Landscapes of Global Capital
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Hughes01-99A recurring scene in this corporate advertising genre is the provincial classroom linked to the global system; it is the poor classroom serving the underdeveloped populations of the world linked to the miracles of modern technology. The generic classroom may be nothing more than a classroom with a streamed-in video feed watched by open-mouthed, wide-eyed youngsters, or it may be filled with computer monitors and enthusiastic multiracial youngsters communicating with other enthusiastic multiracial youngsters in another global classroom. The global classroom represents the universality and accessibility of human knowledge, as well as a new world order based on communication rather than conflict. The history of structural determinants like poverty, geographic isolation, racism and violence that hitherto limited life chances are eliminated by tapping into the electronic flow of data.

A Hughes commercial, shown in this case to the audience of CNBC's daily coverage of Wall Street., opens with a young boy pedalling his BMX bike along dirt mountain roads and then the cobblestone streets of what looks like a remote Andean village. The camera focuses on his determined expression, while the flow of interspersed images documents the arduous distance of his journey. His face, his clothes, the background, and the dark shadowing all convey the impression that this is an area beset by hardship and poverty. Finally, he arrives and enters a building generically labeled as 'Escuela.' The boy takes his seat inside a dull, poorly lit classroom. A male voice-over explains Hughes' role in this Enlightenment project:
In many remote towns around the world a good education can be hard to come by
Some thought they needed help from above.
And that's what they got --
At Hughes we're using satellite technology to draw on the horizons of millions of students
It's like having worldwide classrooms.

Superimposed over the scenes of this story are CNBC's tickertape and the second-by-second changes occurring in the market averages. Though trained viewers are able to separate out the differing codes of the commercial and the tickertape, it is also the case that signifiers of Wall Street and capitalism indelibly frame these scenes.

Though poor and poorly lit, this village school classroom is blessed with a TV monitor and a Hughes satellite dish. Consequently, the children can watch a video that features a colorful fish swimming next to a coral reef. The brilliant color of the TV monitor accords nature the aesthetic representation it deserves. This is the only scene by which we can measure the educational value added by satellite technology. But why this choice of imagery? The luminous coral reef contrasts with the grainy unsaturated colors that give the mountains in the background of the boy's journey the dull look of poverty. Nature has never been more exotic than on a TV monitor. Perhaps inspired by the nature videos they had just seen, or perhaps because they were bored, in the final scene, the children joyously run from school, hop on their bikes, and ride off into the freedom of childhood just like kids everywhere else.

Hughes01-99 Hughes01-99
Provincial classrooms are turned into worldwide classrooms thanks to satellite technology. The settings are austere. The Hughes imagery signifies education as the light which parts the darkness. In the GE version of the classroom, to the right, the first world offers its educational contribution to the third world takes the form of a televised talking head.

Ironically, even while trying to signify its own glory, the Hughes ad unintentionally captures the passivity of Western education and the colonial mentality it reproduces long into the post-colonial age. This classroom is far from a Freirean space where students take an active role in their education. The students seem passive and mute. Instead of interaction, the ad steers attention to their rapt fascination of the spectacle of nature. Here liberation means to be connected to a global informational system defined by the nature documentary. But why show a colorful fish next to a coral reef to these Andean children? Hughes01-99The scene of the fish is the only illustration that we are shown from the Hughes educational mission. Why that image and no other? Nature is there to be appreciated even though the images have no substantive relationship with everyday life in an impoverished Andes town. The imported video suggests an equation between higher forms of knowledge and what Pierre Bourdieu calls "the bourgeois gaze." It is a gaze that somehow seems wholly out of place in this Andean village because the bourgeois gaze looks at nature not in terms of survival or as a source of food, but as a source of aesthetic inspiration (Bourdieu, 1984).

The voice-over narrative archly suggests a gentle confusion between God and Hughes corporation with the reference to "help from above." As we learn, this reference is to Hughes and not God, though it could be inferred that this is Hughes' way of likening itself to God. Hughes offers miracles -- in this case, a good education. Hughes01-99Piped in from a distant universal source, education here is reduced to colorful information disconnected from the everyday. Still, turning education into a colorful fragment imported from another culture implies a hierarchy of knowledge. This representational factoid is imported from the heavens through superior technology. Its radiant color and the gaze of the children valorize the image and Hughes fine work. Informational colonialism is a form of dominance in which Western perceptual structures or ways of seeing are given value by distribution through a technological system.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey