Thursday, May 31, 2007


So, I know, they’re becoming another giant, another god – the Coca-Cola and McDonalds of digital technology – or are they? Maybe they are, but they’re being much smarter, much shrewder, and more fiercely contemporary, as well as unapologetically and aggressively subversive with their marketing. Or maybe they’re not, and they are in fact either showing us a mirror of the changed culture we are part of, or a window into the not-too-distant future of hugely diverse forms of representation that we are (hopefully) heading for…

I’m talking about iPod+iTunes and their slick and exuberant TV ad campaigns.

The thing is, we’ve seen loads and loads of them by now, which is why I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to notice what I think they're doing… Perhaps because they were more tentative at the beginning with the characters used to promote iPod, or perhaps because – and I think this is more likely – society has changed enough that we don’t question what we are seeing – and we don’t question it because no image is presented which doubts or questions our individual inclusion. I’m talking about the fact that in every iPod+iTunes ad I’ve seen, not just many, but the majority, of the figures dancing away to the songs are the silhouettes of characters from pretty much every ethnic and racial group, apart from white, western and obviously middle-class.

When those concerned with gender, race, class and sexuality try to attack western marketing for only representing, and thus targeting, white middle-class male consumers, or white middle-class female consumers, the response is usually that these are the ones who will most likely be buying the product, and so these are the ones who must see themselves with the product in advertising. It is, of course, a circular argument because advertising in this way is self-perpetuating: the consumer will only ever be white, male and middle-class because it is only ever a white, middle-class male who is represented using the product.

I think iPod+iTunes significantly undermines this argument. I have seen myself represented in the iPod+iTunes ads through the music, the art, and the general feel of each ad and have never felt excluded from the product just because my particular raced or sexed body is not represented. Now this could initially seem to support the old archaic argument about representation in advertising, by suggesting that showing an ad that presents only a white middle-class male, or even a female, with a product does not automatically exclude other bodies of other classes, races and sexes from feeling in a position to purchase that product.

But really the angle should be: if it makes little difference what colour, class or gender the person presented with the product is, why has advertising been dominated by such immovable (usually white, male and middle-class) stereotypes for so long? Why has it been deemed such a risk to express the diversity of British culture through advertising? iPod+iTunes has clearly shown that capitalist societal processes and racial diversity are not mutually exclusive of one another!

In addition to this (as far as I’m concerned) pretty major explosion in western advertising, is the significance of what this particular product being advertised in this disruptive way actually is. It is a piece of sophisticated, contemporary, ‘hi-tech’ digital technology: until now the almost sole domain of white, male, middle-class technocrats and computer-exec elites. But here it is being thrown around and swung about on tranced-out, psychedelic streets. Physical narratives - the music of connectivity buzzing from machine to human - are being ecstatically performed by bodies embodying and celebrating difference, very far from slick offices and executive suites.

Our technological and digital culture is often accused of being exclusionary – that it forgets, not just poverty, but the colour and gender of poverty – that it exacerbates class divisions and indulges further the fantasies of the few who have the privilege of access. I have often argued that, though there is this side to it, which does need addressing, it is not the only story.

I believe the internet, especially, has the potential, if not to erase class, racial and sexual differences, then to connect and instigate conversation, communication and greater understanding between all these differences. And I believe it can be a useful tool in the global campaign to eradicate poverty. I have seen for myself that, where there is a will for it, class and financial status are not insurmountable obstacles in gaining access to technology and the internet. Though their agenda is clearly a capitalist one, I believe the iPod+iTunes ads show us that current western culture accepts and wants a world where access to technology, either as free users or consumers, is not determined or defined by our race or class.

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