USC Students for Justice in Palestine

history, analysis, news, and event updates on the struggle for justice in palestine

Brand America: Of false promises and snake oil

Posted by uscsjp on March 10, 2007

Figure 1: The branded revolution advertisements that have appeared in Lebanon

On the streets of Beirut, a vernacular of graffiti, political posters, cloth banners and stenciled portraits of leaders and martyrs — and the effacement thereof, whether intentionally or through natural causes — produces a lively debate. Various individuals and groups effectively claim existence, label their territories, as well as write and re-write their histories — Lebanon has no one history. I refer to this as a “debate” because of this back and forth, of placement and replacement, which lies in stark contrast to the monologue that rises above buildings and highways, the one-way beaming of high-priced messages as represented by billboards and advertising space.

Recently, these two “conversational” spaces have mixed, if not melded — with corporate messengers vying for equal footing with straightforward political, theological and economic discourses. On closer inspection, however, they are unequal: messages moving from the street upwards have a rebellious aim; those moving from the ad space down have a much more sinister source…

Since Israel’s war against Lebanon last summer, these different levels of discourse — street and ad, local and global — have scrambled for prominence. Advertisers, mostly banks, plastered the country with ads touting their role in rebuilding; Johnnie Walker, among many others, made reference to the destruction of the country’s infrastructure in both its imagery and ad copy [see Fig. 2]. The line between advertising and public expression often blurred: billboards for General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement featured “hand-drawn” orange checkmarks, only to be rivaled by huge “homemade” banners — mostly featuring Condoleezza Rice as purveyor of bombs for Lebanese children or as schoolmarm to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora — draped across buildings downtown.  (continued)

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