Came across this advertisement: in the future your body will be in a meeting your mind will be in the front row of a fashion show

How to think about this figuring (and I use the word deliberately) of body/mind split?

I have, of course, attended meetings where the point is to show one’s face rather than to actually participate in organized discussion aimed at coordinating action toward some shared goal. In fact, most meetings veer into the irrelevant for all too many participants. I have also watched participants answer their phones during a meeting. That said, however, this is the first time I have seen an advertisement that advocates overcoming the inevitability of meetings through better virtual connections someplace else. After all, I assume that the mind at the catwalk is fantastically dressed, rather than actually clothed in haute couture.

Today, I’m distressed by the idea that distraction is presented as an acceptable way of supplementing/ making bearable the gendered division of labor. Let me count the ways:

1) distraction okay because female admins not part of the meeting;

2) distraction inevitable because there are no alternatives to shaping meeting attendance and participation offered;

3) distraction defined through watching rather than participating in design or wearing a dress elsewhere;

4) distraction facilitated by technologies that allow one to go virtual shopping, which in turn keeps one in debt and less able to refuse alienating work.

Question du jour: how beneficial are technologies that intensify human tendencies to distraction? This advertisement seems uncannily like using a television to babysit. But worse. Sigh.

two child style


The above advertisement is for the Shenzhen office of Asiaray, a Hong Kong company that specializes in providing outdoor advertising throughout the Mainland. Three related comments:

1) This particular advertisement caught my eye because of its representation of a two-child family. Just who is the intended audience of this advertisement? Families who have paid fines for their second child? Only children couples who are permitted to have two children? Or is it another sign that China may relax the one child policy, as discussed on Reuters?

2) Cultural turning. The copy literally translates as “Fashion Style — Realize Creativity Everyday”. It may be thanks to Psy the English word “style” is now showing up in advertisements all over the city. However, the official translation of 宣传部(文体局) on the Nanshan District Government website is Propaganda Department (Style Council).

3) Backlit billboards are particularly common in the Shenzhen subway and at bus stops. Indeed, outdoor advertising is the most common form of public art in Shenzhen. Recent research suggests that how we feel can impact our actions — just not in the way we think. This particular advertisement, for example, may not stimulate people to buy backlit billboards from Asiaray. Nevertheless, it does promote both the two-child family and fashion as the means for crossing a threshold into a better future.

Thought du jour: We know that Asiaray and other agencies (including Municipal Style Councils) sell wish fulfillment, using our desires against us. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe what we want is to be caught up in a daydream, all four of us, hand-in-hand on a fashionable rush to the future … until we loop back and repeat the experience, all four of us, hand-in-hand on a fashionalble rush to the future.

of dreams and consumption…

another couplet from real estate advertising, this one noted because it suggests the poetic contours of consumption: 梦想的产品,现实的冲动 (a dreamy product, a practical impulse) as if impulse buying were about satisfying dreams, rather than putting ourselves in debt. after all, the cheapest 30 sq meter condo started at 380,000 rmb, well over the minimum wage. what’s more this relatively cheap development is located in dongguan, a long ride from downtown shenzhen. so to buy into the dream one needs an upper management salary and a car. sigh.

Advertizing and the Shenzhen Soul


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

The elevators in my building have three walls dedicated to advertizing; the fourth wall, so to speak, is a door. These advertisements change every week. What’s more, the advertisements in each of the three elevators are different. This means that every week, I encountered nine different sales pitches for appliances, cars, cultural events, family phone plans, and beauty makeovers. In short, the walls of my elevator promote a constantly changing version of the good home life, which is presumably affordable to those who live here – the catch is to make these life purchases desirable.

One of the latest advertisements for a beauty makeover claims to be able to remove all traces of acne and pimples. This advertisement disturbs me because its intended audience is Generation 90, teenagers who in addition are under the stress of the gaokao are being told they have no place to hide themselves and feel safe from prying eyes. Given the fact that most adults only notice a teenager when said teenager has blundered, the feeling of an ostrich unable to safely hide its head in the sand is probably spot on, if you’ll forgive the pun.

In English, I have understood the expression “to hide one’s head in the sand” to mean something like “avoid reality” or “avoid the consequences of my actions”. For me, being an ostrich has implied a kind of cowardice and a reluctance to take responsibility. In contrast, this advertisement focuses on being exposed – warts and all – to the gaze of others. In other words, the Mandarin interpretation of “to hide one’s head in the sand” focuses on a response to feeling ashamed – hide one’s face.

In other posts, I have spoken of the difference between lian (face as a metaphor for ethical sensibility) and mianzi (face as a metaphor for prestige and social power), what I hadn’t seen at the time was the way in which the emotional impact of these metaphors is cultivated through reference to actual faces. We effectively use shame to control the behaviors of others not only because we care about ethics, power, and other abstract values, but also because we have been taught to value some faces more than others and in the process become ashamed of our own.

Such is the cruelty of advertizing; it exploits cultural tropes for profit. More lamentably, when successful, the creative minds behind such symbolic manipulation are rewarded for their lack of lian by increased mianzi.