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Title:Commodifying consciousness: A visual analysis and discussion on neoliberal multiculturalism in advertising
Author(s):Moultrie, Jasmine L.
Advisor(s):Nelson, Michelle R
Department / Program:Advertising
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):neoliberal multiculturalism
critical discourse analysis
visual grammar theory
social semiotics
Abstract:Brands are employing neoliberal multicultural strategies to target and depict marginalized communities. These strategies are seen as indicative of positive social change that has been fueled by a growing consciousness among those who desire, and demand, inclusion and authenticity. An industry argument is that “diverse” ads speak to everyone, especially marginalized peoples who are encouraged to consume the brands advertised. The purpose of this study is to first critically and visually analyze an ad featuring Black, Latina and Asian women, and to then facilitate space for perceptions of ads featuring women of their same race via semi-structured interviews. This study operates through a womanist lens and utilizes both critical discourse analysis and visual grammar theory as its theoretical framework. A social semiotic analysis of an Urban Decay Instagram ad revealed communications of neoliberal discourse as well as the inclusion of postfeminist and postracial discourse, which are categorized as co-optations of consciousness. These co-optations in no way substitute for ongoing efforts to dismantle oppressive systems. They in fact serve as subtle reinforcement. Semi-structured interviews among 33 women were conducted, including 11 who self-identified as Black, 11 as Latina and 11 as Asian. Various other identities, including class, nationality and sexuality were captured via an identity questionnaire. A thematic analysis of interview data revealed that participants’ intersecting identities of race and gender contributed to their interpretation of the ads and to their awareness of being (mis)represented, or absent, in advertising. Self-awareness of their identities and mine (as a Black woman researcher) facilitated a safe space for open discussion and revealed opportunities for organizing around difference. Consideration should be given to the dominant ideologies that are materialized in ads featuring women of color. Though, at times, seen as “authentic,” the ads project the false narrative that we live in a postracial or postfeminist society, and women of color question the intention behind these “new and improved” representations. Unique contributions provided from this study include a highlight of the negotiation of perceived authenticity towards brand influencers and mediated representations of women of color; an engagement with the problematizing of representation via the process of social media reposting--a strategy that contributes to the spread of indistinguishable advertising and enables brands to claim “diversity” and “inclusion” without doing the actual work; and an assessment of how, through appropriation, women of color become accessories to the brand themselves, in a subtle, yet equally powerful form of dehumanization that is replacing the overt stereotypical depictions of the past.
Issue Date:2019-07-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Jasmine Moultrie
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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