Landscapes of Global Capital
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Ford08-99Singing "Just Wave Hello," Charlotte Church, the teenage phenom, blends her operatic voice with a mix Native American and choral music to provide an uplifting affect to a series of disparate highly aestheticized images sponsored by Ford. In The Family of Man format race and ethnicity no longer signify difference but sameness. The montage creates equivalence between the connected shots. Each portrait stands in equal relationship to every other portrait. Moreover, the montage constructs a new imagined community based on essentialism rather than on socio-historical/cultural difference. We see shots of both birth and death; we experience the range of human emotion moments associated with both joy and sorrow. Interspersed in these deeply human events are Ford and its subsidiaries' automobiles. Here, Ford equals Humanity.

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In the opening shot a Chinese woman symmetrically framed by pagoda-like architecture releases a bird. This is followed by a superimposed transition of sparks falling over a model-T next to a portrait of Henry Ford, his head leans against his hand to signify the process of creative conceptualization. As a young boy with a similar gesture appears in the foreground, a collage of automobiles appear in the background. The boy smiles and suddenly a ritualistic adorned Native American stares directly at us. This image disappears as it is superimposed on a clock that is quickly replaced by trampolining white painted males in an irised blue sky perhaps aesthetically mimicking a globe which is replaced by drops of rain water falling on to a steel grate. The Ford Motor Company then appears in cursive font overlaying an image of earth rise.

What do these images have to do with one another? Answer: Nothing at all. Even the best of semioticians would have trouble making a connection. And while this can be said of all the montages that we have looked at so far, it is here that the arbitrary nature of this structure is most apparent. Advertising is composed of floating signifiers mined from multiple referent systems and reassembled into a new meaning system. While there is never complete equivalence between the encoding/decoding process here there seems little or any at all--unless we are willing to throw out the meaning of the photographic image and recognize that the aestheticized encoding process itself is the sign. The montage privileges the relationship between images over any particular image. Moreover, it provides a frame of interpretation: voice over, titles, music, a perceived relationship between images that emerges at some point in the process of viewing.

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Architecture, ritualistic clothing, and traditional life styles frame Ford as a global corporation. While Microsoft used a grittier hyperreal style to signify The Family of Man, Ford uses a highly aestheticized style composed of carefully framed compositions and bright saturated colors. Nevertheless, both Microsoft and Ford integrate their products seamlessly into the flow of the shots.

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Universal humanism demands that essential life experiences are depicted as the common elements that express shared humanity. Here we are asked to empathize with signified Death in which death is expressed by a shot of a darkened room, with a single light illuminating a white-haired dying woman intercut by the mournful gaze of two women. The shot mimics Benetton's AIDS Madonna in which a father hugs a dying son. However, if we put this shot back into a context -- a staged shot for a Ford commercial, any empathetic moment is immediately erased.


Sign Formulas & Branding
Signifying Clusters
Structural Frames
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Lest we linger on death too long, the sequence is followed by a two shot scene in which a pregnant women has given birth with a new Ford behind her.
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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey