Casino's Law: Defending American Liberties in Personal Injury Attorney Advertisements

Image of Jamie Casino opening double wooden doors to a church, standing between them, while wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses.

Image Credit: Screenshot from Vimeo

The Super Bowl, with an audience of 111.5 million people, tends to be a place where the definition of “American” is equally invoked and contested. Not only do the hard hits and pick-sixes play out America’s strength, but also the commercials display American ingenuity and self-expression. After all, what could be more American than Bob Dylan in a Chrysler commercial, a cowboy driving a Chevy Silverado, a multilingual performance of “America the Beautiful” over a bottle of coke? At this year’s Super Bowl, only a personal injury attorney ad could top these greats.

Ads on Bodies and Bodies in Ads at SXSW

Image Credit: Magic Spoon Production's Vimeo

Few things will make a body more aware of its need of personal space than being in Austin during SXSW. At the height of the music festival, sixth street is a throbbing mass of bodies; most are hurting from the night before; many are pierced and tattooed; and all are in search of further sensory stimulation. Prominence and/or density of bodies are signal features of large scale cultural gatherings like SXSW. Consequently, advertising at these sorts of events often becomes embodied in visually arresting and sometimes ethically questionable ways. This post examines two advertising schemes that came to my attention this SXSW, and thinks about the stakes--rhetorical and otherwise--of confusing bodies with commercial products.

We Have Sold The Future: The Uses of Future Hopes and Fears in Petroleum Industry Advertising

Small photo of traffic-clogged streets contrasted with sketch of futuristic city with cars travelling efficiently on roads

Image Credit: Shell

The future of Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama is optimistic. Clean architecture and efficient technology aid people as they move through the business of their day. As promised in a series of 1937 Shell advertisements in Life magazine using the words of Bel Geddes, the city of tomorrow will alleviate many commuting frustrations. Until that city emerges, however, the ads offer Shell gasoline as a way to save money and reduce wear and tear on car engines while stuck in stop-and-go traffic. This use of a hopeful future contrasts with the darker tomorrows that lurk behind many of today's petroleum advertisements, drawing attention to the double-edged sword of appeals to the future.

Selling Beer and Selling Democracy: American Bald Eagle Logos Today and Yesterday

Eagle logo hangs over Obama and Romney; Eagle clutches arrows, olive branch and banner that reads, "The Union and the Constitution Forever"

Image Credit: Commission on Presidential Debates

Despite its vaguely governmental-sounding name, the Commission on Presidential Debates is a private, non-profit corporation funded by a handful of businesses, as described by George Farah. The Commission serves to accommodate the Republican and Democratic Parties' desire for a relatively controlled eventcontrol which drove the League of Women Voters to withdraw from hosting the debates in 1987. One of the long-standing contributors to the Commission is the Anheuser-Busch corporation (owned since 2008 by the Brazilian and Belgian conglomerate InBev). While watching the debates, I couldn't help but notice the similarity between the eagle that hangs above the heads of the candidates and the Anheuser-Busch eagle, both of which draw on deeply set US political imagery.

Logos Isn't Working

Romney - Obama Isn't Working

Image Credit:

So last week I suggested that my post on tennis, David Foster Wallace, and postmodernism might be my last for the 2011–2012 academic year. I lied. Here’s another 500–1,000 words for your delectation. While thinking over what to write about last week, I decided to take coffee at Starbucks and read the paper. This was the day that Paul Krugman wrote his column “The Amnesia Candidate” (22 April 2012), and I’ve been thinking about what’s said there ever since. The Op-Ed is a thoughtful evaluation of Mitt Romney’s most recent campaign rhetoric, and it is especially efficient in the way it attacks the former governor for blaming some of Bush’s legacy on Obama. While Krugman does concede that Obama could have handled economic matters differently, he ultimately concludes by asking “Are the American people forgetful enough for Romney’s attack to work?”. This is a complex question. You hear cynics complain all the time that American voters have a 6-month attention span, which, if true, must surely be further compromised by consumer culture’s narcotization. There’s probably some truth to this. How could there not be given technology’s onslaught of information?

Pinterest and Panopticon: Self-representation Through Appropriation

Leviathan Frontispiece including Pinterest Content                  Hacked Leviathan Frontispiece. Image Credit: David A. Harper

In the coffee shop where I ‘m writing, there are two large bulletin boards in a high-traffic area (the hallway leading to the restrooms). We all know how bulletin boards and advertising work: once a provocative image draws you in, the text informs you, proselytizes you, or sells something to you. On a well-used board layers upon layers of images vie for attention, each individual post contributing to an unintentional artistic whole.  Gathered on the same bulletin board, even the most antagonistic images are put into dialog as the physical wooden frame becomes a conceptual one. We find patterns in the noise. These old-fashioned bulletin boards have been on my mind this week while I explored the high-tech virtual pinboards of Pinterest.

Sex Sells?: Reading Romance Over the Covers

Kristine Mills-Noble looks at cover art

Image Credit: Screencap from Vimeo

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

I thought after my last post on Ryan Gosling that I’d be able to move on to more academic subjects, but when I saw Andrew Sullivan’s post on “The Market for Romance” I couldn’t let it pass. In my Women’s Popular Genres literature class last year I taught Fay Weldon’s wickedly funny novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which tells the story of Ruth, a woman who gets revenge on her husband after he leaves her for a romance novelist. I wanted to pair it with an actual romance novel, but wasn’t sure I could find something that would sustain close reading. However, I think a rhetorical approach to the romance novel—especially its cover—reveals some interesting things.

The City upon a Hill at Halftime: Detroit, Unions, and the USA

Clint Eastwood in Chrysler Super Bowl commercial

Image Credit: Screenshot from YouTube

While baseball is more my sport, I haven’t missed watching the Super Bowl for the last couple of years. If nothing else, I enjoy analyzing the Super Bowl commercials—and this year’s Chrysler commercial featuring Clint Eastwood presents an irresistible opportunity to discuss some interesting controversies. Both conservative critics like Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Goldstein and liberal ones like Michael Moore and Charles Mudede have read the commercial as promoting Obama’s reelection campaign. The ad’s copy and visuals directly connect the fates of Detroit and the auto industry with larger economic and political trends, as you can see:

Future City from the Past: Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow”

City of Tomorrow: Aerial shot of peopleless, car-filled city

Image Credit: a456

I’ve been thinking a lot about future cities these days, though I’ve mostly been focusing on real-world metropolises as futuristic settings in TV shows and movies. Today, I’m going to shift gears to describe an idea for a future city from the past, Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow” advertising campaign for Shell Oil from the late 1930s. The campaign predicts (critics might say “encouraged” or “enabled”) a car-centric, highway-laden, city whose residents “loaf along at 50 [m.p.h]—right through town.” Bel Geddes’ “tomorrow” continues to resound today.

"Maybe These Maps Are Legends": Ghost Signs and the Traces of the Past

Wrigley's Ghost Sign, Austin, TX

Austin, TX, Ghost Sign, image from Flickr

There is nothing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, in the water, or in the air we breathe but will be found in the universal Language of the Walls. ("The Language of the Walls," anonymous, 1855).

 Maps are propositions as well as indexes, making visual arguments about our orientation in this world--a good map (whether road or otherwise) gets us somewhere, forces us to reconsider the relationship between us and the world.  Advertising, that pernicious beasat, is also somewhere between sign and proposition.  A visual referent to a thing--a bottle of beer, a pack of gum, an insurance service--an advertisement also makes an argument or, at the very least, presents a fantasy of (self-)orientation.  But what happens when those relationships are obscured, when the fantasy becomes outdated?  What happens when the ad remains after the product is gone?

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