AN EXTENDED RIFF/DIALOGUE ABOUT THE APPROPRIATION OF SUBCULTURAL SIGNIFIERS

RAW

Sorry to leave people hanging on this; yeah, and I know the image came out crap. This ad is for clothing: "Street Clothing" is the given name in the bottom right corner. The street 'tag'-style stuff at the top reads: "R.A.W.: Ready And Willing." The rest of the cryptic writing (the red squiggles) reads

"Feed Your Head. ...Face the Phenomenon ...Disciples of truth...there's a revolution goin'on..."

6. sexy 2/10/93 10:22 PM

At this point in time there is another big upsurge in whities trying their best to be homeboys. Jazz, Rock-n-roll, Disco, Breakdancing, Rap etc. For a while there we were all happy being WASPy J. Crew people but once again we're searching the ghetto for a little spice and authenticity. This ad definitely has that gang, graffiti, and rap thing going.

As far as Adam and Eve idea goes, it's quite possibly one of those Jungian archetype signifier deals. I can't really imagine it being too much of a conscious decision. But maybe. I mean as far as the obvious content goes anyway, this ad is more about high-gloss pop-n-punk culture nonsense than it is any single narrative. It reminds me of all the ads I used to see in "Thrasher" in the eighties. You really couldn't get this together too easily: why is he kneeling? Why the middle of the street? Why is his face covered? etc. It's main thing is more of just trying to describe a scene which don't happen on your mundane street corner, whitey. Take the idea of "revolution" and then the fact his concealed face and her motorcycle mirrored glasses lend the whole thing an interesting covert-feeling. Then you could go off on the possibility of the red cartoon explosion around the apple as signifying a bomb etc. We need Robert Anton Wilson to figure out some weird conspiracy theory about connections between racial/class revolt and the garden of eden and possibly even the ancient Scottish-Rite Masons. The shirt pattern, probably an actual product they are trying to sell believe it or not, reminds me of some medieval knight pattern. Apples are a hard sign to figure out and I must admit that it does bring the garden of eden to mind. But I don't feel enough now to really say much more. I'll say more later.-t.o.

7. BeatBob 2/11/93 7:00 PM

The garden of Eden thing was quite intelligent. I never would have made the connection... What about the background? It looks like Beverly Hills to me. I don't know what street, but I've seen movies that used these trees to show Beverly Hills (e.g. Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy driving down the palm-tree lined street). In other words, the trees are synonymous with B. Hills. If I'm even close to right, then maybe the clothes are supposed to appear to be expensive and in great demand by the bourgeoisie....

Another thing: not to be racist or anything, but blacks are not exactly a common sight in B. Hills. I think this is supposed to show that it's totally out of place. I guess the ad is trying to stand out to the viewer. Another thing about the B. Hills analogy: could they be trying to hit onto the 90210 market? Those people would be the prime market for white, "wanna-be" rappers who think they'll be cool if they wear this type of clothing

8. tcg 2/11/93 8:28 PM

Clearly, this ad is so hyper-symbolic that it prompts a wide-open interpretive space. Perhaps too wide. Is it adam & eve, the garden of eden, an intertextual piece about the usual media images of race and class? Each time I glance at this ad, I construct a different narrative of the relationship between these obscure and oddly contextualized image references. Who is to say which interpretation is correct or incorrect...?

9. sexy 2/11/93 9:14 PM

I do not think what was said above is racist. It would be racist if he said people of color don't belong in B. Hills. Simply pointing out the prejudice of that uppity area is not enough to tag one with a label like bigot. Besides on our watered down, bleached out campus, white folks think they can't talk about black folks for fear of what? Of admitting ignorance or making a p.c. faux pas and putting their foot in a quagmire of incorrect terminology. It is difficult to approach the reality of race unless it is sanctioned as an abstract, socio-political concept within the classroom and discussed on certain platitudes. How about the fact that no one has suggested that the guy in our ad could be Adam, especially considering the nubile dashing duo's first home was in an area where there were no white folk? I guess my point is that actions like the one I just mentioned are a lot more harmful than the observation made by Steve. If you can't talk about it, and call something as you see it, how will anything change?

10. sexy 2/11/93 10:43 PM

If we assume that the narrative of this ad is that of the Garden of Eden story, and more than one person now sees that here, how are we to read the figures in this ad into the story? Some have suggested that he is Satan, and she is Eve, or that he is Adam, that the apple is, of course, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, complete with dangerous cartoon explosion, and that the palm-lined boulevard evokes verdant life of the Garden of Eden.

My own view of this ad is that it can be read with Genesis 3, or Milton's reading of it even, in mind. But I don't see him as Adam, or her as Eve. This is a Los Angeles staging of Genesis 3, with asphalt, cars and palm-trees taking the place of the innocent wilderness of birds, bushes, and fruit of Eden. Good and Evil, the knowledge of "truth," of real street reality that will lift off the dreary innocence of modern bourgeois culture's mythology of alienation, is proffered by our mystery man. The knowledge is dangerous, just like leaving home is dangerous, but its just so tempting. Waving her arms, urging you on, is our brave woman, so brave she's in the boulevard bare-chested, doing anything but appearing. So go ahead and do it, "feed your head," become one of the "disciples of truth", because "there's a revolution going on," and you don't want to be left out of what's happening in the streets, do you? You'd wonder for the rest of your boring life if you'd missed your big chance to live on the edge, to break out of here. "Face the Phenomenon," it tells you, in the graffiti-font of the streets.

He is not the serpent. Perhaps she is the serpent, tempting you with the freedom she has. Or perhaps she's liberated Eve, who's already taken a bite, and is showing you how great it is. Or perhaps you are Eve, or Adam, and she is the Serpent, tempting you with lies. ( Or perhaps the advertisement/ media system as a whole should be read as the Satanic lie.) You are the one being drawn in, with the imperatives and indicatives, the funky images, the graphic designs.

Why are they (who are they?) drawing you in? Who is the man holding the apple dangerously close to us, so that we could almost grab it if we were to just try? If she is the serpent, and we are Adam and/or Eve, then who is he? Is he God? It was not Satan that put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, Satan merely was the one who manipulated Eve into consuming the Fruit, and thus gaining human consciousness. It was God who made the Tree, made the Fruit. It was God who (in Paradise Lost at least) planned the whole thing, knowing full well that Satan would convince them to take a bite.

A black man as God, you say? Never said in the bible what color He was, it's only that most of the depictions of him we've seen have been of a white man, and these are the post-modernoid nineties where all the conventions of traditional morality are turned on their head so as to shock you. Why is he covering up his face, if he's God, you ask? I could say that this would be a way of signifying the eternal, universal and unknowable qualities of the Deity. But why have God the Creator be a Black Man, a member of one of the most oppressed and stereotypically pigeon-holed groups our national culture has in its hard-drive of mythical images? God as anonymous Black Man, anonymous DANGEROUS Black Man does create some interesting tensions for the development of my Garden of Eden reading of the RAW ad, and I'm not sure how to resolve that one. I think what we have here is an over-lapping of appropriated referent systems. Perhaps another reading of this ad, one of ghetto rebellion, is one that I, or somebody else, can do next.

So God is holding the fruit for us/from us, and the Serpent is urging us on, tempting us, and we're all in the Boulevard of Eden going through this primal scene. Who are WE? How are we to fit ourselves into this little story, complete the narrative? How are we to continue on and gain the Forbidden Knowledge? And become "Disciples of Truth?" And join the Revolution in the Streets? Since of course this is but an image on a page in a fashion magazine, we can not actually interface with the story we read in to the photo.

BUT we are given markers as to the path to this dangerous, on the edge, "truth." "R.A.W." "Ready and Willing." "Street Clothing." There's even a little blue logo in the lower right corner of a devil with a pitchfork (nudge-nudge.) Through consumption of this line of clothing we can become a "disciple of truth", maybe. At the least we would be able to "feed [our] head" or, actually, feed our commodity-self. We can incorporate the forbidden knowledge of the streets, where things happen, like revolution, into our fashion-self, and thus break out of the boredom of our dull alienated quotidian suburbs. What's more, we can do it and stay right here on our otherwise dull palm-lined suburban automobile environment. We don't have to take a walk into the Wasteland once we've tasted of this Fruit, we only have to go to the mall, buy some clothes, and the appearance of the Wasteland will come (in)to us. That way we can feel like we're living dangerously, as if we were in the harsh Good-and-Evil conditions of the ghetto streets in revolt, but we can stay right where we are, just with a spicier, authentic street wardrobe.

So does this scheme put the advertiser, and the fashion magazine into the role of God, and of Satan? Omnipotent and able to control us mere mortal pawns? Perhaps.

Perhaps.

Other Ideas? Edward Ames.

 

11. sexy 2/11/93 11:39 PM

this ad is an ad for clothing: "Street Clothing" is the given name in the bottom right corner. The street 'tag'- style stuff at the top reads: "R.A.W.: Ready And Willing." The rest of the cryptic writing (the red squiggles) reads "Feed Your Head. ...Face the Phenomenon...Disciples of truth...there's a revolution goin'on..."

First off, this ad came from In Fashion, a hyper wow, hyper now mag for the twenty-Idon'tknowwhat generation.

RAW.....

Here's what Webster has to say:

raw--1. not cooked, 2. in its natural condition; not processed, 3. inexperienced, 4. abraded and sore, 5. uncomfortably cold and damp, 6. coarse, indecent, bawdy.

Here's what "Street Clothing" has to say. All of the above and a bit more--READY AND WILLING.

Holy smokes, I'm not sure if I am ready or willing. Of coarse, I don't believe my consent is a question here. It has already been assumed. (Williamson) I am either hip to this, whatever the blank it is or I'm not, I'm out, I'm just another drone. ("I'm in with the In Crowd. I go where the In Crowd goes." -- Mamas and Papa, that was for you bob)

This ad smacks of OH NO, POMO. Honestly, I am not sure there is a preferred meaning in this ad. The ad gurus, in their esteemed wisdom, have assembled a smattering of mismatched symbols, laden with meaning, message and myth. I do not believe a consensus could be reached on a single cohesive message. I think that may be the point. Grab the consumer's attention, if not his/her wallet. Force one to investigate the ad, search for meaning, feel lost and disconnected by the myriad of incongruous signifiers, yet be thrilled, titillated even intrigued while still confirming the jaded cynic in us all. It is back to the comment I once made that "All obscurity in advertising is the artifice of depth and profundity."

Has anyone out there in P. Forum land read Saul Bellow's book, Seize the Day ? Well, there's a discourse on how there is no longer a common language. That if one wanted to ask another for a glass of water, to even speak of water, one needs to go back to Genesis and the origins of water to even understand what two people mean when they speak of water. So how does this relate to the ad?

The Language of advertising breaks down in this ad. I agree with the possible interpretation of Paradise Lost. (LA = Paradise?) I saw the woman as being the serpent, but maybe that is because I have been indoctrinated to believe women are the root of all evil because the love of money is now Kosher. The apple's a given. And the guy? God only knows. I did notice the challenge that both models present. They are both eyeing the consumer. Both are provocative, him almost skeptical questioning, her in the background as unabashed exhibitionist. But it doesn't stop there. They have confused the look even more through a bit of cross-dressing masculinization of the woman. Though she is appearing, just posing, her pose is strong, "in your face" and somewhat mocking, notice the puckered lips. Not to mention the masculine glasses ala Eric Estrada of former CHIPS fame.

Isn't disruption and breakdown one of the indicators and precursors to revolution? Maybe. There's one goin' on according to this ad and I better find it. Yet even with the glib statements of "Feed Your Head. ...Face the Phenomenon...Disciples of truth..." I feel frustrated by their making such daring challenges and only offering their trendy garments as a way to meet these demands. I think their revolution is a cultural one, a vision-quest of fashion. Beyond the various hodge-podgy meanings I could try to dig up with my proverbial ad pooper-scooper, I think this ad calls on a "SCENE." (many do) This scene is Hollywood, no not the star dappled glitz, but rather the harsh 4. abraded and sore, and 6. coarse, indecent, bawdy look of the Sunset Strip. Urban surrealism is hip. In attempting to recreate or translate that scene, the ad-dorks are capitalizing on the feel the two aforementioned definitions. The walks of life, the style on the street, let alone the Strip, is as random as this ad. I think broad interpretation is near impossible and not necessarily a question. One is just to make the connection to the scene, to life shattered, out of bounds, on the edge. Dig it.

Feed you tummy, julia reid.

ps I wrote number 9, number 9, number 9...

 

12. sexy 2/12/93 2:35 AM

White people don't feel so good says it all.

The symiotics thing is a bit confusing to me. This is a relatively small company. They probably set out to create an ad which was : cheap and simple, yet baudy, urban, sexy, slightly shocking, definitely black, and definitely in the ambiguous fragmented young modern style. One important thing about selling stuff to wealthy white kids is that you can't tell them the whole story. We've inherited the bourgeois necessity to feel like we are above or ahead of those around us. So when selling a glamour-image to us, you've got to flatter us with the idea that we are seeing something that is hidden and exclusive, even though in truth the images chosen are often almost completely random human creations. So this small company gets somebody to create a weird storyboard thing, gets everybody together, and makes the shoot. They would probably laugh to hear us try and get to the bottom of an image that was probably quickly produced.

This is not to say that your conclusions about the semiotics are in any way wrong, it is just that it raises questions about the nature of how it all works. When you say that this image is signifying the garden of eden etc., is it all based on the idea that human beings make no true mistakes, whether planned and contemplated or unplanned and spontaneous, and the idea that there are some sort of universal cultural archetype thing? Or are these conclusions based on the belief that the advertiser is 100% aware of the image's semiotics. I mean, as soon as I read Williamson's first ad analysis ( the tire ad) I though she was talking about ritual magic and Jungian-style stuff. Which is completely rational, it's just that she doesn't seem to discuss it as that. Whats with it? What is the whole paradigm underneath it? Out of curiosity anyway.-t.o.

13. sexy 2/12/93 4:12 AM

I wouldn't say that these ideas of semiotics are based on the idea that humans "create no true mistakes", or that there is any kind of "universal archetype thing" though I don't know a lot about the latter concept, just enough to know that I'm suspicious of it. Perhaps the advertisers didn't plan this ad out and they probably would be laughing at us, but I think that there is some kind of meaning there (or form and concept signification if you want to be Barthesian.) Who knows what the advertisers were up to. But does it always matter what they intended? Especially when it CAN be discussed in terms of a very commonly shared story. I wouldn't say that they spent no money on producing it, because there are some very interesting things going on in it, and they did spend a lot of money to get in to a slick nationally distributed fashion magazine. This ad is just so ambiguous in what it wants us to get out of it, as are soo soo many of these contemporary avantgardoid ads, that I don't think they expect you to really get anything out of it, except a certain style, a certain zany haphazard style of the street, that would appeal to the desires of so many bored white kids in the suburbs to feel like they were experiencing some of the excitement of life on those mythical streets. (As if many of them would dare to walk on the types of streets where the truly exciting things do happen, the truly dangerous and festering streets of the ghettos of our nation.) I think the Jungians and the ritualists mistake for universals those things which seem eternal to us because they are more ancient than anyone can record, but are nevertheless products of historical circumstances, its just that they're historical circumstances that we can't define as such for the satisfaction of most because we can't show with documented proof a time when they did not exist. The story in Genesis of the tree of knowledge is certainly evoked in here, but perhaps only casually, with the apple and the implications of a couple of the slogans. From there we read the whole thing into it, and perhaps we read things into the images which are far-fetched and aren't based in anything the advertiser intended.

But what I think is definitely in there and that we didn't really discuss in detail is the whole LA riots theme. It's in there I am sure: A Los Angeles street, a Black Man in the middle of the street with his face masked, and the gang graffiti reading in part "there's a revolution going on." This is much more obvious than the Garden of Eden tangent, I think. Not that the Fruit of Knowledge isn't in there. It's tied in with the gang streets one quite a bit in some ways. In that the knowledge to be gained is that of the way "real" people live, meaning the way that real people who get angry in the streets and riot live. For the suburban consumers of RAW this revolution will not be live, it won't even be televised. It will be worn. Or so they will feel. Because that is the style that I see this company as building for its commodities. The aura of rebellion, of revolution even. Of the streets. Of the Real People. Its been a fashion since the sixties at least, for certain strata of consumers. Jeez, you can go downtown to a boutique and buy yourself a pair of old ratty jeans with holes in the knees that make you look as though you've been homeless in those jeans for a decade. What does THAT say? Now this company is trying to harness some of that mystique of authenticity, of the authenticity of poverty in the streets, (authentic to the middle and upper-class 20something consumers, at least) to sell their product. I'm sure it's been being done for a while, it's just I've never noticed it before this class and I started noticing ads.

As far as the whole Garden of Eden thing goes, I think that it's one convenient way of trying to figure out what is to me a not very user-friendly ad. It is an ad that I think is meant to be intimidating, in a gangbanger-sitting-next-to-you-on-the-bus sort of way. But that very intimidation, with the decipherable graffiti (most tags I've seen might as well be in Chinese for all that I can decipher them) and the implicit framing of an advertisement is meant I think to appeal to a desire for "reality" that is otherwise intimidating to suburban magazine-readers, but that can perhaps be tasted, obtained a bit, perhaps, through the purchase of these clothes. EdAmes.

 

16. sexy 2/15/93 8:37 AM

I'm just wondering how it is with an ad as vague as this one is that we are to be able to figure out what meanings the ad is stealing and distorting for its signification. The ad, the more I think about it, is more trying to communicate an impression of a certain style or sensation than it is trying to communicate some objective referent to the real world. It is an ad that is wholly subjective in its appropriated meaning. Perhaps the referent system stolen by this ad is less an impression of "street life" whatever that may be and is more attempting to reproduce and harness the style and feel of Mtv or some other such non-linear random depiction of the world, where the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, and that line swerves on a lot of detours and without a lot of rational direction. I don't know. EdAmes.

17. sexy 2/18/93 12:59 PM

Perhaps the RAW folks are giving us the appearance of calling upon some referents, and aren't actually doing it. Perhaps they are trying to impress us with their insane obscurity of reference, and are using that to pseudo-individualize an exclusive image for their duds. RAW would then be so exclusive in the referent systems that they appropriate that NO ONE can get them, yet everyone continues to think that there is something there to be comprehended. Thus the concept behind the signification of this piece would be that of the appearance of exclusive knowledge, and this they've attached to their clothes, or to the images they want to associate in our minds with their clothes. Its a truly alienated world when they can try to get away with something like that. And I still don't know for sure. But it is a fine breeding ground for nihilism. When something means nothing and nothing means something. And you're just left scratching your head. Not wanting to admit that you don't get it. But still wanting to go along. or something. Ed Ames

18. sexy 2/18/93 7:19 PM

I'm glad we're no longer talking about adam and eve. It's also important to note that this selling of exclusivity is an upper class phenomena. If this ad contained overtly displayed home-boys, to be easily decoded and interpreted by anyone, then the rich folks would not get their deflated Feudal-lord rocks off. You don't see to much of this sort of confusion in Time mag. or any of them. It's interesting that we all immediately assume that this ad is calling up any specific event or celebrity etc. Being the folks this ad is pointed at, we all know that this is all just avante-gard-for-the brainless.