Landscapes of Global Capital
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GE02-98In constructing landscapes of globalization, corporate commercials select images more for their abstract aesthetic appeal than for the particular place they represent. For several decades, advertisers have drawn on sunset photos from Image Banks that convey a sense of peace, beauty and tranquility. Here, for example is an image from a recent GE ad that stresses GE's command of technology and its commitment to the diverse peoples who make up the 'global community.'

One can easily imagine seeing the photo below in the same kind of public relations piece -- perhaps in a tourist ad, or even in a GE ad. While we have no idea about the geographical context of the GE photo, we do know something of the photo below because it is an AP newsphoto that has been carefully framed.

East Timor fisherman "An East Timorese fisherman tosses his net for one last time before nightfall in the provincial capital of Dili, Indonesia, about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) east of Jakarta, Monday, May 17, 1999. With little industry or skilled labor on the half-island territory some are concerned that East Timor will not be able to survive economically if its people choose independence over wide-ranging autonomy in the United Nations sponsored vote scheduled for August 8th." (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

These images offer a striking example of how easy it is to direct interpretation by eliminating context. The explicit effort at contextualizing the Associated Press image is a reminder that the liminal beauty of a sunset does not necessarily stand at odds with those things we categorize as less than beautiful -- e.g., poverty, hunger, oppression. It is no less a reminder that the prevailing aesthetic codes of making sense of corporate ads rely on viewer willingness to think in terms of space rather than place.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey