Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising

Article excerpt

Undressing The Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. Katherine Toland Frith, ed. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. 250 pp. $29.95 pbk.

Of the various difficulties confronted in the teaching of an undergraduate course attempting to marry advertisements with critical thinking, finding a sufficient text looms larger than might reasonably be expected, although it is only one challenge facing teachers who would offer such courses. Undergraduates must also be convinced that advertising - one of the more ephemeral and incidental forms of mass culture - deserves prolonged critical attention, that what typically slips in between the cracks of television programs, magazine and newspaper articles, radio, movies, and the entire postmodern consumer landscape should be examined. It is a matter of changing perspectives: what has been tacitly accepted as simply there, as surface, is deliberately and mindfully shaped and, in fact, has surprising depth.

Existing texts have tended to err in one of two ways. On one hand, an emphasis on the larger cultural implications of ads results in concepts already challenging for undergraduates discussed in language that is, more often than not, impenetrable. On the other hand, works written in accessible language often oversimplify the theoretical infrastructure for reading ads. Yes, ads do more than sell goods and services, but after this initial recognition, then what? Katherine Toland Frith's selection falls happily in between these two poles and, as a result, is a welcome and needed book. As Frith states in the preface, the book's purpose is to "empower readers to become media literate by deconstructing the consumer culture that surrounds them." Undergraduates will actually read this book and be challenged by it. Teachers will find that its eleven essays provide common ground for the introduction and examination of ideas about what ads mean and how they shape their meanings.

All of the chapters in this book are original and written with undergraduates in mind and it shows. From Frith's opening titular chapter through Angharad N. …