Friday, September 6, 2013

The Savage Mind on Madison Avenue

Most attempts to assign meaning to the content of television programming operate under the same mistaken assumptions that plagued linguistics in its early years. The first linguists mistakenly assumed that meaning could be found in the particular sounds of a language, so that words having to do with water would always use the so-called liquid vowels and consonants, and so on. It wasn’t until linguists realized that the sounds of a language have no meaning in and of themselves that they were able to arrive at a viable hypothesis concerning the structure and function of languages. Similarly, until scholars concerned with interpreting the mass media realize that the meanings of our popular culture are to be found in the structural configurations and not in the isolated images and symbols, attempts to discover those meanings will be stymied.

In this paper I will show how the seemingly random and isolated elements of television advertising conform to a general overall structure, and I will suggest that this structure is similar to one that the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, has identified in the myths of less materially advanced cultures. I will first give an example of the similarity between the type of logical processes evident in myths and in advertising, and then I will outline briefly what I believe is the general structure of television advertising.

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