Landscapes of Global Capital
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"The map is not the territory, the word is not the thing."
Alfred Korzybski(1958)

The transition from the geography of old to an emergent global geography is a theme made explicit in the MCI Worldcom commercial commenting on the world historical significance of the Internet as the new material force spanning the globe into a single market unit. The first "historically" encoded scene stands for the early modern mapping of geography and history: building the transcontinental railway, an act that helped unify the nation as a geographical entity.

This mapping stresses the relationship between geography (place) and the movement or flow of human activity and human accomplishment. This truly can be called a 'mapping of Progress.' We are all familiar with this cinematic coding device for indicating the unfolding of a travel route. The ad establishes a semiotic opposition between this mapping and that which in a later scene represents the 'new' stage of globalization as spanned by the telecommunications technology directed by MCI WorldCom. Here the flow shifts from the tracings of an historical route taken to achieve the goal of universal progress, to the fixed orbital tracing of MCI WorldCom that now seems to emanate from WorldCom's icon, thus unifying the globe.

MCI07-98 MCI07-98

The Internet Landscape by Earthlink bears a remarkable resemblance to an agricultural landscape.

In an effort to give some materiality - some reference point - to the Internet landscape,
Earthlink begins their commercial with this aerial photographic map suggesting a mapped landscape.

Satellite mapping imagery - an extension of the aerial shot - conveys a sense that maps really do replicate a reality out there., down below. This vantage point in a painting once signified the omniscient point of view of God. We doubt that these images require such a notion of a universal deity; in fact, the viewpoint is now that afforded to us by science and its technologies.

NASDAQ05-01 Sun01-97 Lockheed01-98

We hypothesize that as territory becomes more abstract, our means of representing it becomes more mathematicized, more objective; and the means of representing it in image form becomes correspondingly abstracted.

Earthlink01-99 Office Depot02-01

The first scene here, plucked from a Nasdaq commercial, signifies the superimposition of binary, computer-gridded organization over the more and more ghostly renderings of territory. So too, the satellite-like photo of a populated region works as a marker of scientific/technical rationality in a Sun Microsystems ad. The third image, from a Lockheed ad, depicts a radar mapping. It too has an abstract quality - in each of these three images, we recognize the nature of a map before we recognize where we are. Indeed, without specialized training in how to read such maps, it becomes evident that each of these maps has been turned into a second-order signifier. These three images of maps carry connotations of power and control. Each to some degree signifies a beneficent panoptic that permits technological order and precision targeting.

More conventional map imagery is interspersed within the Earthlink and Office Depot montages dedicated to the proposition that each has emerged as a presence throughout the world. The more interesting image here has an element of kitsch about it - like a Rand-McNally page from a road atlas depicting glossy multi-coloured states of the United States. But why does Earthlink appropriate it? Perhaps because the image suggests a democratizing aspect to territory and the maps which give access to it. The second, more world-wide, rendering of the continents suggests a control room, such as one might imagine in a tv news studio. Neither of these maps suggest precision. Office Depot resorts to the now predictable multicultural montages of figures and scenes situated abstractly in front of Disney-like simulations of background environments. The world map imagery in the control room offers an oblique way of signifying that Office Depot has become a warm, unifying global presence - a way of bundling its homogeneous spaces and brand in a few places across the world. (Note that Office Depot is still centered in North America with 822 stores in the US out of its total of 1003).

Abstraction & Deterritorialization
Cultural Geography
The Architecture of Capital

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