Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Constructing the new global landscape

Globalization has been a hot topic for the last few years Just counting numbers of titles, globalization may be one of the most overstudied phenomenon of the last decade. Some of the literature about how global capitalism is transforming the world is critical (e.g., William Greider, 1998.) while others paint a rosy, but inevitable, scenerio (e.g., Thomas Friedman, 1999). While the debates about globalization rage on, little attention has been given to how globalization is represented in the electronic media.

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Why do advertisers often resort to the distortion of the fisheye lens in order to represent the internal landscape of corporate work spaces? How does such distortion accurately represent the phenomenology of daily life in a hyper-market society?

We've also seen a rising tide of commercials that address the subject of globalization. In the early to mid-1990s, notable efforts in this direction included Merrill-Lynch's corporate campaign built around its Asian empire theme; AT&T's global-"China" campaign; and IBM's multi-culture, but one-world "language" ads.

Our initial draft for this section carried the thick title, "The Cartography of Ads: Time, Space and the Collapse of History, Geography, Sociability & Narrative." Here, we began to sketch out an argument that went something like this: 1990s corporate advertising for products ranging from Reebok shoes to AT&T phone services to Merrill-Lynch investments all offered a curious endorsement of both postmodernism and what we refer to as "hypermodernism" -- modernism on steroids and amphetamines. Ad campaign after ad campaign from the early 1990s depicted a 'new global order' whose vaguely utopian aura rested on the structural absence of community, society, and state -- indeed social relations were representationally narrowed down in these depictions to relationships between isolated individuals and the panoramic presence of the Corporation. While stressing a glorious new age of multicultural diversity, these representations banished production relations, and indeed, turned all geographic places into abstracted signifiers. Orange-robed monks and camels traversing the desert had become the preferred signifiers in a heavily abstracted advertising geography of global capitalism. In advertising, signifiers of cultural geography are key to identifying geo-location.

Scenes such as this have become familiar in corporate ads. The absence of ground connotes transcendent global space. The horizontal axis added to the scene by the now-familiar continuously running stock ticker at the bottom reinforces the assumptions of abstraction.
In this style of advertising, technologies are shown cementing consensual relations the world over by collapsing distance via telephone and screen and computer. This vision of time-space compression has become so common that it tends to become invisible. But that is not all that is collapsed. These ads often reconstruct consensual distance, oddly enough, or perhaps, appropriately enough, by removing the ground as a coordinate of our vision. Meanwhile internal landscapes are frequently constructed by means of fisheye lens distortion.

Where do landscapes fit in when we begin talking about an era labelled as either hypermodern and postmodern? Do television ads really constitute a place (or a space?) where we might find contemporary landscapes? We contend that television advertising is continuously engaged in the construction and reconstruction of landscapes. These landscapes offer concentrated glimpses of what have come to be known as cultural geographies - snapshots of how we might conceptualize the arrangement of our world.

We'll begin then by trying to disentangle the interwoven mappings of space, time, capital and globalization in corporate television ads by turning to a 1998 MCI WorldCom campaign which likened the next stage of the telephonically integrated high-speed internet to the completion of the transcontinental railroad over 150 years ago. The MCI WorldCom advertisement self-consciously addresses this comparison in world historical terms - visually rendering the question in terms of two contrasting landscapes of successive stages of western capitalism.

How does a capitalist culture represent the "new global economy"? How does the same culture represent the role of the digital communications and the Internet as the pivot for this stage of global economic integration? And what impact do these representations have on the wider cultural formations that help shape our political sensibilities?

Representing capital
Constructing the new global landscape
Grand narratives & global representation
Narratives & representation revisited
The grand narrative of sign value

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey