Thursday, January 13, 2005

Experience a lifestyle of difference unlike any other. I was really irritated today while making myself a cup of tea. Liptons helpfully advised me that I could add milk to my tea, "for a latte experience". This seemed achingly absurd to me, as I thought back to the latte experience I'd had this morning putting milk on my cereal. Is this Liptons' attempt to link tea with the urban cosmopolitanism commonly associated with coffee? If so, it's just so insane, considering that for the West, drinking tea was once the height of cosmopolitanism! And to think I thoughtlessly guzzle 5-10 cups a day!

I know this topic is so very 2004, what with all those books. But let's flash back to the mid 1990s when I was in first year uni, thought Gill Sans was da bomb, sniggered whenever the name Walter Gropius was mentioned, and used a funny machine like an overhead projector with a hood draped in black fabric to make my layouts bigger and smaller. (Does anyone else know about this machine?)

My first-year Client-Based Projects lecturer was Brian Rock, who I heart to this day. Brian was a preppy American with floppy Hugh Grant hair and tortoiseshell glasses. He was also one of the department's only cool staff members, along with Pete Seal the marketing lecturer, a dishevelled, permanently caffeinated Brit. Perched on the teacher's desk, his skinny legs crossed like a Muppet's, Pete delightedly informed us that marketing was "a ship; and it's the fucking Titanic!" He lost his job a year or so later.

But anyway. Brian told us that the three stupidest words in advertising, which we must never, ever use, were "experience", "lifestyle" and "difference". People pepper their campaigns with these words because they seem to mean everything, in the sense of capturing something glamorous and ineffable; but in fact they're absolutely empty and mean nothing at all. While I can't say that this blew my mink, I never forgot this, and I've noted the phenomenon with much irritation over the years, especially when it advertises Delfin housing developments.

Looking back on this after several years of cultural studies, I still think Brian was right to a certain extent. But what strikes me is how cultural theorists have fastened on these "empty" words, showing how they're not empty at all, but perform very specific social/cultural functions that are all the more effective because we're often unaware of them. I'm reminded here of a wonderful alphabet of epigrams from various cultural theorists, which I read this afternoon.

I began to think while writing the most problematic chapter of my thesis, the one on The Castle, Kath & Kim and consumerism, that in the way they're deployed in contemporary Australian advertising, terms like "experience", "difference" and "lifestyle" are very specific and, I tried retardedly to argue, politicised by concepts like "aspiration". I didn't come to a particularly satisfactory conclusion in the thesis, probably because I think this idea deserves an entire thesis to itself.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter