Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Risk and status

Roland Marchand (1985) conceptualized advertising as social tableaux in which ads acted as snap shots of social relations and the structural arrangements that determined them. Marchand's analysis of 1920's advertising noted a recurring representation of the businessman as generic man. Often presented in glassed-in offices atop corporate towers gazing out over an urban landscape, Marchand described this generic businessman as "the master of all he surveys." Power was expressed through a panoptic relationship with physical space. Technological accoutrements, such as maps and telephones, combined with representations of social relations with subordinates to support this narrative. Moreover, this "view from the top" was always associated with males. These narratives of success and representations of status and power ushered in Modernity. They reflected the radical changes taking place in 1920's America. Contemporary advertising uses similar elements: technology as status signifier, the executive gaze surveying the landscape from atop a corporate tower. Attaching corporate brands with both corporate and personal success, the narratives appellate young executives responsible for corporate decisions. New elements have been added to this narrative. Cell phones and laptops replace phones. Digital imagery and virtual global representations often replace maps. And now the success narrative often focuses on a female executive or entrepreneur.

Climbing Mountains

First Union01-99Climbing the corporate ladder is often metaphorically signified by mountain climbing. Mountaintops and office towers often morph into one another. The First Union campaign, "Come to the Mountain," makes the metaphor explicit.

The following Arthur Andersen ad constructs a mock family history in which a mother takes her daughter to the mountains. While the mother works on her rock sculpture, her daughter takes to climbing -- first a ladder, then the mountains, then the corporate organization, aka the mountain of success. The film mixes footages of black and white and color but never achieving the look of hyperrealism. This clip mixes all the elements of a success story - climbing a mountain, inhabiting a corporate tower, gazing upward. In this case, the climb is made easier by choosing the right consulting company.

"As a child you came here with your family.
Your parents showed you the mountains and you saw no limit as to how high you could go.
Funny how what started as a vacation, grew into a passion, and eventually led to a career with a company that's taken you to the top of the world many times over.
But you had your challenges along the way.
By keeping an international organization focused and motivated.
Or structuring the acquisition of a key competitor.
At Arthur Andersen we help people make those kinds of decisions all the time. And that helps them focus on whatever it is that got them wherever they are. Which in some cases can be extremely important."


Arthur Andersen helping in ways you never imagined.

The male narrator's voiceover is riddled with phrases celebrating motivation and success:

  • "you saw no limit as to how high you could go"
  • "taken you to the top of the world many times over"
  • "you had your challenges along the way"
  • "whatever it is that got them wherever they are"

Images of mountain climbing blend with images of work at corporate headquarters. This montage depicts success not only as economically rewarding but as self-actualizing. This woman not only travels the world in search of challenges, but designs mountain climbing gear and clothing. This account recalls C. Wright Mills essay on the unity of work and leisure in which the categories of work and play collapse. Success is not just an economic category; work must have its intrinsic rewards. And while the office displays signifiers of global power: clocks set for different time zones and a world map, it also displays signifiers of personalized self-actualization: here, the rock sculpture that earlier appeared in the ad being cut by her mother.

In "Woman as an Island," Judith Williamson (1986) observed that ads often place women in island settings. Associated with harmonious Nature, women have often been placed in ads soaking up the rays and warmth of the sun but doing so in a subservient position: lying on the beach. Williamson argued that like islands, women were colonized and exoticized, exploited for labor and resources, and transformed into a 'vacation' site. Men, however, have historically been more often associated with mountains -- think of Coors or Busch beers and their iconic deployment of rugged mountain images. Unlike the beach the mountain signifies physical toughness. Nature's cliffs and rock formations appear demanding and uncompromising. In the newer genre of advertising featuring female executives, the focus is on breaking boundaries or glass ceilings. Climbing a mountain appellates women as physically and mentally tough, able to negotiate risk, and be successful. In the Arthur Andersen narrative, the female executive actively seeks out risk because it confronts ways of challenging the self to move up.


New Economic Formations
Commodification
Social Relations of Production
Information Economy

The new centurions < Previous

Next > Performance anxiety

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