Landscapes of Global Capital
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The technology of corporate farming yields bountiful harvests thanks to new chemicals, biotechnological innovations, and even outer space technologies. Indeed the new technologies of farming actually seem to eclipse the classic tributes to farming as hard work. Scenes of field labor have not been entirely eliminated, but the onerous side of the labor seems to have evaporated in a picturesque and almost magical landscape of sunny technologies framed by the sounds of new age music mixed with light, airy techno-pop, signifying zen harmony of agriculture and advanced technological progress. Harmony and bounty coexist in corporate images of agriculture -- which include panoramic shots of fields of healthy crops; farmers standing peacefully in their fields; and produce-filled local markets.

Taking pride in our agricultural heritage of man, mule and plow, a 2000 Boeing ad turns to space-age imagery of satellites: "A farmer's guide. From outer space."
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In the current crop of ads, this surplus of grains and vegetables and fruits is presented as evidence of advances in biotechnology and chemical agriproducts. Dow and DuPont ads routinely include images of healthy crops because, of course, their products aim at that goal - namely the appearance of healthy crops, first through chemically produced fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and more recently via the route of genetically modified grains. Boeing's version of this imagery links the bountiful harvest being picked by traditional Asian agriworkers to Boeing satellite technology.

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Siemens, a transnational electronics corporation, assembles a serialized landscape of images that accompanies a narrative about the necessity of Siemen's products in our everyday well-being. This frame, frozen from among a dozen or so images edited in serial succession, shows the automated, efficient, frictionless flow of oranges being processed for consumers. Scenes of power generation are edited into scenes of advanced technologies of transportation and communication, and these in turn are spliced into portraits of people that connote "universal humanism." Siemen's self-presentation as a company that organizes the necessary technology chains and commodity chains that permit globalization to mean universal humanism and prosperity, while also respecting the cultural differences that constitute the peoples of the Earth. Siemens advertises itself as providing "the power to live better."

New food technologies not only turn crops into a mechanized flow of abundance, the ads also seem to be showing that capitalist technologies facilitate the continuation of traditional social relations - in an Asian market a woman holds out her produce to us for examination. Is this true? Or do these technologies disrupt traditional, local markets and economies?

Council for Biotechnology Information: 'The Promise'

A soybean crop yields a more bountiful harvest
A patient has a medicine she needs
A boy can survive a childhood disease
A cotton crop helps protect itself from certain pests.
Because discoveries in Biotechnology from medicine to agriculture are helping doctors and farmers to treat our sick and protect our crops.
An American farmer will produce a healthier grain
And an African farmer can provide better for his family
Because biotechnology researchers test and test to find new solutions
Solutions that are improving lives today
Solutions that could improve our world tomorrow
To learn more about biotechnology and agriculture visit our website
Or call our 800 number
    Council for Biotechnology Information

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Council for Biotechnology Information01-00
Council for Biotechnology Information01-00
Council for Biotechnology Information01-00

Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto no longer label themselves as chemical companies. They have metamorphosed into "life science" companies - agglomerations of businesses acquired through their corporate mergers and acquisitions. Corporations that bill themselves as "life science" rely, not surprisingly, on images of health and joy.

The Council for Biotechnology commercial mixes signifiers of happy celebration (silhouetted farms at sunset, a boy running with his dog, fields of harvest, smiling rural-family portraits, birds in flight) with signifiers of scientific work (test tubes, DNA strands, lab technicians looking into microscopes). This commercial, entitled 'The Promise,' was underwritten by the then, seven largest biotech companies, including DuPont, Dow and Monsanto, to the tune of $50 million. Anticipating the move towards labeling laws being promoted by consumer and antibiotech activists, this campaign aims at shaping an atmosphere of acceptance of genetically engineered products. (Scott Killman, "Biotech ad campaign attempts to shape U.S. attitudes toward modified crops," (Wall Street Journal,4/4/2000, B6)

The narrative of the Council for Biotechnology Information ad is supported by an uplifting musical score that ties biotech research to advances in both medicine and agriculture. The serene, harmonious choral musical background choreographs the imagery of a pristine and unsullied nature. There is in the music a hint of the ad's theme - that science can craft a harmonious reconciliation of people and nature. The narrative frames an image of progress made possible by the dedication of corporate scientists that will inevitably to lead to better health and higher quality of life through the production of more effective medicines and healthier crops. Welcome to Utopia.

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