a certain medium says. As stated in the quote above by one of the characters, there is a wealth of data in the media and people devour this medium of communication. Through marketing techniques, the consumer is sold on the product and learns what it is until they know the product and buy it. In Don DeLillo¶s novel White Noise, he wanted to show how society is consumed with the media through marketing techniques such as branding and the communication between a medium and the public. The function of marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and the society at large. To successfully market a product to the public, marketers use the tool of branding, meaning the target market has the ability to distinguish one product from another. The definition of brand is a name, term, symbol, design or combination thereof that identifies a seller¶s products and differentiates them from competitors¶ products. DeLillo understood this concept of branding when he wrote his novel White Noise as evidence of effective branding is displayed in the novel. In the scene where Jack and Babette are at the supermarket with their children and Murray. While looking through the fruit, DeLillo writes, ³A voice on the loudspeaker said: µKleenex Softique, your truck¶s blocking the entrance¶´ (36). Later in the supermarket, the adults

Deon 3 lose the small child, Wilder, and eventually found him in another woman¶s cart. As the woman headed towards the adults with Wilder, the words, ³Kleenex Softique, Kleenex Softique´ (39) are heard. It is most likely Wilder who was repeating what the loudspeaker stated. However, this exemplifies branding. Instead of saying that Kleenex Softique was a brand of tissues, it is assumed. It is implied that they are tissues even though it was not stated. If it was not for the media and their use of advertisements on television, newspapers, magazines and other mediums, brand names such as Kleenex would not receive recognition. Another example of media consumption that influences buying behavior and recollection of products is DeLillo¶s frequent use of brand names throughout the text, even when they are not directly associated with the story. For example, before the scene ended when Jack was in the supermarket, DeLillo wrote, ³µDristan Ultra, Dristan Ultra¶´ (167). This product is a cough suppressant which the reader reads as either an advertisement in the text or a product stated in the supermarket. Either way, the use and purpose of Dristan Ultra is once again not stated or the brand name proclaimed. Other instances like this also occur in the supermarket, which is filled with brands and advertisements, such as the scene where Jack and Murray discuss Jack¶s approaching death and what to do about it. During their discussion, there is a pause to take in some of the ³noise´ that is around such as a line that says, ³µTegrin, Denorex, Selsun Blue¶´ (289). Again, the illusion in the story is that these brands of shampoos, which the type of product is not explained meaning there is brand recognition, are either said aloud as an advertisement or in general in the store. The product is not explained but assumed and revealed at random moments because it is always on the consumer¶s mind thanks to branding. A similar approach is also used when DeLillo puts the word ³Panasonic´ (241) on a completely separate line than the rest of the text. Panasonic is a brand of electronics and is out of

Deon 4 place while Jack thinks about Babette¶s affair with Mr. Gray. A television was involved in the affair, since that is the only memory Babette has from the action, but that is not stated. Instead, the brand of television is explained in the story on the last line of the chapter. DeLillo throws these bits of information like ³Panasonic´ (241) to show the reader that they know what he is saying without actually saying it. DeLillo stated the brand of television because it plays a crucial role in the affair. Babette only remembers the television in the room during the affair and later when Jack arrives to find ³Mr. Gray,´ later known as Willie Mink, he recognizes the room because of the television. This piece of electronics must have been on his mind while thinking about the affair and so the brand name of the electronic is stated. Society is obsessed with the media. It influences people¶s lives by controlling what they buy, eat, drink, think, attend to and do. DeLillo shows that people will buy what they know and they know products because of their brand names, not necessarily because of the item itself. This is brand recognition which is apparent in the previous examples. The public recognizes the brand and buys it due to their associations with it. Certain mediums are able to influence this by what they say in the medium as well as where the product is located and how it looks, for example, the label has a great influence on branding. People, like Jack and Babette, are drawn to the name and how it physically looks, which is part of this marketing approach. On the other hand, Murray did not comply with the typical advertisements or brand names. While at the supermarket, he did not follow Jack and Babette¶s example of buying name brand products. Instead, he fell for another type of branding technique that some companies use. These companies create generic products which are typically no-frills, no brand-names, low-cost products that are simply identified by its product category. These types of products appeal to customers mainly because of their low prices. However in Murray¶s case, his ³basket held

Deon 5 generic food and drink, non-brand items in plain white packages with simple labeling´ (18). He goes on saying that, ³Flavorless packaging. It appeals to me. I feel I¶m not only saving money but contributing to some kind of spiritual consensus. It¶s like World War III. Everything is white. They¶ll take our bright colors away and use them in the war effort´ (18). He has a connection with the products, not only through the low-prices and non-existing labels but because the product still functions like it is supposed to. The only difference is that it lacks a label and a brand. Even though Murray does not buy products because of their brand, this is a branding technique and so indirectly he still buys branded products and follows the media. Murray sees the brands and retreats to the opposite direction, which is what companies want some customers to do. As a result, in Murray¶s case as well as others in society, the influence of the media in advertisements has an opposite effect. DeLillo¶s examples epitomizes that it is hard to escape the world of marketing and the influence of branded products. However, the reason people follow these techniques is because of the communication between the media to the consumers. The communication model represents this connection. When an individual or organization has a message it wishes to convey to a target audience, it encodes that message using language and symbols familiar to the intended receiver and sends the message through a channel of communication. Noise in the transmission channel distorts the source¶s intended message. Reception occurs if the message falls within the receiver¶s frame of reference. The receiver decodes the message and usually provides feedback to the source. Normally, feedback is direct for interpersonal communication and indirect for mass communication. DeLillo promotes the communication process through examples in his novel displaying how people indirectly respond to what the media says. During the airborne toxic event, the

Deon 6 communication model is evident when the radio conveyed messages telling the public the effects of the chemical Nyodene D. The first set of symptoms the radio told listeners was that exposure could cause ³ irritation and sweaty palms´ (111). Once this broadcast was out, Denise and Steffie complained of sweaty palms. However, they were late in their symptoms because the effects had changed and the public was told that they ³...ought to be throwing up´ (112). The girls still showed symptoms of the sweaty palms, even though they were inaccurate, and gave the illusion that they were throwing up when Denise ³...walked in, rubbing her hands on her jeans´ (112) and ³She looked at her palms and went upstairs´ (113). Later, the radio said that the chemical ³...doesn¶t cause nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, like they said before.´ Instead it caused, ³Heart palpitations and a sense of déjà vu´ (116). Once again, the girls complained

of having similar symptoms, but it was after the fact. When the final symptoms were expressed through the radio, Jack made sure the girls did not hear it so they would not mimic the new symptoms. Babette ³...immediately began talking to the girls while [Jack] turned the volume down to keep them from learning what they might imagine was in store for them´ which were ³Convulsions, coma, miscarriage´ (121). These examples explain that once the message is encoded and chosen to be amplified through the medium of the radio, the girls listened and decoded the message. Once the message was decoded, they provided feedback which was to follow the radio on what it said and imitate the symptoms. The media has a great deal of influence over people¶s actions and thoughts, which DeLillo wanted to portray in these scenes. The girls demonstrate through their imitations that the media controls one¶s behaviors. This influence of the media over people¶s behaviors may not always have harmless effects, but could be damaging. If the message encoded is decoded in the wrong way either because of the person¶s interpretation or the way it was encoded, disaster could occur. DeLillo

Deon 7 indicates these harmful results from decoding messages from the media with Heinrich¶s prisoner correspondent. Heinrich played chess with a man in prison who was convicted of murder. When Jack asked his son about it, Heinrich told him that the prisoner killed six men in Iron City, including a state trooper, as a rooftop sniper because he ³been hearing voices´ (44). More specifically, he killed total strangers because of the voices he had heard on TV. The prisoner said the TV was, ³Telling him to go down in history. He was twenty-seven, out of work, divorced, with his car up on blocks. Time was running out on him´ (44). Jack responded to this by saying the media mediums are ³Insistent pressuring voices´ (45). However, despite his efforts, the prisoner did not receive any media credit and if he could redo his efforts, he said he would do it as an assassination and kill one famous person. The prisoner received the media¶s message that he should go down in history and make something of himself. However, instead of acting in a heroic sense like the message was supposed to convey, he tried to make himself become famous through evil actions. The media¶s influence is portrayed through the prisoner¶s actions of killing innocent people because DeLillo wanted the reader to translate the message that they should not be influenced by the media and have their own ideas. People are absorbed with the media and allow these mediums to tell them what to do, which is only truly effective if the message is interpreted in the correct way. DeLillo¶s prisoner is an example of how a message translated by the media could be misinterpreted, which ultimately could cause harm. Jack was also vulnerable to the power of the media when it influenced him to attempt to kill Willie Mink. He planned the attack earlier after he found out about Babette¶s affair with ³Mr. Gray.´ When he went to the motel one night, Jack thought of a plot that could only end in death (which he mentioned earlier in the novel). This plot adapted several times to the events

Deon 8 occurring until eventually, like in a movie, Jack shot Willie and saw the effects himself. Jack enjoyed the scene and shot Willie multiple times. It was like he was watching the action on film, until he was shot himself and forced back into reality. The pain finally drove him out of the movie and into real life. This shows that the media can play tricks on people who interpret the messages that are exhibited for them. If a message is misinterpreted, such as the violence shown through different mediums, harm may occur. In this case, Mink was harmed as well as Jack who was then finally released from the media¶s spell and saw the real message. Through branding and the use of the communication model, DeLillo shows evidence that society is absolutely consumed with the media. The media affects what people buy through their attempts to persuade the consumer to buy the branded items more than the generic. However, companies also use the generic product strategy to also make a profit. Products receive brand recognition because the name does not have to be explained, it is just a fact that Kleenex Softique are tissues. The media does this and not only influences people¶s buying behaviors, but how they act, which is effective through the communication model. The media translates or encodes a message to the people who then receive it, decode it, understand it and send feedback for comprehension. Between Denise and Steffie mimicking the symptoms they heard on the radio to the harmful impact of the media on Heinrich¶s prisoner chess correspondent, the modern age cannot escape the media¶s power. DeLillo knew of these approaches by the media and the effects they had, so he communicated it to his readers. Furthermore, he used the media, his novel White Noise, to send his message that people are too consumed with the media.