Landscapes of Global Capital
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If we listened only to the words of this ad's narrator, we would identify Cargill as a global agricultural conglomerate involved in global commodity markets.

    We process oranges and cocoa in Brazil.
    Blend and distribute animal feeds on five continents.
    Export North American grain in a hundred of markets around the world, and produce fertilizer in Saskatchewan and Florida
    Where our neighbors are flocking to their new home.
    Cargill, it's not just what we do, it's how we do it.

Cargill01-99Yet, there are no corresponding images of orange groves, or freighters overflowing with bins of grain, nor even a visual reference to a high tech fertilizer plant. Instead, this narration serves as background for images of sparkling crystal-clear water with pelicans on the beach or flying overhead, while a mother and her daughters frolic and playfully explore on a beach. They appear in harmonious relationship with the creatures of a salt marsh. This part of the ad conjures up the ecofeminist sensibility of Susan Griffin regarding the gendered association of women and nature. They bird watch and pick up small fish on the puddled beach. Just in case these contented creatures don't make the point that Cargill cares, there is an image of a whale cut into the mix.

Cargill01-99 Cargill01-99

A sign on the beach identifies the Salt Marsh Restoration Project. This is the only clue we have about the geographical location of this salt marsh, and that clue requires that we do some further research. Otherwise these scenes have been thoroughly severed from context. Any contradictions between representation and rhetoric are disguised by smoothly edited fragments of nature scenes glued together by upbeat, yet light, green instrumental music in conjunction with the soothing, soft-voiced male narrator. Cargill comes across as a quiet global agribusiness power, a gentle giant as concerned with maintaining the peace and harmony of Nature as it is with executing its bottom line.

As the environmental movement has developed an institutional presence, corporations whose practices impact the environment find it necessary to create a continuous stream of green legitimation commercials. Green legitimation marketing absents destructive practices and replaces them with benign intentions and constructive deeds. Harmony replaces conflict. We assume Cargill restored a salt marsh, not really a costly project. It could well be that the airtime to run this ad cost more.

Nevertheless, nature as a representation offers a form of abstraction that we might call an edited simulation. It is created out of de-territorialized fragments sutured together by editing practices and music. As viewers, we have no alternative ground from which to criticize.

Corporate/capitalist/science narratives have not been replaced by environmentalism. In narratives such as this Cargill commercial, a new story is told in which Capital draws upon and directs the Sorcery of professional Science to restore Nature. Such metanarratives are powerful because they are able to integrate other narratives and discourses into them.

In corporate ads such as this metanarratives haven't collapsed, they have expanded to incorporate critical discourses, such as environmentalism, multiculturalism, and social concern.


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