This month, for Les Vases Communicants, we welcome Gaby David (LHIVIC, EHESS). You can find Antonio A. Casilli’s post on her research blog Corazonada.
Advertisements, as all images, are contextually created and perceived together with all the discourses that come enclosed and to the meanings we give them. Let’s just bear in mind that within the enormous advertisement landscape, mobile advertisements or even just advertisements that deal with mobile phones – as identity construction objects – are part of a wider form of imagery, such as newspapers, fashion magazines, beauty magazines, television, internet, etc. For this, I felt that analyzing some mobile-related commercials would be a good mean to try unveiling how our society’s ethical parameters move, are – or are not -pushed further, and/or in any case discussed.
Theoretical framework: Domestication
Using the framework of domestication I will analyze three ads, which will be treated as instances of symbolic productions – so to say representations. The domestication concept originated mainly from anthropology and consumption studies as well as from a move in media studies to consider the contexts in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are experienced. Firstly it came from the wild animal taming metaphor. Then, it was one of Roger Silverstone’s main legacies to put forward the concept, examining how we experience domestication towards ‘media’ technologies.
Domestication looks beyond the adoption and use of ICTs to ask what the technologies and services mean to people, how they experience them and the roles that these technologies can come to play in their lives. Such domestication processes include the imagination of how technologies might find a place in the home and a role in people’s lives. How do people, encounter, deal with, reject and/or work out how to fit them into their everyday routines. These verbs relate mainly to the type of life and identity to which people aspire to have.
However, “[…] technologies come pre-formed with meanings through the influence of advertising, design and all the media discourses surrounding them, both households and individuals then invest them with their own personal meanings and significance.”[emphasis added]. In other words, individuals do act, but within the constraints of both domestic and social contexts.
So, for this article I’ll take into account the mobile representations behind some advertising discourses. Since they often are a mirror of what our societies want and are able to buy – of course also metaphorically speaking! Myths and meanings related to mobile cultural-object phenomena appear also in advertisements and it is through them that a wider symbolism, a collective social discourse could be extrapolated and see light.
Let’s see what these advertisements say. Though, immediately if we use the verb ‘say’ at least three problems come to mind: a) The question of pictures saying things; advertisements as any other picture, just provide an example of how pictures don’t literally ‘say’ anything, people (we) do the talking. b) To whom is this saying something? c) Under what circumstances is a particular picture being shown and viewed?
Who decides what gets shown and what pictures must not be distributed any further? Blaming it on the publisher’s decisions seems useless, since most of the times decisions are usually based in local community conventions: something that might be accepted in one place might not be so in the other and vice versa.
An example to recall and in reference to one of Benetton’s well known images, Marita Sturken reminds us: “While in certain contexts, this image might connote racial harmony, in the United States it carried other connotations, most troubling the history of slavery in the United States and the use of black women slaves as “wet nurses” to breast-feed the white children of their owners.” It seems that several values are not as universal as is usually presupposed. In the same vein, Charles Ess remarked: “mobile devices evoke a wide gamut of crucial ethical questions – questions that require careful and systemic ethical reflection regarding these devices and their potential ethical and political issues.” [emphasis added]