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Monday
Sep042006

My Card : My Life : Your Comments

americanexpress2.jpg

The American Express Red Campaign 'My Card, My LIfe', may have a noble aim; to donate 1% of all Red-card spendings to AIDS elimination in Africa, but the print campaign, showing Supermodel Gisele (her card) posing next to an African Masai Warrior (his life) is controversial to say the least.  Here we welcome your comments, whether positive or negative...(For Gisele and Keseme's comments:  www.americanexpressred.co.uk)

Mark from the thought-provoking, essential reading website K-punk has donated his own critical analysis of the AMEX ad to us here at AnyBody, have a read and reply below...

The current American Express Red campaign cries out for the kind of intricate semiotic dissection Roland Barthes pioneered in Mythologies.  The ad – which shows happy, smiling supermodel Gisele embracing happy, smiling African Maasai warrior, Keseme – is a succinct emblem of the current ruling ideology.

The image, with its evocation of ideas of Culture and Nature, Consumerism and Debt, independence and dependence – fairly drips with polysemic resonances. There is enough here to keep semiologists busy for years.

But the central opposition – ‘My Card’ versus ‘My Life’ – says more than it intends. The First world is metonymically represented by a plastic card, and it is left to the Third World to symbolize all the ‘natural’ vitality that unliving capital has eliminated from western culture. The Western Woman equals (artifical, cosmetic) Culture; the African Man equals living Nature.
Indeed, when we click on the ‘My Life’ button we see the stereotypically-described ‘proud and fiercely independent … Maasai tribes of East Kenya’ suborned into the role of embodying ‘the dignity, courage and breathtaking beauty of Africa’, their culture quickly flattened back into Nature.

Slavoj Zizek1 has argued that what he calls ‘liberal communism’ – as exemplified by the charitable gifts made by super-succesful capitalists such as Bill Gates and George Soros – is now the dominant form of capitalist ideology. ‘According to liberal communist ethics,’ Zizek argues, ‘the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity: charity is part of the game, a humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation. Developed countries are constantly “helping” undeveloped ones (with aid, credits etc), and so avoiding the key issue: their complicity in and responsibility for the miserable situation of the Third World.’ This is the real meaning of the embrace between Giselle an  Keseme – under global capitalism, the relationship between First and Third Worlds can never be a symmetrical synergy in which both partners win. It will always be a system of structural inequality in which one side is always destined to lose.

But Product Red marks a move on from Zizek’s liberal communism. Liberal communism is really just old-style philanthropy, in which exploitation is atoned for by subsequent acts of charity. With Red, by contrast, the act of consumption is presented to us as already and immediately benevolent.
At the Product Red launch in January Bono2, Red’s most high-profile advocate, made a point of differentiating the new approach from
philanthropy.  ‘Philanthropy is like hippy music, holding hands,’ Bono claimed. ‘Red is more like punk rock, hip hop, this should feel like hard
commerce.’ (It is unclear what inspired Bono’s invocation of punk rock – perhaps he was thinking of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – but his
reference to hip-hop might be the most savage indictment yet of the genre yet.)

We confront here the curious mixture of brutal cynicism and dewy-eyed piety that is so characteristic of late capitalist culture. The billboard version of the American Express ad tells us that ‘this card is designed to eliminate Aids in Africa’. Even when we dismiss this as obvious nonsense – the most credulous consumer cannot but be aware that the card was designed to increase the profits of American Express – the ideological blackmail still holds:  how can anything which assists in the struggle against Aids in Africa possibly be wrong?

We’ve already touched upon one reason: campaigns such as this occlude and mystify the
systemic character of the relationship between western capital and the third world. The picturesque image of a ‘traditional’ Maasai warrior beguiles us into forgetting the way in which western institutions profit from Third World debt. It also photoshops out capital’s attempt, in Zizek’s words, to ‘export the (necessary) dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labour, ecological pollution – to “non-smart” Third World locations.’

Another, related, reason is that Product Red promises to eliminates politics as such. If the invisible hand of the credit card user can ameliorate the problem of Aids in Africa, there is no need for a political response at all – what John Hayes of American Express calls ‘conscientious commerce’ will be sufficient. In this way, Product Red goes beyond using a Masaai tribesman to advertise American Express, and uses him to sell neo-liberal ideology itself.

1http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n07/zize01_.html

2 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4650024.stm

...Thanks to Mark from K-punk for his most insightful entry, visit more of K-punk's essential social discourse at:

http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/

 

Reader Comments (37)

Oh my god! Does anybody have legs that long??? For more photoshopped scariness go here:
http://homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/digital/bikini/bikini1.html
September 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSandra
That is incredible, the photoshopped image. AS to the AMEX ad, it is so hard to get a hold of the message and see the viciousness behind it. Somehow our spend is just so valiant and celebratory for those poor people suffering from Aids in Africa,,,,,,,, OUCH. The North as totally patronising the South,,,,,,
September 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersusie orbach
I have just seen Susie Orbach on Sky and must say it's very gratifying to see the fashion industry running for cover and using defences as flimsy as a t-string on the Madrid BMI rule. What a brilliant idea! I just wondered why no one seems to have thought of it before. or enacted it.

After a look at your website, I am, however, a bit concerned that you seem to be in some denial about the obesity problem.Don't throw the baby out of the bathwater! Surely it's possible to knock the obscenity of fashion magazines and catwalks without offering false solace to people who are obese, that they'll be ok.

I don't know if I'd be knocking Weight Watchers so enthusiastically... my sister, for instance, is obese, and is starting a program with them because she's finding it too hard to get to a healthy weight on her own. It seems that to kick bad habits, whaveter they are, it can be very helpful to join a group for some structure and support. They're not a group I would join, but then i'm not in the same position.
September 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz L
Mark's article is wonderful. He put in words the gut reaction I had when I first saw this ad in the London Tube. It indeed fits Barthes' model of cultural objects as symbols that serve to reinforce cultural myths, by staring them in the face and casting them in a positive light. The schism between a Manhattanite spending $1000 on a Burberry coat and an African warrior who may not encounter such wealth in his lifetime is alarming, disturbing, and intuitively wrong. This AmEx ad does not ignore the gap - instead, it looks for a way to justify and reinforce it, by telling that Manhattanite that her investment will do some good for thsoe less fortunate...

October 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAlmondine
Why anyone should look at their body and think to themselves that they are less than any other, and come to hate themselves is a question only a humanist psychologist can answer.

It's called conditioning, the same kind of conditioning that convinces people that if they USE a RED AmEx Card they are helping people in Africa. Ed Bernays invented the concept of PR propaganda, Hitler perfected it with Geobbels, and modern advertising has taken it to the limit.

It is disempowering for all of us women, men, children and the old to have such conditioning imposed upon us.

Lets deal with it. Lets get over it. Let's dismantle it.
November 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercorneilius
You have put in words, much better than I could, everything I wanted to say about these adverts since I first saw them.

Thank you!
December 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterstudentmedic
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March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOvaneiseeDada
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If this isn't some white supremacist b.s. then I don't know what is. What is so funny about having a African warrior pose with this european dog? If I were this Masai warrior, I'd behead that cave-bitch, then go after the cameraman.
April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCracka' Beheada'

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