Landscapes of Global Capital
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America's Pharmaceutical Companies02-00
Council for Biotechnology Information01-00
Council for Biotechnology Information01-00

When we began this project we anticipated seeing plenty of science imagery because we had grown accustomed to recognizing science references in television ads. When we actually looked at the ads more closely -- frame by frame -- we realized that most of the references to science were really little more than glosses -- references made on the basis of tightly abbreviated signifiers and compressed meaning-systems. A gloss requires that viewers mentally re-expand on the wider relations of the subject being compressed. Glosses about science are built on assumptions. We might surmise that the viewing public already possesses sufficient recognition of the most common clichés regarding science and its role in our lives to make sense of the fleeting science signifiers that flash by in these ads.

We want to explore the use of some of these clichés and identify the criteria of science and technology invoked by visual clichés set to music. Corporate advertising often appropriates signifiers of science to build narratives celebrating the positive power of global capital. Lab technicians in white coats inspecting test tubes or peering in microscopes followed by a shot of the look of wonderment in the human eye visually attest to the commitment of corporate research and development. No matter how facile, the presence or absence of tightly abbreviated signifiers of science and technology can be telling.

Once the privileged icon of modern technology, the atomic icon is now very much a retro item

We have noticed that absent from any contemporary list of common science signifiers is the imagery of the atomic era. The icon of the atom, electrons in orbit, that so predominated as an image of technological progress from the 1950s through the 1980s, has been banished in favor of the images of digital micro-landscapes and icons of DNA strands. This is not, we submit, accidental. Rather it reflects the fact that big Capital now finds more lucrative returns on investment in biotechnology and digital electronics than it does in nuclear physics labs.

It is clear in these television commercials that the corporation or some form of business unit is now represented as the center of the scientific world. The state, the military, and academia are absent in these ads.

The market dictates corporate science. And, according to corporate advertising that market is us -- our illnesses, our suffering, our desires for a better life. These problems are filtered through the market into the corporation where capital meets science. There is no pure science here. No science for the sake of science. The production of knowledge is contingent upon the estimation of potential future profits, even though the ads refuse to acknowledge that profit is a motive for developing new technologies.

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