Landscapes of Global Capital
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If we think at all of maps of Capital we picture graphs showing statistical measures of economic data - such as GNP, retail sales, new home constructions, employment, trade, income and the range of visually represented financial data that appear in newspapers and on TV. Such maps, like stock charts, help visualize the routine flows - the ups and downs - of a capitalist economy.

While such maps can easily be made to reveal distributions of power and wealth, they rarely do. In contemporary society, "mapping has become an activity primarily reserved for those in power, used to delineate the 'property' of nation states and multi-national companies" (Aberley, 1993:1). Capital and the Nation-state are not just subjects of the mapping process but also the authoritative producers of the mappings that frame our understanding of a complex world. The relationship between maps and power is not insignificant.

And yet, unless one is looking for it, one rarely sees in maps these tracings of political-economic and cultural power. This is because maps offer us cooked representations of raw data. In their cooked form maps seem to objectively chart territories - whether these are economic territories or spatial territories. Mapping offers a way of seeing that appears factual, realistic, and proportional. However, mapping is a representational process that distorts through selectivity and omission, emphasis and combination, exaggeration and simplification.

While conventionally we think about mapping from a geographer's perspective, we might also speak of mapping from a cultural studies perspective. Capital not only produces flows of goods and monies but also flows of signs. Capital has been pressing into news spaces for about three centuries. At each new stage of expansion, there is a cultural dimension as well -- and this is the matter of the representation of Capital in its landscapes.

As Capital spreads its institutional presence across the globe, it also symbolically maps the globe by producing representations that claim to reveal the results of its presence. These representations appear in public relations texts - news releases, corporate websites - as well as in advertising and marketing venues. Collectively, the signs and narratives embedded in such mappings produce a loosely integrated hegemonic view of the cultural, social, political, and economic formations that can be seen coalescing under the rubric of globalization.

To think of advertising as a map requires a metaphorical leap. While a conventional map is a rendition of a geographical space that situates its various elements so that they appear to constitute a natural whole, TV commercials are less neat and tidy. TV ads appear at different times on different channels, are in constant flux (campaigns may last only a couple of weeks), and represent a variety of sometimes competing interests. To complicate matters further, the intention of ads is not that of mapping, but of branding and selling - although, as we shall argue later the branding process is itself a postmodern mapping process.

In spite of these many difficulties, when ads that address questions of global capital are brought together, a visual constellation begins to emerge. Though any single commercial may lack the representational breadth to be considered a map, taken as a totality corporate commercials do constitute symbolic mappings of new time-space relations.

While every map has an author (someone who created it), the power of the map to objectively represent a world "out there" grows to the extent that we forget about its author.

"...the map is powerful precisely to the extent that this author ... disappears, for it is only to the extent that this author escapes notice that the real world the map struggles to bring into being is enabled to materialize (that is, to be taken for the world). As long as the author-and the interest he or she unfailingly embodies-is in plain view, it is hard to overlook him, hard to see around her, to the world described, hard to see it...as the world. Instead it is seen as no more than a version of the world, as a story about it, as a fiction: no matter how good it is, not something to be taken seriously. As author-and interest-become marginalized (or done away with altogether), the represented world is enabled to ...fill our vision. Soon enough we have forgotten this is a picture someone has arranged for us (chopped and manipulated, selected and coded). Soon enough... it is the world, it is real, it is...reality" (Wood, 1992: 70).

In this sense, ads have the capacity to produce very powerful mappings, because it is hard to think of Capital as the author of the mappings that float across our TV screens because advertising has become so routine. Advertising photography, voiceovers, and techniques of aestheticization may highlight the presence of this or that company, but it also permits the disappearance of Capital as such.

We want to argue that though ads selectively map, the maps that they produce are not arbitrary. As maps, ads offer frames of interpretation, and just as important they choose to leave out certain territories. In this way, corporate ads map an asymmetrical world of relationships. Ads speak for corporate capital and those who benefit from a specific political-economic formation, while those who experience adverse consequences -- joblessness, homelessness, poverty, and illness -- disappear from view.

Because [an Interested party] selects from the vast storehouse of knowledge about the earth what the map will represent, these interests are embodied in the map as presences and absences. Every map shows this but not that, and every map shows what it shows this way but not the other. Not only is this inescapable but it is precisely because of this interested selectivity this choice of word or sign or aspect of the world to make a point that the map is enabled to work" (Wood, 1992: 1).

Mapping the Cultural Maps

We are not just discussing the maps produced by Capital, we are ourselves mapping (even if critically) a discourse constituted by cultural criticism. By bringing these ads together, categorizing them, and connecting them to an outline we are creating a map that was previously unspoken. We think of our project as an exercise in cultural mapping.

Unlike 17th century ships of discovery, our charting of cultural landscapes and political economic topographies starts from the vantage of gazing at a TV and the society of the spectacle it offers us. Our mapping tries to make sense of a symbolic landscape that speeds by our eyes at a velocity beyond our control. Our maps depend on theoretical frameworks and assumptions that we impose on our data.

We encourage readers to view our maps critically and with some skepticism, for our maps are no less cooked, no less subject to the processes of "interested selectivity" than those maps that we critique. Like all maps, ours will contain 'distortions.' We have selectively included and omitted commercials and we have contextualized them in our analysis and narrative (our way of seeing). What we have tried to do is to assemble the map, to find the pieces and link them together with the intention of providing a rough guide for navigating the symbolic world of capital.

In the following sections of the project we introduce how Capital uses landscapes and narratives to construct representations of its role in the process of globalization. We look at how the landscape imagery of First Union and MCI WorldCom commercials self-reflexively captures both the destructive and transformative power of Capital in the last years of the 20th century. Their commercials redefine relationships between time and space on a global scale. Their maps of Capital collapse buildings to represent mergers, chart world-history by supplanting an age of railroads physically linking the nation-state by an age fiberoptic beams electronically linking the globe, or semiotically contrast a chaotic and outmoded past with a new global order made possible by corporate visions.


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