The Illusionists

54 min. and 42 min. Media Education Foundation. 2015. High schools $150. Public libraries $34.95. ISBN 9781944024965.
Gr 9 Up—Advertisers promote a white, Westernized image that bears little resemblance to what most humans look like, according to this documentary about advertising. Insecurity sells products by using aspirational marketing: consumers are told that if they buy a certain product, they will be happy and successful. Using this idea, cosmetics companies sell skin lightening and self-tanning products; which one depends on where in the world consumers reside. A marketing firm in Japan took Photoshop to an extreme by creating a whole person out of various parts from half a dozen members of a popular singing group. The filmmakers also reveal some attempts by consumers to fight the pervasive advertising with petitions to have less-altered photos in fashion magazines and the use of anticosmetics billboards, but this closing segment feels rushed, and the narration states the obvious: it will be hard to fight such a big, successful machine. Frontline's "The Merchants of Cool" episode came out more than 16 years ago, but it is better and more complete than this film. It is currently streaming on PBS online along with downloadable teacher resources.
VERDICT This documentary on how advertising psychologically manipulates people does not shed any new light on the subject.

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