Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Microsoft: accelerated empowerment

This 1995 commercial Microsoft exemplifies the conventions of abstraction that underlie classical humanism, erasing underlying contextual features in the interest of stressing a universal human essence. Wieden & Kennedy framed the narrative flow of the ad with an empowerment tagline - "Where do you want to go today?" to create a sense of unfolding freedom and opportunity for individuals located here, there and everywhere because of the power of Microsoft software. This 60-second commercial is composed of 105 shots supported by a layered voice track which weaves in out.

Listen, the stuff that we make it's powerful
it makes you powerful
take it, gather up your ideas
run with them
make trouble and good things will happen
just do something amazing
gather up your ideas
and do something amazing
we're in your corner
we can't wait to see what you're going to do
the world will never be the same again
the world will never be the same again
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Microsoft mixes global signifiers with images of its software in a hyperactive barrage. Not only are we subjected to more than three shots every two seconds this machine gun pace is supported by disruptive camera, lighting, and editing techniques such as flickering light, overexposure, jump cuts, jerky pans, objects passing in front of the camera, obtuse camera angles, extreme close-ups, use of a fish eye lens, mixing black and white with color, decentered subjects. This accelerated hyperreal style is organized around what we might call cutting to discontinuity. Photographed physical reality flickers with the reality of the computer monitor, simulations. Texts are everywhere often in fragmented multi-lingual multi-genre forms.

This Microsoft commercial is premised on the use of fragmented and decontextualized images. The flow of visual particles mixes the European with the Asian, children and the elderly, black and white, home and office, the natural with the urban and the simulated. Brought together, they signify access and power in a global arena. Buried in this 'image-in-a-particle-accelerator' approach is a content that expresses 'Humanity-in-itself' powered Microsoft software. Microsoft celebrates the collapse of boundaries -- physical reality and simulation, representation and reality, the social boundaries of age, ethnicity, gender, class and nationality. The repeated phrase, "the world will never be the same again" expresses the moment in which hyperdifferentiation becomes dedifferentiation. Not only are there no traditional boundaries or limits left to scale, but we are urged also to accept the imperative to be creative and transcendent -- 'make trouble.' Connotations of being anti-authoritarian are mixed with those of personal creativity suggests the demise of old institutions that have historically determined and constricted people's lives. Indeed, this ad celebrates creativity (Paint shop) and entrepreneurship (Excel) in a Microsofted world.

Malcolm Waters' description a global culture as a fragmented chaotic form parallels the montage structure of Microsoft's commercial. The hypercommodification of culture overwhelmed by signs and simulations in which one's status is associated with style choices which are hyperdifferentiating at accelerating rates. Like the shopping mall, it is composed of decontextualized signs plundered from a variety of referent systems-nature, history, and exotic cultures. Like surfing the Internet, there are no coherent maps, no ultimate authority, just a cultural world in a permanent state of flux. This view of the global cultural economy is hyperanomic. There is no center. Sign hierarchies are in constant flux. While the form of the Microsoft commercial mimics this chaos, the content is given meaning by the voice-over and the tagline. Ironically, this also parallels the political economy in which flows of capital create anomie perhaps even chaos while corporate public relations legitimize corporate practices as beneficial to humanity in general. Classical humanism modeled after "The Family of Man" exhibition is turned into a look, which positions the corporation as global, humane, and multicultural.


Sign Formulas & Branding
Signifying Clusters
Structural Frames
A globalized culture is chaotic rather than orderly—it is integrated and connected so that the meanings of its components are relativized to one another but it is not unified or centralized. The absolute globalization of culture would involve the creation of a common but hyperdifferentiated field of value, taste, and style opportunities, accessible by each individual without constraint for purposes either of self-expression or consumption. (Waters, 1995: 126)

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey