Pavlov's dogs

The average American is exposed to more than 1,500 ads a day. Billboards, T-shirt logos, the sides of buses, drink coasters, matchbooks--advertisements have invaded every nook and cranny of our daily lives. Still we insist we're not influenced by their messages. Not much, anyway. Talk about ego.

Philadelphia filmmakers Harold Boihem and Chris Emmanouilides will gladly drag that bloated ego through their battlefield of deconstruction and irony-laden meditation--they get to the bottom of the effect advertising has on our reality in their 1996 documentary The Ad and the Ego.

In the tradition of Errol Morris and Michael Moore, if not Joseph Campbell, this is entertaining self-scrutiny in the smartest sense: The constant onslaught of advertising, which we believe we tune out, has become the most influential carrier of information and symbolism in our culture. We, like Pavlov's dogs, respond whether we want to or not. Just ask any sociologist. Some really insightful ones lend their discourse to the film, and their wry delivery and informed cases, as well as the deluge of imagery from both familiar and obscure ads, keep this quick-cut flick speeding right along its funny-disturbing foundation.

And leave it to Jason Cohen, owner of Forbidden Books and maestro of the disturbing in these parts, to sponsor a screening of this fascinating gem. On Thursday, February 18, at the Hiltop Inn he'll present the film, as well as Mark Hosler of Negativland (the media pirates who supplied the documentary's soundtrack). Hosler will speak before and after the screening and show rare videos from the Negativland vaults.

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In the midst of outlining the history of ads and vivisecting their repeated iconography, The Ad and the Ego drives its point home again and again through different angles that ultimately give the film far more dimension than you'd expect from such an obvious kneecapper. Ads turn power into beauty. Ads make you discontented with what you have and therefore who you are. Ads make you associate their product with the things that are important to you: freedom, family, money, romance, health. And, most insidious, in teaching us to be consumers, ads are the primary culprit in the depletion of the environment. Yow. Kinda makes the way you yell, "Man, this is such a stupid commercial!" seem a bit superficial. Tuning in may be a lot healthier than tuning out.

The Ad and the Ego has won accolades from Wired, The Village Voice, even ADWEEK, though it's not likely to pop up on network television anytime soon. (Can you picture the execs at Nike giving the OK to run the newest Michael Jordan mini-epic during the broadcast? All that consumer salivating turned to critical scrutiny.) So here's your chance to change the way you think about--and we mean really think about--the next commercial break.

--Christina Rees

The Ad and the Ego will screen at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 18, at the Hiltop Inn, located at the corner of Mockingbird and Central Expressway. Admission is $5 and refreshments will be available. For more info, call Forbidden Books at (214) 821-9554.

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