"Meaning and Ideology" by Judith Williamson deconstructs the meaning-making of the advertising world. The main tenet of her argument is that the advertising world does not operate within the static confines of a 'language,' but rather, molds a structure through which it can transform "the language of objects to that of people"(189). Advertisers create links between certain objects and certain characteristics of people and then those objects take on a symbolic nature. This was apparent in our discussion of the many sub-cultures that are a part of Boise--each culture was represented by the objects that are consumed within that culture.
A couple of my favorite lines that incapsulate Williamson's argument: "Advertisements are selling us something else besides consumer goods: in providing us with a structure in which we, and those goods, are interchangeable, they are selling us ourselves"(190).
"Thus instead of being identified by what they produce, people are made to identify themselves with what they consume"(190).
"Advertising gives goods a social meaning so that two needs are crossed, and neither is adequately filled."
I had never considered before Williamson's ingenious commentary that in the world of advertising there is "a gap left where the speaker should be" and so "we are drawn in to fill that gap, so that we become both listener and speaker, subject and object"(190). In other words, the authority of advertising comes from ourselves! We consume the symbolic objects that best typify the 'social place' we wish to find ourselves in, or the social attributes we believe we possess or wish to possess.
A class structure of social place based on consumption rather than production is an interesting phenomenon. What about knock-offs? Products that try to offer the same symbolic resonance of an object at a more affordable price to the masses? Do they in fact have the same results? What about those who believe they can see past the advertising hype--that they are not "consumerists"? Are they complicite (sp?) in the system in another way?
It is my perception that Williamson believes the structure of the advertising world to be a reality independent of any one group of people. I don't know if I buy this. Obviously in our capitalist society there are more products and advertisements than any one person can control, but I wonder if there is not a nucleus of people that sort of determines the direction of trends in the advertising world--and profits thereby.
Why does Williamson say that material and non-material needs are crossed, neither is adequately filled? I agree that a material object does not have the power to fulfil a non-material need, but can't that object at least satisfy the material need?