Monday, February 20, 2012

Don't Worry, Be Happy

That title. It can only mean one thing: Bobby McFerrin. The image in my head is of him singing this song, but in the music video. It's difficult, beyond perhaps, for me to imagine the song apart from the image of ole Bobby.

This association intrigued me. So, Sut Jhally's essay "Image-Based Culture" got me to mull a bit. I'll zoom in on this phrase: "Fundamentally, advertising talks to us as individuals and addresses us about how we can become happy."

I wanted to briefly consider an example of advertising, to gauge it's construction of happiness. I'd like to explore the high-fructose corn-syrup campaign via

(I would embed the video but it has been disallowed by request on the YouTube site)

Of note, in particular, at least for me, are the images on the website: sweet in juxtaposition to various text quotes from accredited health practitioners. The question: is there really a difference between cane sugar and high-fructose corn-syrup? Some yell NO! Some shout YES! Which is it? Regardless, the images featured in the ads are clear: happiness.

There are five distinct images--featuring four distinct ethnicities. The themes are consistent in each of the images: family + healthy food (read HFCS) = smiles, i.e. happiness.

The argument here isn't meant to get into the physiological or biological and chemical compositions of either. Though I do believe there are chemical compositional structures of difference that do influence endorphin production within the brain and that do have effects, the issue at hand is of the use of images in relationship to text.

"Get the facts," is the tagline of the campaign. As if facts are clear-cut and interpretation can be kept to a minimum. There are various elements of cost effectiveness for the market in using HFCS over pure cane sugar. I get that. What's difficult is that we don't necessarily see (or "feel") much difference in the use (or, at least we don't tend to be consciously aware of such) of one versus the other. As much as I do, I know that others can and do claim that they don't (feel negative effects).

As Jhally notes, "autonomy" and "control" of one's life, self-esteem, a happy family life, etc. are the fundamental desires of consumers which are not connected (necessarily) to goods. But these commodities are intertwined. As Jhally goes on to note, there is at times a "religious" quality, a salvific notion to products. And sometimes this comes by way of minimizing negative side effects and associating unnatural products with natural products.

I digress. I was intrigued with the simplicity but ubiquity of the image-based culture ideal, of how they work in relation in the negotiation of meaning. If only Howard Beale were still around:

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