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York University
Fine Arts Cultural Studies
FACS 1900
Robert Gill

FACS 1900 C Arts and Ideas Instructor: Robert Gill Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial October 10, 2008 Today in tutorials there will be a sign up sheet to make sure you are all in the right course, that sheet is for the faculty administration. You just initial it. If your name is not on that sign-in sheet, beeline immediately to FACS office in 322 Goldfarb, they will get you registered in the course. Bringing articles to tutorials, something you were supposed to do to participate as fully as possible in the tutorial. Have the material in hand so you can all participate meaningfully in the conversation. Across the board we are using it as a participation factor. How much you attended, how much you participated, it’s in your TAs hands to decide that. When stuff comes up in the future, please come prepared to tutorials to do what we ask you to do, it’s integral to your grade. Today we will continue talking about language in relationship to a particular kind of phenomenon in contemporary society, branding. Very pervasive form of culture today. May not seem obvious to you at the moment. Two things we’re after, one you’ll have a better understanding of the cultural, social dimension of language, how language works as something that is social and cultural. Number two, you should be able to discuss how branding is an example of language being activated, being made real in contemporary life. Branding as an example of how language works. We will look at this film No logo, based on materials by Naomi Klein, a big name in antiglobalization politics. In the film Naomi Klein will never say to you, my film is about the relationship between language and branding. Actively today as a class we will watch the material and figure out how we can relate it to what we’ve looked at about language in Hall, in other readings, in tutorials. Last time I left off with a long sentence starting with, “the problem with the idea that language simply operates as a reflection or a window…” Hall talks about the importance of the constructionist approach, understanding language from a constructionist perspective. Although sometimes language does reflect a certain reality and is a window you can see through, ultimately we want to get you to see that language is the medium through which we are constantly constructing the reality around us. There is a reality out there, there are irresponsible people bankrupting our society, these things are real. But Hall is saying that 1 that reality is only real in a sense that we understand it in a particular way. George Bush take on today’s reality is his way to do things. What is real is always up to interpretation. That seems straightforward enough but you need to see that all kind of categories we take for granted in our life, that we call commonsense, are also socially constructed. How gender and sexuality are socially constructed. How classrooms are spaces that socially construct education. Today we start from this idea that an image, a sound doesn’t just represent reality, it constructs reality. Seeing language as simply a reflection on something, a window on something, this sets up an opposition between the viewer/reader and the message. We want to come up with a way of understanding that language is something we are very much inside of. We don’t want to understand language as simply an instrument, as a tool we pick up and put down whenever we want. The tools are integral to our experience. Marx observed that humans have a way of creating things and then forgetting that they created them and beginning to see them as natural, as normal. We produce the world around us and then we forget that we produced it. We can blame nature, the gods, for a reality that we have constructed. Language is not something that is just there, outside of ourselves, it is integral to our experience and to who we are. An object like this Nike shoe, how could we apply this concept of representation to it? As part of this chain of representation that Hall talks about. Part of the circuit of culture. How we can begin to understand this. Explain a Nike running shoe as part of the circuit of culture, where would you start to explain how this image on the screen can be understood linguistically? ---the brand is apparent. We will be looking at this things not just as a running shoe but as having a cultural, social dimension to it, the brand that is connected to this thing. What is a brand? ---an overall concept we associate with certain things. ---how we classify a bunch of things created by one company. We have Nike as being sporty and sleek, helping you to be more athletic. It also has some other qualities to it, that we associate with the object. What kinds? ---money. You have to have the money to buy it. What other qualities that are part of the brand? ---popularity and durability. 2 Popularity is a good one. Durability is more a quality of the item itself. I’m not talking about the running shoe but about the brand. ---the phrase associated with it, just do it. What is the quality of that slogan? Nike does not want you to know how the shoe is made per se. ---celebrity endorsements, what the shoe represents to the masses. The Nike executives have a certain understanding of how the brand is perceived, that is part of the brand. ---the brand has to be in right now and able to be a temporary thing that will lead, others will want to have it at that moment. Make it something you can’t really grasp. You can grasp it to a certain extent but you don’t think much about it. It’s something a bit intangible. It has to have a certain moment-ness, it has to be hip, contemporary. If this shoe makes you think of five years ago, the brand is exhausted, is no longer effective. The brand has to be both hip and current, to project a quality of belonging and happiness. The brand has to make you feel a desire to buy the product. This is the most fundamental thing about it. Be able to look at something that is very obvious and be able to explain how it works. Tell us more than just that they’re good running shoes and they’re cool, or not cool. Nike running shoes work and Nike can sell them because the brand connects the object to a desire for that object. There is an object called a running shoe, there is a social process and there is a meaning derived from that process. You are beginning to pick up a language that you can use to start describing the social and cultural life of things. For about 20 minutes I will show you some of this Naomi Klein video and have a discussion of what we saw, how can we understand the social and linguistic dimensions of branding. Video highlights • Brands have become about selling an idea, a lifestyle. They are also an assault on public life through sponsorship. • Brands actually promote less choice, not more, due to corporate globalization. The quality of work is going down and many jobs are disappearing. • The three section of the video segment are called No space, No choice, No jobs. The title No logo describes the spirit of anticorporate resistance 3 • Branding involves marking a products with a message of consistency. The ideas associated with various brands are not connected to belief and action, they are just commodities. As a result the idea itself is devalued. Our most powerful ideas, such as democracy, revolution, environmentalism are treated as merely brand content. • The Disney town of Celebration, Florida, is a kind of brand Nirvana. An actual town where people go to live and which does not allow the intrusion of any other brands in the life of its inhabitants. Take out a piece of paper, write down what you consider to be the five key terms that we will be testing you on at the end of the course. Then write a couple of paragraphs about how those concepts can be applied to explain what Naomi Klein is talking about in this video. After the break I will check in with you. There are 4 pages missing on the PDF for today, I will post them on WebCT. Don’t worry too much about it, we need to move on. Some of you asked where you stop reading in the Hall reading that goes on to talk about Foucault and discourse. You only read up to the page indicated on the outline. Don’t read about Foucault and discourse. We will come back to that on the second term. What did you come up with? Focus on one concept only. I know they are all interconnected. One key word related to the Naomi Klein video and to our course content so far? ---lifestyle. We haven’t really discussed lifestyle up to this point. Focus on keywords that we reviewed in my lectures very explicitly. ---experience. In the past experience wasn’t so shaped by an outside corporation. That’s pretty close to the core of the matter. We started off the course looking at an article on experience. There are two important dimensions to experience, it is both situated and mediated. Increasingly in today’s reality our experiences are more and more shaped by things like branding. Arguably the brand has become who we are. ---representation. A product represents an idea that they are trying to sell you. When you look at branding, representation becomes a very important analytical tool. How many of you would say you see through this branding stuff just as Naomi Klein does? It is becoming more and more clear to us how these things work. ---creativity and intelligence. 4 Brands shape a certain way of intelligence. People working in branding are usually the cream of the crop. Very creative and highly intelligent. ---culture and control, the Disney town, nothing that the Disney corporation doesn’t want there comes into play. The interplay between culture and something else. ---the notion of design, brands are constantly keeping in touch with a contemporary style. ---power, these companies have money and power, they use their power to influence us, we buy their stuff which gives them more money and power. ---there is a social language all of us understanding regarding happiness as connected to money. ---there is also a helplessness in relation to brands, we know all this stuff and still buy them. The idea of responsible capitalism, I am more and more skeptical of it. Our taxes are used in bailouts for a lot of corruption. These companies should be responsible and take some criticism. It’s not necessarily that Nike is evil, but it’s a grey area. ---knowledge, brands are so advertised around us, we see them. This information we’re constantly consuming is the pervasive form of knowledge in our culture today. If you go to a marketing firm and poll people you will find out that many Canadians can’t tell you who the PM is but they can tell you what laundry detergent to use. ---process, they see what we want, package it and feed it back to us. Hall talks about the circuit of culture. Marketing taps into this very human process and intervenes into that circuit. I saw space in there too, in a fairly big way. One of the things that brands try to do, they try to create not only an identification with an object but an aura around the object itself. The object creates a kind of space around itself that you become part of. It’s explicit in the example of Celebration, Florida, where life itself becomes a commodity. Where you live becomes a commodity. All of our lives take place in space. A few key points here before you go. Today I’ve tried to add to our understanding of how the language process works. Shift your focus to the process of the significant as opposed to the sign itself. We want to understand how language actually works. There is no inherent meaning in a Nike running shoe. The example of Starbucks, premised on the idea that a cup of coffee is an experience. All the associations that can get connected to that. 5 When we study language we have to understand the contexts in which language takes place. When we look at branding we see a very vivid example of this. We begin to have insight into language as a very dynamic thing, a very social thing, something that is about space. The process of language includes spaces that we inhabit. The brand becomes a kind of little house that we live in. Also called a brand tribe. People who go to Starbucks vs. people who go to Tim Horton’s. People who inhabit the space of Starbucks vs. Tim Horton’s. Language is very much about these events that take place in our lives and how we inhabit or resist them. We are
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