Landscapes of Global Capital
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The Siemens' 1999-2000 television campaign consists of a series of commercials that represent Siemens as a diverse, yet integrated global corporation. This campaign intersperses strings of global signifiers with imagery of advanced technological vitality. The package is rhythmically edited to music evocative of African communal themes. Signifying the bonds and feelings of communalism, this musical genre has found its way into numerous corporate ads. It functions to create a sense that invested global capital not only produces technological progress but also re-enchants the world with the aura of Gemeinschaft relations. While the commercials are up beat, fast-paced, and quick-edited, the music works to ensure that the visual fragments cohere into a seamless structure. Siemens intersperses its name throughout the segments by locating the name itself into various frames, e.g., a van with Siemens' name on the side. Each commercial concludes with the Siemens' tagline "We can do that."

Energy Siemens04-99 Light bulb smokestacks, power dams, and electric cables
Communications Siemens04-99 Cell phone circuits, satellites, dish relays
Transportation Siemens04-99 Autos, light rails, buses, bullet trains, jetliners, hydrofoils motors, digital systems, electronic cockpit displays
Industry Siemens04-99 Modern buildings, newspapers, soda, oranges printing presses, agricultural machinery
Components Siemens04-99 Computers chips
Healthcare Siemens04-99 Children sonograms

The refrain joins together the foregrounded consumption practices with the underlying production processes that enable those acts of consumption. The effort attempts to more deeply imbricate Siemens in the fabric of global daily life.

    Before you do this
    You want to have this.
    Before you do this
    You want to have this, and this and this.

The last part of the commercial is the standard fare of multicultural images: rice farmer, Victoria falls, Asian parapets, and an elephant in a swamp with a Siemens sign on its back. The male voiceover states: "You'd be surprised how much of our technology goes into your day."

But just as production backgrounds are normally submerged in our discourses about consumption, so we find here that Siemens' visual representation of an integrated technotopia is at least partly a myth constructed out of absence and abstraction. Absence is supported by representational abstraction. Close-ups of technology, long shots of nature, even Siemens04-99the smokestacks are shot from a worm's eye view, associating them with power and grandeur rather than pollution. What we see are a trio of towering smokestack structures projecting into a majestically colored sky. What we don't see is smoke. Abstraction is also the product of splicing together disparate signifiers, using stop action photography, and speeded up motion. Nature is represented monumentally, there to be mastered and rendered perfect. Rivers dammed to create energy while mountaintops serve as platforms for communication dishes. These shots are so decontextualized and abstracted that they register as placeless. Siemens shows abstracted snapshots of production, turning production into just another fetish level of technology, often indistinguishable from consumed technology. The ad creates a visual representation of the production/consumption relationship but in such an abstracted form these two processes are indistinguishable -- or rather only distinguishable as "this" and "this." What we don't see are workers, environmental destruction, or disrupted and dispossessed peoples.

The music and imagery celebrate the grandeur of human achievement, the power of industry and science, and its ability to make lives better and more content. Not only does Siemens bring us energy and technology but also life itself. The Siemens makes it clear that if you want healthy, happy children you need Siemens' technology. Surely it comes as no surprise that many of the most powerful industrial corporations (Dow, GTE, DuPont, GE, Siemens) represent themselves with life science imagery -- sonograms, infants and pregnant women.

Siemens04-99 Siemens04-99 Siemens04-99

How is this different from Enlightenment narratives? Science and the power of technology are glorified but so is universal humanism. This ad, like those of its most prominent competitors, is heavily informed by a collage of multicultural imagery. But we must not be too distracted by the multicultural imagery because its real significance may lie in what it encourages us to leap over. The Siemens' narrative collapses the relationships that go between corporate technologies and photographically decontextualized social outcomes. Not only is scientific and technical labor banished from the scene, so too is the State vanished. Implicit in the narrative is a deeply embedded assumption of technological determinism. By collapsing and disappearing all mediating forces and relations, Siemens falls back on this familiar ideological trope. The spatial relations, the social organization, and the cultural associations are all implied to be a direct causal outcome of the presence of pristinely-engineered technologies. Credit for creating this world is taken by named units of Capital whose subjective identity is constituted via the aura of their music and their photography. The presence of Capital, as well as its legitimacy, is at once faceless and full of personality -- it really only appears reflected in the smiles on children's faces.

Contradictions of Development
Stories of Science and Technology
Reason and Progress

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