SOCIAL TABLEAUX: Culture Shots

Social tableaux is comprised of those ads "in which persons are depicted in such a way as to suggest their relationships to each other or to a larger social structure" (Marchand, 165). Many ads are filled with objects (artifacts) and images which try to signify a slice of 'real life.' "They reveal the state of technology, the current styles in clothing, furniture, and other products, and sometimes the relative prices commanded by various goods" (165). But there is not just one tableaux available at any one point in time; ads speak to many familiar scenes, understandable by a wide cross-section of the viewing public even if they themselves do not have such a lifestyle.

We are instantly and cordially hailed upon setting foot in "Ocean Spray USA." This tableaux depicts the American Family prototype, hard at play. The signifiers are obvious: the grassy suburban yard; mother, father, 2.3 kids, all Caucasian; an obedient golden retriever; everybody in blue jeans, dad in casual khakis. Two more specific motifs are incorporated to further express the tableaux. Football is Americana, a completely commodified cultural pastime that everyone can gather around, especially at Super Bowl time. A red-white-and-blue borders framing the ad slams home the patriotic theme. Thus, Ocean Spray is injected into the American Dream by being associated to football, patriotism, and family values. It has been elevated to the status of the Great American Drink.

Marchand suggests that social tableaux ads are "determined primarily by merchandising strategy" and for task of 'reflecting society' (166). The great majority of families in America just do not fit the social tableaux prototype. The photo is even taken from the objective, 'God's eye' view, hoping to secure its authenticity. The ad positions us from above, gazing down on the normal family engaged in spontaneous activity. In this sense the tableaux is an invitation to join, hinging on the fact that most people want their families to be like this -- stable and carefree. The product is positioned as the means unto achieving this blissful state. Look how much fun we can have in Ocean Spray USA!