(1) Seduction in Signs

In Chapter 5, Tim Jordan discusses the idea of branding and its effects on our daily lives. He argues that nothing in our cultural lives has not been “produced by the professionals of desire” (Jordan 117). From Nike to McDonald’s, corporations have become adept at finding ways to “control [the] meaning” (Jordan 111) of various symbols and ideas. And they have been quite successful – golden arches immediately force audiences to think of fast comfort food. Swooshes push audiences to think of prestige and athleticism. By simply participating in our capitalist society, we are trained to connect words to products, slogans to lifestyles, and ideas to money. Activists now must find ways to use those innate connections against these corporations.

What makes Jordan’s connection of branding to activism! so interesting is its accessibility and effectiveness. It is amazing that a couple of San Francisco guys can place a pink bra on a billboard and reduce the masculinity of an entire cigarette brand (Jordan 105). Our current society has become democratized online – I would argue that one does not need to be in a formal activist group to turn a brand against itself.

To illustrate this, let us consider the recent presidential election – indeed, any discussion of contemporary activism should consider the recent presidential election. One can argue that Donald Trump is a true master of branding – with his tweets and incendiary rally rhetoric that enraptured the media, he was able to create “seduction in return for consumption” (Jordan 110) all for free. And of course, the consumption was the voters’ constant attention. Every American knows the power of the slogan “Make America Great Again”, and those blue caps have been engrained into our memory forever.

But with the power of social media, liberals turned the slogan against itself. “Make America Great Again” became “Make America Hate Again” and “Make America Gay Again”. Alas, the work was to no avail. However, the case study stands; branding and activism! are intertwined, and activists and regular citizens alike can create change by knowing how to manipulate symbols, slogans, and seductive signs.

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3 thoughts on “(1) Seduction in Signs”

  1. There’s no doubt that we’ve all been trained from an early age to connect certain symbols with products and consumption. You raise a good point when pointing out the branding associated with Trump’s presidential campaign. In such an example, one can easily see that “branding” does not even need to be connected to a product – the human tendency to latch on to easily digestible phrases or symbols can be leveraged to popularize ideas as well. Trump was not the first to engage in such branding; for example, it is difficult to imagine Obama’s campaign without his face being offered as a symbol of “Hope” and “Change.” However, “branding” is not particular to capitalist societies. History tells us that symbolism is a powerful tool of propaganda in any economic system, as long as there is an idea worth spreading.

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  2. I agree with your argument that individuals can sway an entire image through their own handy work. I would argue however that being a member of an activists group/working through a group may have a higher success rate. When it comes to taking this on as an individual I believe there is a bit of luck required to make an impact. Some anti-branding catches like wild fire on the internet, but this will require pure luck if you as an individual do not have a wide range of networking solidified. If you are a true activist I am even inclined to argue that you would be seeking out a group, since power comes in numbers.
    It is also interesting to see the use of your political example. “Make America Great Again” has been exposed to an enormously large audience. Seeing a phrase become a symbol throughout Trump’s campaign demonstrates the power of persuasion and networking.

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  3. I like the question that you and Sara are raising about the power of the individual vs. the group with regard to activism. I think I agree with the Amit that it is more than luck on the part of the individual; in today’s world of technology, I believe that the individual is empowered unlike during any movements before social media. With the power of online resources, each person has the potential audience of millions of people whereas before, one individual had no chance at being heard. In many ways, I would guess that our era would lead to the demise of activist groups because I feel like our generation prides itself on everyone broadcasting their unique opinion on facebook, twitter, etc and arguing with everyone else. Perhaps that is a lot of the reason why people say that young people are apathetic towards activism. Coming to consensus is no longer required to have a voice be heard.

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