Representing Global Capital
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However paradoxical it may seem, myth hides nothing:
its function is to distort, not to make disappear.

Barthes, 1972:121.

How does Capital represent itself? And how does Capital represent itself in a period of dramatic change and transition? A new morphology of transnational capital has evolved in recent years characterized by the increasing flexibility of financial capital flowing across national borders; by modes of production organized around horizontally integrated subcontracting, outsourcing and licensing arrangements; by the sneakerization of production and consumption; by increasing job mobility and insecurity; by a global electronic network that compresses time-space relations; and by postmodern cultural formations. Catch phrases such as flexible accumulation, just-in-time production, post-Fordism, casino capitalism, neo-liberal market economy, network society, and global cultural economy abound in an attempt to describe emergent global economic arrangements.

While corporate advertising sells services, brands, and commodities, it also constructs a vision of these new economic structures and functions in their narratives, signifiers, and backgrounds. Simply put, corporate advertising teaches us how "capital works." But along the way there is a slight twist -- morphology becomes mythology. Advertising representations of a world created by MCI07-98Capital strip away the lived, historical consequences of Capital and replace them with utopian Capital -- the latter is an image, a reinvented Capital that has taken shape in an age of accelerated market forces and advanced technologies. This new Capital, as represented in its advertising, has a vision of an inevitably smarter future presided over by autonomous technology and ubiquitous financial capital. In this new system of global capitalism, anchored in stock markets, harmonious social relations reign. The advertisements assemble landscapes of utopian capital by stitching together decontextualized, abstracted signifiers. Hence, for example, the promise of a friction-free economy and society can be constructed around images of light beams framed by slogans such as Qwest's "Ride the light." Frozen in the image here, WorldCom beam of light heralds a new era of peace and happiness that is right at our children's fingertips.

Here, out of simplification, abstraction, decontextualization and absence, myth is born. In this section we examine corporate commercials where myth inhabits the landscape. Because it is seen at every moment, it is transparent. Here, we attempt to draw out the morphology of Capital, that is, to recognize the tenets and assumptions that Capital accepts as natural economic mechanisms. We have subdivided the analysis into four sections. Each presents its own slant of the mythology of Capital.

link to mapping global capital theme
link to global capital theme
link to semiotics of advertising theme
link to grand narratives theme
link to geography of capital theme
link to conquering time and space theme
New Economic Formations Commodification Social Relations of Production

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