Landscapes of Global Capital
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Feed the children
Corporate paternalism
The cure
High tech classroom
Child prodigy
The obnoxious visionary
Unfettered imagination
We care
Harmonious music
Cynicism of legitimation
You can't buy love
Harmony of technology

In his essay "The Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man," Herbert Marcuse (1970) argued that Freudian theory needed to take into account two historical changes in the role of the father: the decline of the father as a socializing agent and the decline of his role as the economic center of the family. Marcuse further suggested that ego formation shifted from identification with the father to identification with the economic/political administration, thus weakening the formation of critical subjectivity. Add to this the declining role of the State in providing economic support for the family even though its policies are based on the rhetoric of family values and we find a growing role in the private sector to support the emotional, social, and economic ties between family members (see Hochschild, 1998).

Insurance and financial investment companies capture the shifting relationship between father, corporation, and children in their advertising. Dean Witter, Aflac, John Hancock, and St.Paul Insurance imagistically embed corporate practices in narratives that embody support, concern, and care. These companies construct themselves as protectors of the future well-being of ones family. Leaving your children financially unprotected without corporate support in an economic uncertain world is to fail to play the traditional role of protector.

Loaded with signifiers of warmth and affection the Aflac commercial drains the commercial intent of the ad. Set on a scenic lake a father expresses care and concern: "Why do I have Aflac insurance on top of my regular health insurance? Because he has his mother's eyes." A solo piano plays a slow meandering tune. As the father continues the narration, the boy dives again into the peaceful waters of the lake.

In this Dean Witter commercial the Dean Witter character states how one must earn trust. A father stands in the water encouraging his young son to jump off the dock. His son does and the father is there to protect him from drowning. The analogy is set up. Just as your son can trust you not to let him drown so too can you trust Morgan Stanley Dean Witter to invest your money wisely so your son will have a future.

In a John Hancock ad children dressed as little cherubs dance across a room as the narrator states that "They are the sheep and we are the shepherds." The 'we,' however, is both parental and corporate eliding these two agencies. The female narrator assures us that investing with John Hancock now will ensure that you will be able to support your child's college education. Images of the innocent helpless children photographed in washed out warm colors, and mixed with music and a narrator's voice that overflows with warmth and affection are the aesthetic codes that are used to frame a benevolent corporate voice.

In a more spectacular fashion The St. Paul Insurance Corporation starts with a close up of a young girl standing in a field. Suddenly, a grazing black rhino spies her and begins to charge. As the operatic background builds to a crescendo of alarm, the edited sequence cross-cuts between the charging rhino, the motionless but not frightened child, and titles stating, "Trust" "is not being afraid" "even if you are vulnerable." The rhino pulls up short; the girl kisses his horn, and the narrator proclaims the trustworthiness of The St. Paul Insurance Corporation.

Sign Formulas & Branding

Signifying Clusters

Structural Frames

These commercials construct a world that positions the Corporation as the agency that can provide security for ones family. In a world of financial volatility playing the role of father is mediated by capital and ones participation in the corporate economy. Moreover, as the State disappears from view, the Corporation represents itself as paternalistic agent. But its security at a cost. Without capital to participate through investment and insurance these commercials paint a picture of a world of risk, insecurity, and vulnerability. Ironically, the equation 'capital equals family' appears to be an ironic perversion of the tradition notion that family relation exist outside of capital.

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey