All around this country, the mercury is rising. And there’s a steady stream of adverts for air-conditioners. Blue Star has got three adverts – two very funny and one that is in shockingly bad taste, proudly saluting the rich-poor divide.
The third advert goes something like this: dreary dismal music, with deep dark voice over saying ‘At 50 degrees centigrade, most cameras fail (a war zone, explosions, things being blown up being filmed by a journalist whose camera fails); next scene is of a grounded aircraft with a ground crew staff leaning on the airplane’s wheel in the shadow of the aircraft’s belly: ‘At 50 degrees centigrade, aircrafts are advised not to take off’; workers, grimy and sweaty under a tin roof, playing cards: ‘At 50 degrees centigrade work grinds to a halt’. Then change of tempo to happy music, glass and steel skyscraper, fancy office, beautiful people in tight skirts and distinguished men in suspenders with plush offices, ‘But Blue Star’s VRF technology works non-stop even at 50 degrees centigrade.’
Maybe I’m too sensitive but to me this advert is in awfully bad taste. There’s nothing to gloat about that the rich have air-conditioning while the poor workers out there in the punishing heat, have nothing. That’s what this advert says to me. To someone else it might say, ‘At least everyone else gets a break but these rich folks have to keep working (how sad for them, they get to work in a comfortable environment). I’m not really sure what the advertisers were getting at with this one?
In his classic works, Mythologies and Rhetoric of an Image, Roland Barthes says that there is meaning in every image (literal/denoted and symbolic/connoted), of which the symbolic is always more difficult to tease out. In the advertising image, the meanings are a priori – already decided or intentional. For a true semiotic analysis, we would need to go frame by frame. But on the surface of things, to me there is a a literal meaning: a clear divide between those working outside in the heat and those working inside in comfort. However, this image does not connote a consistent symbolic meaning such as a class divide – the journalist and the ground crew are both skilled workers, only the grimy workers may be semi/un-skilled. So we could say that the symbolic meaning is inconsistent. Instead the symbolic distinction is drawn between working in the field, in the thick of the action, getting your hands dirty (the hard life), and those removed from the real world (the easy life) in their chrome and glass skyscrapers playing with virtual money. It is promoting the idea or archytype of the modern office worker as aspirational and yet, if anyone has seen the movie Wallstreet, the business of making money is a pretty stressful playground and fraught with moral landmines. The advert does nothing to celebrate the people who have the hard life, outdoors.
The two other adverts I mentioned are fun and meaningless as they comment on the specific world of the people who can afford air-conditioning. But comparing the two worlds and portraying one as better than the other, is I think in poor taste.