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
Three Representations of Children in Poverty

Children's International Aid

In this relief organization's commercial we meet an undernourished, poorly clothed child named Michelle. The narrator, Walter Coppage, makes a plea for donations to help this girl and the other children pictured. The children in this ad don't smile, don't play, don't run. They exhibit the body language of helplessness -- saddened faces, tattered clothing. Often depicted clinging to an adult or some dull inanimate object, they have no energy. The backgrounds are colorless, lifeless slums. These are the world's poor located 'overseas.' We don't know the nations of these scenes. Nor do we know the political economic forces or social relations that structurally premise this poverty. These images coupled with Coppage's plea are simply designed to tug on our heart strings. Do we, the well-off, feel guilty enough to send in a donation?

American Express 'Charge against Hunger' campaign

The children in this commercial are smiling and happy thanks to American Express. There is no desperation here. It is the quick fix method to eliminate suffering. Even though this program is aimed at the United States the background music in this ad is African. It is upbeat and communal inviting the viewer to become part of the human community. Ironically, entrance to this community is going to the local mall and accruing some credit card debt. When corporations venture into the imagery of poverty, the signifiers of possibility and promise replace the signifiers of hopelessness. Sullen faces are now smiles; inactivity becomes play; slums are replaced by communities. Statistics are flashed on the screen to provide empirical evidence that the American Express campaign works. For American Express hunger can be reduced by simply buying more commodities. Consumers don't have to give up disposable income in the form of taxes to support social programs. They don't have to donate funds to organizations like Children's International Aid. It's a win/win situation. Moreover, there is no sense that American Express is simply donating a small portion of its profits drawn from high interest rates attached to commodity desire and subsequent overconsumption. We don't see any statistics on corporate profits nor on the cost of this public relations campaign. Unfortunately, the State and its programs don't advertise this way. Imagine shots of a happy family cashing in their food stamps.


No matter how big or small
is filled with potential.
Every mind
whether it exists in wealth or poverty
has the ability to think great thoughts.
Every idea
no matter who it comes from
is full of possibilities.
Cargill believes this potential must be nourished because the better we are fed the more we hunger to achieve.

In a series of images linking childhood and possibility Cargill takes the poverty out of being poor. We see one scene of a British factory and child that appears as the narrator's states 'poverty.' Otherwise, this scene fits so neatly into the aesthetic of the commercial that without narration it would not be equated to poverty or hunger. The use of the adjective 'every' connotes a sense of inclusiveness suggesting that social class, nationality, gender, and ethnicity do not matter. Acknowledging poverty as just another social category, Cargill celebrates universal humanism. Likewise, the children and settings associate Cargill with global multiculturalism. Aesthetic devices, such as decontextualization, abstraction, choral music, portraiture associated with grandeur (rocket launch, cargo ship, wind generating power stations, a country estate, etc.), and an uplifting narration abstracts and sanitizes the scenes. Cargill presents itself as a corporation committed to feeding the children of the world while the imagery suggest connotes a healthy world in which progress and achievement are ongoing endeavors.

Legitimation advertising rarely shows human suffering. When it does, it is only to set up a resolution provided by a corporation or its products. Moreover, political economic causes are never linked to social problems such as lack of basic needs-food, shelter, and medical care. We don't see child labor, barrios and slums, undernourished or diseased children, nor migrant labor so essential to food production. In its own advertising discourse, Capital constructs itself as a dynamic positive force remaking the world for the better. Children serve as signifiers giving evidence to universal progress without ever acknowledging the ravages of neo-colonialism and transnational capital formations.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey