Landscapes of Global Capital
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There is a body of advertising done for companies like Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM that aims at constructing a fluid, mobile, yet civil, moral landscape. These are transnational landscapes, landscapes of universal inclusion and unification. The following pages explore one such campaign, that for Cisco Systems, and the landscapes it constructs. The first commercial in the campaign opens with a Chinese youth standing amidst an urban pedestrian throng. His voice, or what we determine to be his voice, declares that

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"There are over 800,000 job openings."
A young man of indeterminate nationality stands atop a wall in the middle of nowhere: "for internet specialists. Right now."
Two young African boys, playmates, perhaps even brothers, arm and arm, declare in unison: "three million more in the next 5 years"
A 10 year old boy in a swing: "By the time I'm 18"
A preteen female echoes/repeats the same phrase: "By the time I'm 18, over a billion jobs will require internet skills."
Asian girl: "Are you ready?"
American girl leaning out the window of a truck: "Are you ready?"
Company voiceover: "Virtually all internet traffic travels across the systems of one company. The same one sponsoring thousands of networking academies. Cisco Systems, empowering the internet generation."
The two African boys: "We're ready"
Chinese girl: "Are you?"

The imagined community of the Cisco Internet Generation


These youth look forward to their futures with excitement and anticipation, because in Cisco's scenario they have futures to look forward to. The Internet economy beckons to youth from around the planet, telling them that the future belongs to those who possess internet skills. Not only is Cisco at the material heart of this emerging internet system, they also "sponsor" networking academies where youth from all parts of the world -- whether poor or already well-off, from third world nations or formerly semi-peripheral European states -- can acquire the training that will prepare them for a promising work future where computer networking skills will make them mobile. Mobility means here more than upward occupational movement and social success and higher status, it also means being mobile to take work in the emerging global economy. Migration in pursuit of employment has become routinely transnational in character.

The imagery of their multiaccentual discourse fosters the impression of something which is not stated, but implied -- that the internet economy will bring with it, not only jobs, but relative affluence as well. Visually, the scene of a young man flying a kite against a brightly tinted sky suggests opportunities for well-being -- leisure time and personal choice. Further, the multi-accentuality of this discourse connotes a world unmarked by power relations. Absent from this world are any signs of domination or even authority relations. There appears to be no ranking by race, gender, nationality, and age. Social rank seems to play no discernible role in how this string of utterances has been arranged. This impression is, in part, a function of how the ad has been crafted -- the serialized discourse casts all relationships as lateral and horizontal relations, as opposed to vertical (authority of rank) relations.

This sense of seriality is reinforced by an ad full of movement. Camera movements are continuously horizontal -- paced to the choral songtones, the camera moves slowly -- usually to the right, but sometimes to the left. This technique yields a sense of flow and movement within each frame, even though most of the subjects in the ads stand rooted (or floating) in place as they address the camera.

The opening scenes are heavily tinted -- a grainy yellow. This encoding aestheticizes the images (the content), permitting the opening scenes to offer an initial gateway into the space of the ad. In the opening scene from two of the Cisco ads, Cisco01-99the first image suggests an Asian harbor where a newer ship and an older tug appear to pass. Why we said 'Asian' requires some comment. This image is so fully cut off from its context that one must make a guess as to its significance in the ad. Should we be reading an image like this in symbolic terms? -- does this represent a passing from old economy to new economies -- from relatively primitive forms of modernity to its now-digitized, and hence, streamlined forms of modernity. It is also possible that it merely functions as a signifier of semiotic entry into China.

Deterritorialized space? Is this a landscape of urban industrialization in the old European semi-periphery? Perhaps, but it could as easily be an industrial city in China.

Ads like this construct a curious amalgamate of place and space. Place is crucial to the logic of signification that is drawn on to build each scene, but its presence has been reduced to that of a trace signifier that may be gleaned from a clothing style, or ethnic features, or accents. Place is important as an ostensibly undisturbed marker of 'where they come from' -- place provides marks of identification. And yet, all of these "place-markers" are situated in hard-to-define-spaces -- a spatial indeterminacy is essential to the logic of abstraction that makes this ad work. Instead of situated places, these ads offer utopia as a deterritorialized space. What irony -- utopia which originally meant "noplace" (because it was an impossibility), now does in fact refer to the weightless noplace of the networked society. See the MCI "Utopia" ad as well. These ads offer a social vision of the new economy predicated, of course, on the centrality of Cisco Systems in anchoring the networks which make it possible.

And yet, what is visually absent from the ad? While the assumption of networked computer technologies animates and gives meaning to the ads, that technology has been displaced in the ads. Naturally enough -- this is after all an advert -- technology must be translated from material force into signifier. But the Cisco ad avoids its materiality even in its status as signifier by denying its visual presence. Technology is reduced to an overarching allusion evoked by the word "internet." What kinds of jobs will this generate? We see no more labor being performed than we see the technological infrastructure that Cisco is selling. What we see is talk about jobs and technology.

This ad is arranged as a discourse about a new mode of production and distribution -- systems of computers arranged by the telecommunications network known as the Internet -- and its impact on a Global Society. And yet, ironically, the ad either leaves out, or veils, all of the crucial relations that make up this new system of global markets. Markets are missing altogether and a future of wage labor is not cast as such, but as a utopian Ideal.

All the ads in this "Are You Ready?" campaign embrace a sincere and sober tone of voice. The quiet background music consisting of a new age soprano chant frames this sense of seriousness of purpose. The music lends the ad its metacommunicative axis -- an aura of sincerity, calm and peaceful.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey