Critical Theory Need Not Frighten

via Andrew comes a pointer to Landscapes of Capital, a website devoted to deconstructing recent media campaigns devoted to commerce and technology.

There seems to be an entire book’s worth of material here, all served up for free to you, the Web reader. I’ve spent nearly an hour pouring through it, and I’m not even close to reading it all.

Though it takes a semiotic approach, and quotes people like Barthes and Bakhtin, don’t let that scare you! It actually serves as a wonderful primer, making critical theory approachable by presenting it in an accessible context. It’s great that the authors have made available the actual commercials in question, so you can see exactly to what they are referring, and understand their criticisms much more easily.

The content of the site is fascinating, depicting how corporations utilize imagery to promote certain mythologies, and how a number of patterns have emerged in the telling of these stories.


I was particularly taken with a series of ads developed in 1998 for First Union (which hadn’t been shown out here on the West Coast). These are slickly produced, very expensive, remarkbly dense creations, which, as the authors point out, provide a treasure trove of symbolism.


Geeks will appreciate an ad from Micron Electronics, as it stars Jeri Ryan before she made it big as 7 of 9 on Voyager.


As someone who has read a bit of history about the American west, MCI Worldcom’s ad that equates the new global information infrastructure with the “golden spike” that connected east with west via railroad is remarkably prescient in a way that was unattended — we commonly associate the railroads with the corporate malfeasance of the robber barons, and a couple years after this ad was shown, MCI Worldcom became an icon of swindling and greed.

In a following post, I’ll discuss some meta-issues around this remarkable website.

5 thoughts on “Critical Theory Need Not Frighten

  1. How Ads work:

    Ever wondered what goes into those Ads which provide powerful 30 seconds experiences? This site, Landscapes of Capital , has ads related to technology and commerce.

  2. It’s a sweet irony that the Jeri Ryan who exclaims “I will not be a cog” ends up getting famous by being a Borg droid.

  3. Fascinating is right. For an armchair – more like couch potato – semiologist (sp?), this site is quite a find. Thanks, Peter.

  4. Landscapes of Capital

    The, as A. Zolli puts it, Visual Rhetoric of Global Capitalism, collected on the site Landscapes of Capital is really excellent. But since Andrew had some commentary with his link and both Peterme and Matt Jones have already added remarks,

  5. ” connected east with west via railroad is remarkably prescient in a way that was unattended” should be unINtended, if that’s what you intended. :)