In Chapter 1, I outlined how the interpretation of culture can be an exercise in which culture is 'something to be mastered cognitively, as a meaning' (Bauman 1992:23). I argued that this interpretative process is performative - subjects are not preformed entities but rather are formed in the very process of engaging with culture. What, then, is the significance of advertising within this cultural context, and in what sense might advertising mediate individuality? What role does advertising play in the commercial circulation of cultural meanings about target markets of consumers? How does it establish a context within which viewers engage in practices of interpretation?
As I argued in the introduction, academic critics have considered advertising imagery as an ambiguous cultural form. Visual advertising is often imagined to be emblematic of capitalist societies, the visible manifestation or materialisation of the capitalist logics of exploitation, alienation and reification. For instance, Robert Goldman (1992:2) argues that advertising is 'a key social and economic institution in producing and reproducing the material and ideological supremacy of commodity relations'. Goldman acknowledges that he is drawing on Judith Williamson's (1978) highly influential work Decoding Advertisements, in which she argues that the economic interests of capitalism and the symbolic form of advertising distil to produce a highly powerful cultural form. For Williamson, advertising mystifies us, deprives us of knowledge and appropriates our real needs and desires to serve the interests of capitalism. Following Williamson, Goldman (1992:8) argues that advertising is a force which erodes the fabric of social life and functions as 'a form of internal colonialism that mercilessly hunts out and appropriates those meaningful elements of our cultural lives that have value'. From this perspective, the close textual study of advertising images is thought to reveal 'the underlying social grammar of meaning in ads' which in turn illuminates the deeper ideological significance of advertising (ibid.). Goldman acknowledges that the ideological meanings of advertising do not reside solely in images but are produced in circuits of cultural production, representation and interpretation. Nevertheless, his framework privileges advertising images as a 'unique window' on the logics of commodity relations (Goldman 1992:2).