Landscapes of Global Capital
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Corporations involved in producing flight technology naturally present narratives based on their role in mastering flight. This Lockheed Martin commercial shows rockets at lift off, satellites revolving around the earth, and other space technology. This commercial employs older media forms newsreels, radio and television to convey the core role of Lockheed Martin in the history of 20th century technological progress.

On an early 1950's television set defined by static, a male announcer assertively predicts that "Some day, jet airplanes will be invisible to radar waves." The camera pulls back revealing that the television set sits on a runway, as a stealth fighter zooms through low overhead. The "space age news" newsreel playing on a movie theater screen supplies the next historical realization of what once sounded like science fiction. The newsreel voice-over tells the audience, "Imagine man-made moons helping us to communicate." The newsreel on the screen depicts a plane zooming from earth into space, followed by a modern communications satellite. Uncanny how this works. What once seemed to be an impossible exaggeration is now commonplace.

The next sequence superimposes pictures of planes over a 1950's style radar screen. A radio announcer narrates, "Tomorrow, electronic highways in the sky will guide air travelers to their destination." A shot of an air traffic controller's electronic grid represents 'tomorrow.'

At this point, the ad breaks in both form and tone to a smooth narrative that is no longer 'historical' but 'the present.' A contemporary female voice states, "Year after year Lockheed Martin takes the most amazing ideas about the future and makes them fly." A passenger sits in her seat looking at a monitor with a helicopter on it; the camera zooms back to reveal she's in a futuristic space shuttle orbiting the earth. "Mission Success" is superimposed across the screen. Each scene frames the then and now. These past predictions are spoken as if they were absurd and incredible. However, the seemingly impossible has been made possible by Lockheed Martin. This defense industry corporation positions itself as the principle agent in progress. Other agencies such as NASA are left out. Unlike Enlightenment narratives that associate progress with the State as representative of the will of the human community, corporate narratives applaud themselves as the prime movers. Corporations have the economic power to maintain a steady flow of advertising and other forms of public relations. These bits of history are stamped by corporate names and logos. It is in this way that Myth reinvents history by inflection.

Allianz01-99 Allianz01-99

Images of flight have acquired a significance beyond their functional referent. When appropriated by financial giants such as Allianz above, these images have become generalizable signifiers of a future marked by progress and well-being.

The narrative of progress has often been expressed territorially. Rugged landscape images such as deserts, cliffs and mountains are deployed routinely to demonstrate that no part of Nature is insurmountable when the technological power of capital is joined to human will-power and motivation. Texaco constructs landscapes of danger, e.g., divers explore oceanic depths among giant squid to supply us with energy. One heavily used metaphor that demonstrates the synergistic power of capital, technology, and motivation is launching into space. Commercials often include signifiers of rockets taking off, satellites orbiting the earth, anti-gravity chambers, and astronauts space walking. Often, characters in ads gaze upward into the sky, the stars, and/or outer space. Likewise, the earth is often seen from an astronaut's or satellite's point of view. Going into space represents the pinnacle of human achievement.

While the Boeing ad projects a rapidly paced video montage composed of decontextualized signifiers of space, Mobil employs a testimonial structure to associate the meaning of progress and technological achievement with the corporation. Mobil technician John Donor links the mundane elements of everyday life to the space project.

His biography starts in front of a traditional white house. We see a child riding his bike across the lawn at night. This cuts to a child looking at a spinning globe and then to a shot of his eye gazing upward as if looking at the following series of space signifiers: a rocket, a space-walking astronaut, a space station, and astronauts' training.

I remember when I was little watching the first satellites go over.
What's about to happen in space seems even more amazing
To put a space station into orbit
Astronauts from 13 countries
Living there for up to ten years
That's a pretty great achievement

The Mobil employee ties his biography with technological achievement in space noting that this is not a national project but a wider human endeavor ("astronauts from 13 countries"). A series of shots of nations' flags embedded on the shoulders of space suits visually confirms the narration. As he stands in his white technician's coat with Mobil grease canisters in the background, Donor fingers the grease that he created.

I'm John Donor and I work with Mobil
I develop the grease that will lubricate the international
space station air system
We might take breathing for granted on Earth
But it's very important for them
I feel very proud for Mobil that we are a part of that.

The commercial ends with another series of space signifiers and the older John Donor gazing up into the nighttime sky and Mobil's tagline.

Mobil
The energy to make a difference

The testimonial form links the personal with the corporate. When spoken as a personal statement, rather than a corporate discourse the narrative takes on an authentic tone. It stands outside of criticism. Science, the corporation, and individual meaning are tied to the social narrative of progress represented by the space exploration. Mobil chooses a mundane technology--grease, and cements it to imagery of high tech space conquest. Donor's statement about grease is spoken in the humblest of tones.

More importantly, this narrative is unmoored from its nationalist roots. Remember when John Kennedy proclaimed that we Americans will put a man on the moon? When space represented the new frontier of nationalist dreams? Driven by the Cold War space exploration was the arena in which ideological superiority was demonstrated. It also served as the ultimate high ground from which a nation could claim military superiority. The Mobil narrative now links space to global cooperation, universal human achievement, and everyday life. It absents military and other panoptic uses of space.


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