21 February 2008

More Neocolonial Man

I just came across this in my ever expanding pile of luxury tourism ads - the materials I'm writing about with my colleagues Irina Gendelman and Adam Jawoski (see here). It's yet another Romanticized image of Neocolonial Man (see Global elites post). What makes this instance all the more peculiar is its unapologetic celebration/exploitation of St Kitts' original colonial occupation: "Discover why the Europeans fought over our island for more than 200 years ...".

And while I'm at it, how's this for a snapshot of Neocolonial Man in his comfort zone:

19 February 2008

The elite/luxury semioscape

One way I occasionally like to test the consumerist zietgeist is to run searches on major commercial image banks like Getty Images - responsible for more and more of the visual material we find in magazines, newspapers and advertisements. Here are two iNeedle-inspired words to try: luxury and elite (the links should work). What's interesting to see is the inevitable blending of traditional and contemporary markers of elite status - from top hats to infinity pools. What's more interesting to see is just how narrow the repertoire is - it starts to repeat itself very quickly. But what's most interesting is to see how Getty tellingly chooses to cross-reference key search terms with other semantically and ideologically loaded associations. For example, in the case of "elite", the immediate sub-categories suggested are glamour, elegance, relaxation, luxury and - here's where it gets interesting - happiness. And so what one ends up with is, first of all, a glimpse of what my colleague Giorgia Aiello and I have labelled the global semioscape: the transnational circulation of symbols, sign systems and other meaning-making practices. (And these seemingly innocuous symbolic flows evidently have material consequence - see my Indescribable deprivations post.) What one really ends up with, however, is the perpetuation of a mythology of elite status and luxury lifestyle which is not only visually narrow but also culturally and ideologically circumscribed. And perhaps, even, morally circumspect?

13 February 2008

The pleasureable performance of "have"

"The less appetizing the vagabond’s fate, the more savoury are the tourist’s peregrinations. " (Zygmunt Bauman, 1998, p. 98)
What a perfect comment on a profound reality this cartoon is: the "haves" want constantly to be reminded (not necessarily shown) what the "have nots" have not. Any pleasure to be had from privilege must, it seems, be always predicated on the knowledge that others are not privileged. While I'm sure reasons of security would be furnished if you asked, it is this principle which undoubtedly explains those flimsy curtains pulled haphazardly across the aisle to separate first-class passengers from business-class passengers from economy-class passengers. On newer Airbus-designed planes, these class dividers are nowadays made with see-through fabric. Anything more substantial, anything less opaque would be detrimental to the pleasurable performance of privilege. I promise this is motivated not only by my souring, shrivelled grapes, but I've often felt that the clinking of glassware and the tinkling of cutlery which comes from beyond the curtain is a deliberate ploy to achieve the same effect.

Bauman, Zygmunt. (1998). Globalization: The Human Consquences. Cambridge: Polity Press.

08 February 2008

Luxury advertising: The envy of glamour

"The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And [advertising] is the process of manufacturing glamour. … [advertising] is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of other. [Advertising] is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others. The happiness of being envied is glamour. … Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest - if you do, you will become less enviable."
An observation from John Berger's (1972, p. 131) book Ways of Seeing (London: BBC & Penguin Books).