Advertising, long a controlling force in industrial society, has provoked an important body of imaginative work by English language writers. Michael Ross's Designing Fictions is the first study to investigate this symbiotic relationship on a broad scale. In view of the appreciable overlap between literary and promotional writing, Ross asks whether imaginative fiction has the latitude to critique advertising as an industry and as a literary form, and finds that intended critiques, time and again, turn out to be shot through with ambivalence. The texts considered include a wide range of books by British, American, and Canadian authors, from H.G. Wells’s pioneering fictional treatment of mass marketing in Tono-Bungay (1909) to Joshua Ferris’s depiction of a faltering Chicago agency in Then We Came to the End (2007). Along the way, among other examples, Ross discusses George Orwell’s seriocomic study of the stand-off between poetry and advertising in his 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Margaret Atwood’s probing of the impact of promotion on perception in The Edible Woman (1969). The final chapter of the book considers the popular television series Mad Men, where the tension between artistic and commercial pressures is especially acute. Written in a straightforward style for a wide audience of readers, Designing Fictions argues that the impact of advertising is universal and discussions of its significance should not be restricted to a narrow group of specialists.
“An engagingly written, effective, and important book that will appeal not only to those who are interested in literature but also to those interested in advertising and marketing as key features of contemporary capitalist culture.” John Xiros Cooper, University of British Columbia
“Designing Fictions has a genial style, a learned demeanor, genuine insight, and gracious erudition. The range of reference is pleasantly wide and subtle and Ross’s scholarship and methodology are excellent.” Allan Hepburn, McGill University