Saturday, April 17, 2010

Edmonton & the Oil Industry: A Symbolic-Interactionist Approach

For good or ill, the oil industry has not only been central to Edmonton's economy, but also to its social imagination.

Not only do the oil industry and its principal symbol, the oil rig, occupy a defining position in Edmonton's economy, it also occupies a defining position in Edmonton's civic culture.

As the price of oil continues to fluctuate, Alberta realizes its dependence on the value of its main resource. With high prices, the people become much more affluent, industry booms, and culture receives further funding and growth. Because the lives of the inhabitants of Edmonton are directly linked to the prosperity of oil, the visual depictions of oil affect us differently than it might in other places.

The reality of the oil industry is not as predominant in the local media, because it is bad for business for Albertans to disagree with the worlds most important industry.

Alberta is the world's largest supplier of oil to the United States, and it is thus very important for the people of Alberta to see oil as important to their everyday lives.

By manipulating media culture to portray the oil industry as vital to the lives of the people, can the oil companies continue to mine the earth to extract the resource that makes them such massive profits. The negative imagery of the oil extraction is thus less predominant because it can directly affect all of the people, not to mention the profits of the companies doing the extracting.

The iconography of the oil derrick is hugely pervasive in the evertyday lives of Edmontonians. From education to culture, down to the basic economics, the symbolism of the Oil Derrick can reach near religious proportions. As the volatility of the price of oil continues, we the people begin to see our dependence on our primary resource.

For religious believers, religious jewelry identifies them as part of a spiritual community.

When one sees one wearing such a pendant, such as the one pictured left, it is often assumed that the wearer is a Christian. For Christians, the crucifix (simplified as a cross) embodies the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the clemency earned for mankind by Christ's martyrdom.

Crucifix pendants come in a variety of forms, from simple crosses to the more elaborate rosaries famously associated with the Catholic church. Moreover, specialized rosaries for particular beliefs are available -- such as the rosary of the unborn, described as "the most powerful and ultimate weapon to end abortion".

The crucifix doesn't hold the same symbolism for everyone. Some groups consider the crucifix to be a symbol of oppression. More pointedly, some have treated Catholic rosaries as symbols of the oppression of women, or the sexual abuse of children.

In a similar vein, drill bit pendants, such as those pictured to the right, can be purchased from a variety of jewelry stores.

These drill bit pendants are popular with those who work on rigs -- both drilling rigs that typically use these drill bits, and well servicing rigs that typically do not.

These pendants identify their wearer as part of a particular community -- the rig working community. As with crucifix pendants, more elaborate versions of these pendants can be purchased. Just as more elaborate crucifixes can often denote certain beliefs or values, more elaborate -- often gem-encrusted -- pendants at least suggest one has attained a greater level of achievement.

Moreover, these pendants can have different meanings to different people. Environmentalists, for example, may consider these pendants to be symbolic of the wearer's complicity in environmental destruction.

Simply put, the oil industry and its symbols don't hold the same meaning for everyone. It is very different things to very different people.

George, Roland. “ Alberta’s energy future: Focus on Oil.” National Energy Board.

Pallanik, Kyle. “The Oil Sands Project and the Battle that Threatens Canadian Unity.” Digital Journal.

Winton, Ezra. “Alberta tar sands documentary raises questions about the newest bonanza.” Art Threat Culture+Politics.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Gallery as an Art Piece Itself

We examined how the display and presentation in Art Gallery of Alberta influence people’s behavior and viewing habits. Viewers are more likely to get different feelings when they see art in a gallery, compared to seeing it on the street. The design of the space can affect people because it can create a mood through principles of architecture and can interact with the art in which it houses. This interaction can push an aspect of the art to the forefront, or it can be incorporated into the art. Viewers gaze at not only individual art pieces, but also at the environment in which it is placed.

Displays and People’s Behavior

Displays affect people’s behavior in the gallery, and make them viewers who interacted with the art. For example, in the exhibits of Francisco Goya, The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos, there are two rows of prints displayed at eye level across the room. As people watch the exhibits, some are folding arms, putting hands in pockets, or putting hands under chins. Also, many were bending forward while examining the paintings. In general, viewers in this exhibit showed heavy concentration. In another example, the exhibit Edgar Degas, Figures in Motion, there was a blend of both sculptures and elaborately framed sketches and paintings. Some people were imitating the posture of the sculptures, or looking at them from far away and then coming closer. Some even tried to sketch the exhibit. There was a sculpture where the viewer could look down on it, as it was displayed only a foot off of the ground, and thus the gallery shifted the level of viewers’ gazes.

Lightning/Color and People’s Behavior

Sounds and People’s Behavior

There are two exhibits with sounds as a focus in the gallery made by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. In the “Storm Room” are four plywood walls set up in the middle of the room and a path leading into the opening of the installation on the opposite wall. The installation is a room that is small, dark, and has windows with water trickling down and audio recordings playing continuously. People seem to be puzzled at first, and many enjoy the interesting space after examining further. (You can listen to the audio file provided to get the idea of viewers’ reaction.) The second installation was titled “The Murder of Crows. There are two entrances leading into a large dimly lit room with white walls and high ceilings. The center of the room has a spot-lighted gramophone with wooden chairs set in a semi-circle formation around it. Throughout the room and between the chairs are ninety-eight loud speakers set up. Some people close their eyes so that they can concentrate on the aural qualities art.

The Panopticon and the Gaze in the Gallery

Although people tend to enjoy by themselves in their own ways in the gallery, we could observe the social relationship among the people. From the point of “the gaze”, the security guards keep gazing at you while you are gazing at the exhibits. It means that the person who is gazing is also the person who is being gazed. Individuals are forced to “regulate their own behaviour” (Strurken and Cartwright 2009).

We observed that in the gallery, certain spaces had more security in them. In these cases people became less active in gazing at the art, speaking at a minimum rather than communicating with one another. According to Phil Lee's essay “Eye and Gaze”, the panoptican serves as a place where data (or in the case art) is “collected and collated” (Lee 2003). Thus being in a panoptic environment such as the gallery, the viewer becomes aware of being watched therefore collecting and organizing what they are gazing at. Foucault termed this the “inspecting gaze”(Foucault 1975) and said that while being watched the citizen is the “object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 1975).

While viewing a piece of art in the Art gallery of Alberta, the viewer is constantly aware of being watched by either security guards, surveillance cameras, or other gallery goers themselves. The effect of the lighting, wall color, sounds, and presence of other people in the space all affect the viewer's viewing habits and behaviors.


Struken, Marita, and Cartwright, Lisa. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction of Visual Culture. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Lee, Phil. 2003. eye and gaze. University of Chicago.

Foucault, Michel. 1975. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York: Pantheon.

Suggested Sites - Our audio recording of the Storm Room - Pictures of the layout of the Murder of Crows installation

This blog post was written by Amy Walsh, Yumeko Naito and Kevin Leung

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Edmonton as "The City of Champions"

In 1987, in the aftermath of the Black Friday incident where a tornado tore through Edmonton, then mayor Laurence Decor gave the city the moniker of “City of Champions” in response to the outstanding effort the cities citizens showed in coping with this disaster.[1] Coincidentally at the time the cities sports teams, most notably the Edmonton Oilers, were in the midst of an incredibly successful run of numerous championship seasons. Over the years, this slogan has become associated with the success of these sports franchises, overshadowing the original meaning of the slogan. Unfortunately, in recent times, the Oilers have become rather terrible and the slogan has become a sort of irony as the team has failed to procure any further championships. With this turn of events, Edmontonians themselves have begun to re-appropriate the slogan to describe themselves and the attitudes they expect of those from Edmonton.

After analyzing the slogan itself and given its historical context, there is no surprise that the initial meaning of the slogan eventually changed to one that refers to sports success. The term “champion” has several definitions, notably “a person who fights for another or who fights for a cause” and “the winner of a competition”[2]. The former definition is the one used by Laurence Décor when he used the term “champion” in the slogan “City of Champions” while the latter definition is the one used most commonly a when using the word “champion”. This, along with the fact that the slogan originated in 1987, a year in which Edmonton’s most popular sports teams, the Oilers and Eskimos, were each in the middle of a string of successful seasons allowed the slogan to be appropriated, through social construction, so it referred to Edmonton sports teams. The appropriation of the slogan was so successful that many Edmonton residents and even the book “The Edmonton book of everything” say the slogan was originally introduced because of Edmonton’s success at sports[3]. Though the slogan of Edmonton was co-opted because of the success of both the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos in the eighties, the slogan has become largely associated with the Edmonton Oilers due to the large popularity of hockey compared to football in Edmonton and because the Oilers success in the eighties was greater than that of the Eskimos. Although Edmonton’s slogan changed from one that referred to its people as champions to one that referred to its sports teams as champions, it still carried with a message of patriotism and accomplishment among city residents in the late eighties and early nineties. This is largely due to the pride sports fans take in their choice team’s success, the amount of success Edmonton sports teams, particularly the Oilers, had during this time, and the number of fans of Edmonton teams residing in the city[4]. Although the slogan of Edmonton had a positive message associated with it in the past it has recently turned into a reminder of past success and even a joke to many Edmontonians[5].

As previously mentioned the slogan “City of Champions” has largely become associated with the Edmonton Oilers. This is an unfortunate happening for Edmonton, as the completion of this year’s NHL regular season will mark the seventh time in nine years that the Oilers have not made the playoffs. To top this off, the Oilers will finish dead last in the league standings this year as they currently sit twelve points behind the team in second last and only have two games remaining[6]. Aside from the Oilers recent failures in the hockey world, their future success is also questionable. This is largely because many of today’s top NHL players do not want to play in Edmonton. Some, like Chris Pronger, have been part of the Oilers but requested to be traded and others like Dany Heatley have refused to be traded to Edmonton[7]. This has led many to believe that the Oilers may not only have a hard time acquiring talented players from trades, but they will also have a hard time keeping talented players that they draft. This dismal past performances of the Oilers and bleak looking future has led many to believe that the slogan “City of Champions” not applicable for Edmonton. Even the recent success of Edmonton athletes like paralympian Viviane Forest and the domination of national and international curling by the Martin, Ferbey, and Koe rinks have been overshadowed by the Oilers dismal seasons and have led major Edmonton media outlets to question or criticize the association of “city of champions” with Edmonton[8].

As discussed the term “City of Champions” has become predominantly associated with the Edmonton sports teams, with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers being the cities dominant sports team. Being twenty years removed from their last championship season there have been calls in recent years to change the slogan of the city and with the lack of any championship titles on the sports scene the idea of referring to itself as the City of Champions has become questionable among some Edmontonians. A good example of this was the 2006, were despite undergoing a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, a poll found that 59 percent of Edmontonians surveyed thought that the name was no longer applicable.[9] This lead to an attempt to change the cities nickname, with alternate ideas such as the “Festival City” and “Gateway to the North” proposed but also being found unsatisfactory by those surveyed.[10] Key to the name change was an attempt to lure in more young people to the Edmonton area, with the targeted range being 18-40 year olds, with an interesting anecdote relayed by Councilman Kim Krushell who stated that among the young the name is seen as a “joke”.[11] This is a good example of an attempted re-branding as well as a sort of post modern comment on the cities nickname, as the youth are claimed to see the slogan as ironic since the city has not one very much since its inception.

Already we discussed how many people have become disenfranchised with the Oilers and the nickname of the city but an interesting contrast to this is the reaction on those on the message board where this story was posted. Overwhelmingly those that posted in the thread were opposed to the old slogan, with it being described as “lame“, “old“, “silly“ and “doesn’t reflect Edmonton today“.[12] This is indeed just one small sample of people who are posting in one isolated message board environment but it still cannot be ignored as most of these people are probably young and tech savvy, exactly what Edmonton is looking for these days. The site is called “Connect 2 Edmonton” and implores users to “Go ahead. Share Your Passion”.[13] An interesting point raised by user LindseyT is that while the slogan may be seen as undesirable by some it is at least known and has become associated with Edmonton in a way that others cities slogans have not.[14]

In recent years the slogan of Edmonton (“The City of Champions”) has come under fire as many residents no longer feel the slogan is appropriate. A main factor in this belief is the recent string of unsuccessful seasons by the Edmonton Oilers[15].

The idea that the slogan has become stale however is also found in another Edmonton Journal article by Elizabeth Withey, which also linked onto Connect 2 Edmonton. This article is a satire that pokes fun at the name and offers up fake suggestions for a new slogan, including “blame it on the gangs”, “we have gophers in our zoo”, and “bring a scarf”.[16] While clearly an ironic look at big boastful city slogans the article does point out that indeed the name has become old fashioned and a source of embarrassment to some in Edmonton. It is interesting to read the comments in the article as there is a mix of positive and negative comments, with poster Smudge pointing out that the name does in fact refer to the people of Edmonton as champions and poster Dj59 stating that the name “still resonates with me - I just wish the general media masses…. would get off the sports thing”.[17] In the opposite corner poster LG notes “the truth hurts for some people” while stating that Edmonton makes a big deal out of minor events.[18] Even the posters that defended the name choose to distance themselves from the sports team association and preferred to take the name back to its original intention, that of the people of Edmonton.

An example of the slogan returning to its previous people based roots is in an Edmonton Public Libraries blog, where a gay man recounts the fight to get an Edmonton gay pride week established. To him, Edmonton becomes the City of Champions because of the determination and will to get things done, while providing for all members of the city.[19] The fact that Edmontonians fought to get a gay pride parade organized despite opposition from all sides, including then mayor Bill Smith, created a sense of civic pride in this man who was not even from Edmonton, to truly declare that Edmonton deserved its maligned moniker.[20] A similar piece can be found in a January article from the Edmonton Examiner written by Scott Haskins. He notes that sports and West Edmonton Mall were the defining aspects of the city to outsiders and how those City of Champions signs brought a lot of pride to residents.[21] He then notes that these teams are “pitiful” and a “blight” now, so in their absence the city residents have stepped forward to take up the mantle, through generous donations to food banks, giving presents to needy children, to coming to the aid of thirty nine people who lost their homes at Christmas to a fire.[22] These two articles reveal a re-appropriation of the term from the teams that once took it over to the everyday people of Edmonton. Whether it is through a message board, blog or small newspaper article the rise of the internet has created a new avenue for people who wish to avoid the association with the local sports teams to still wield the phrase City of Champions.

Although the rafters in Rexall Place are filled with championship banners, only 1 of them was achieved in the last 20 years[23].

While these Edmontonians wish to distance themselves from the more widely held term, what about those that still identify with the old allocation of sporting victory? The Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton city webpage both do not openly advertise themselves as the city of champions. Googling the term City of Champions will present you with the city of Edmonton’s homepage but there is not eye-catching declaration of this slogan. Does this mean that the term City of Champions has completely disappeared from the local sports scene? While the authorities will not flaunt the slogan, it still does resonate with fans if the internet is to be believed.
Although the rafters in Rexall Place are filled with championship banners, only 1 one them was achieved in the last 20 years[24].

Following the 2009 NHL and NFL seasons, Pittsburgh found itself champion in both sports. Post game comments by Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bysma both referred to Pittsburgh as the City of Champions, while the city has apparently called itself that since 1979; this would give it the title eight years before Edmonton.[25] Local Edmonton councilor Tony Caterina downplayed this claim, saying it didn’t really matter and that it refers to Edmonton’s volunteer spirit.[26] One local response to this was a small Facebook discussion group formed shortly after the article was posted. This discussion group response was interesting as generally the news was met with indifference and most were fine with Pittsburgh also referring to itself as the City of Champions, although the majority of commentators were in support of Edmonton retaining the nickname.[27] User Jamie applied the term to what was expected of the teams and noted that there have been numerous University championships won in recent years.[28] Another user known as Sean simply stated that yes they have not won lately but that is of little consequence as it reflects the long and storied history of Edmonton athletics.[29] Another interesting aspect of this discussion was the seemingly non-relevant insults launched at Calgary. On the page it is brought up what a new slogan would be and the next response was “at least you’re not in Calgary!”, which was immediately met with hearty internet laughter and an “EPIC WIN” declaration.[30] This brings up the topic of what the positives of this slogan are to the people of Edmonton and why it helps construct their social identity. Sports have long been associated and used by nationalist groups and here we have examples of civic nationalism. Sports, in this case the Oilers, creates the idea of an “us vs. them” environment, were any outside team is labeled as “them” and allows victories to be associated as “we” won despite no direct personal participation.[31] Cities often feel that without a first class sports team they cannot achieve “world class status” among major cities and which is why successful teams are heavily promoted; the example here being Edmonton and now Pittsburgh promoting themselves as Cities of Champions.[32] These sporting events become important social events that help to create a communal unity, even if it can be a short lived one.[33]

A good example of this was the massive social gatherings thrown in celebration of the Oilers rather successful playoff run in 2006. A great place to witness these gatherings is on YouTube, where one can find innumerable videos of the antics on Edmonton hotspot Whyte Avenue. Videos such as this give an idea into the nature of social importance the Oilers still have in this city, as well as their ability to unify a diverse and multicultural city such as our own. In this video you can see fans of all ages flock the streets in celebration of the Oilers playoff success, an event of public gathering that the city has not seen since. Another good example on YouTube is the video of the game six first round come back versus the Detroit Red Wings, which happened to be Edmonton’s first playoff series victory in eight years and which can be seen here. Fans are celebrating wildly in the stands and again this is only the first round. When viewed in context with the other video it seems that the city is quite enamored with the Oilers and would greatly appreciate a return to the old championship ways. Its obvious from these celebrations that the Oilers do still resonate with the city and if they had won the cup little doubt would be cast on the slogan City of Champions.

Getting back to the Calgary bashing, in the comments of the above clip on YouTube we can still see the incessant Calgary bashing going on. The first comment posted is from a Calgary fan bashing the celebrations, only to be met with a rebuttal reminding said fan that the Flames could not perform their own celebrations due to being eliminated and the next two comments include “LET’S GO OILERS, CALGARY SUCKS” and a reminder that the Oilers were quite strong in the 1980’s; this continues on as five more comments on the page make reference to Edmonton being better in some way then Calgary.[34]

With the rise of modern media, especially the internet and discussion boards, there has been a rise in the case of “Blasting” opponents, which generally happens the most when a person’s own self esteem is threatened.[35] A good example of this is another Facebook group, “Calgary Flames SUCK”, which is a response to a similar page about the Edmonton Oilers. This site describes the flames as “the most despicable hockey team ever”, makes fun of “drunkard” Theo Fleury, links to numerous negative Flames videos, and even has a Wall of Whores, who apparently disagreed with the “Flames suck ideology”.[36] This type of extreme behavior is becoming more common to almost any type of internet fan board, where numerous “trolls” will post belligerent comments meant to demean rival fans, even if the two teams have not played. While excessive it does show that negative attitudes toward Calgary is a key to Edmonton identity, as the group has over 4500 members.[37]

This behavior ties into how the Oilers are perceived by Edmonton. Clearly, the Oilers are a strong personal identifier for many Edmontonians. Research has shown that the stronger a favored team performs the stronger one’s own self-esteem and psychological health becomes.[38] In Social Identification Theory group membership is key to self identity and helps act as a group comparison to another outer group, which is usually similar to their own and shares a close proximity, ie Calgary.[39] Beating this other out group boosts one’s own self esteem, especially if it is a hated rival (Calgary), which leads to the highest amount of personal emotional gain and enjoyment.[40] These rivalry games serve as the benchmark of identifying with a team and a recent study on the rivalry between Alabama State University and its state rival Auburn showed that the winning teams fans had more self confidence in everything from their personal life to professional decisions, with the opposite true of the loser.[41] This is a strong indication, as those posts on YouTube are also, that too many Edmontonians the Oilers have become very important to their civic self-identity, while bashing Calgary also serves as a way to better themselves.
While Edmonton seems to be wary of openly promoting itself as the City of Champions, the term does still resonate with the populace. The local sports teams, particularly the Oilers, have no reason to proclaim themselves as champions due to lackluster performances in recent years. Despite this, it does not remove the validity of the term from the populace as a whole. When separated from athletics the term can be used to describe the spirit of the people of the city, as well as what they do expect from representatives of the city. It has become an important aspect of the cities identity and has become a central tenet of civic identity in the city of Edmonton. By taking back the slogan City of Champions for themselves the citizens of Edmonton can renew its worth and make the slogan relevant for future generations of Edmontonians.

[1] Snider
[2] Definition: Champion
[3] Snider
[4] MacDonald et al., Motivational Factors for evaluation sports spectator and participant markets
[5], Post 1
[6] Conference Standings,
[7] Doug Harrison,
[8] Elizabeth Withey,
[9], Post 1,
[10] ibid, Post 1
[11] ibid, Post 1
[12], Post 2, 3, 4.
[13] ibid
[14] ibid, Post 27,
[15] Edmonton City of Champions,
[16] Elizabeth Withey,
[17] ibid
[18] ibid
[19] The Edmonton Gay Pride Parade,
[20] ibid
[21] Haskins,
[22] ibid
[23] Rexall banners,
[24] Sunger,
[25] ibid
[26] Pittsburgh Calling Themselves ‘City of Champions’,
[27] ibid
[28] ibid
[29] ibid
[30] Coakley, 376
[31] ibid 389
[32] ibid 390
[33] Edmonton Oilers 2006 Playoff Whyte Ave Party,
[34] Coakley 226
[35] Calgary Flames SUCK,
[36] ibid
[37] Bryant Cummins, 220
[38] ibid 221
[39] ibid 224
[40] ibid

Calgary Flames SUCK. 2009.
Cherney, James L, and Kurt Lindermann. 2010. The Effects of Outcome of Mediated and
Live Sporting Events on Sports Fans’ Self and Social Identities. In Examining Identity in Sports Media, ed. Heather L. Hundley and Andrew C. Billings, 217-238. Los Angeles: Sage.
Coakley, Jay. 2001. Sport in Society Issues & Controversies. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Conference Standings. April 9, 2010.
Don’t You Dare Change My Cities Slogan. 2006.
Haskins, Scott. 2009. Proud to be an Edmontonian. Edmonton Examiner, December.
MacDonald, Mark A., Milne, George R., Hong, JinBae. 2002. Motivational factors for evaluating sport spectator and participant markets. Sports Marketing Quarterly. Volume 11-2.
Pittsburgh Calling Themselves “City of Champions”. 2009.
Snider, Adam. 2007.
Sunger, Sonia. 2009. Has Edmonton Lost the ‘City of Champions’ Title?, June 16.
The Edmonton Gay Pride Parade. 2003. Edmonton Public Libraries.
Withey, Elizabeth. 2007. WANTED: New Slogan for Edmonton. Edmonton Journal, July 31.

Edmonton: City of Champions.
Rexall banners.
Edmonton Oilers 2006 Playoff Whyte Ave Party.
Oilers vs. Red Wings 2006 Game 6.
By Kyle Wallace and Tristan Zachoda

Monday, April 12, 2010

Art Gallery of Alberta Group 2

The new Art Gallery of Alberta, opened in Edmonton in January 2010. This unique building has had it share of controversy with it's bold design and obvious departure from other conventional buildings in the city. Love it or hate it, the new AGA establishes itself as an architectural icon reflecting and capturing the creative and cultural spirit of the city of Edmonton. We'll look at how the building does this by comparing it with other city buildings and contrasting it with how space is traditionally divided in the downtown area.

Still curious? Check out this virtual tour and then head to downtown Edmonton to judge it for yourself!

What Images Are Used in the Advertisements for New Buildings and Condos and Why?

The billboards in Edmonton that advertise condos are not simply selling four walls and a ceiling, they are selling a lifestyle. These billboard advertisements use the concept of the gaze extremely effectively because the billboards want the consumer to be able to envision themselves living the lifestyle that is being advertised. The billboards are somewhat of a mirror into the future representing what your life could be like if you were to purchase the condo that is advertised. Downtown condo advertisements are directed towards a specific group in society. These advertisements seem to focus on the young and modern person or couple. The purpose of the billboards is to convince the consumer that their life is lacking what is being advertised. The subconscious and implicit promises that are made to the consumer are that their lives will be happier and more fulfilled if they are to invest in that specific condo development. These billboard advertisements are all from the perspective of the consumer being on the outside looking in. Our consumer culture dictates that in order to be part of the inside group, we need to consume commodities which is a condo in this case.

As the consumer digests what is on the billboard and begins to scrutinize what we see, the scrutiny becomes turned around and we go from a passive to an active observer. One goes from “I look” to “I am looked at” in terms of looking and judging the billboards, to looking internally at oneself and criticizing aspects of their own life (Kipps 2010). We initially scrutinize the subject of our gaze but soon move inward to oneself and compare our lifestyle against the one that is being advertised. The billboard advertisement is supposed to draw ones attention to what the consumer is lacking in their daily lives. In the billboards presented here, they are displaying a very clean and happy lifestyle in downtown Edmonton. Jacques Lacan formulated that the gaze must be an object that produces not only anxiety, but also pleasure (Lacan 1981). The pleasure derived from the advertisements presented here is that they illicit a feeling of wonder and curiosity about what life could possibly be like. This is to say that if the billboards do not produce some aspect of pleasure for the viewer, then the gaze will not be affective for the advertisers.

The experience of urban life and modernity of the twentieth century has been related to the feeling of standing in a crowd, surrounded by people you will never know (Catwright and Sturken 2009). This overwhelming feeling can be described as a sort of rush for the subject. These condo advertisements use the human feeling of desire in order to effectively market their condos. The aim of the advertisements is to want you to feel the desire to purchase that lifestyle being portrayed on the billboards. The effectiveness of the condo advertisements can be judged on how easily the consumer can envision themselves on the billboard. These downtown billboards are a great example of how different cohorts of people are targeted by billboard advertisers in different parts of the city. Although many of the tactics used are very similar, the lifestyles being advertised are vastly different.

This billboard is different than many condo advertisements in that it does not actually show us a picture of the condo buildings. In a sense, it relies more heavily on text to do the advertising, yet it still incorporates an image. The billboard displays a seemingly incongruous photograph of a woman on her cell phone; however, for some reason, the image does not appear ill fitting. This is likely because it elicits a sort of attitude, which “becomes a sign only for a certain society, only given certain values” (Heath 1977, 21). The photograph’s meaning is not natural or frank, but is imbued with historical and cultural connotations (Heath 1977). When the viewer first perceives the billboard, he/she may be unaware of the exact connotative intentions this photo bears, but what is important is his/her acceptance of the picture’s relation to the promotional content. If we explore this picture in depth, we can uncover several probable explanations as to how the image “fits” with the message.

First of all, the image is literally coordinated as the woman is dressed in a purple sweater that matches the rest of the billboard. She is wearing a turtleneck, which is generally seen as a classic fashion choice that conveys intelligence and poise. The color of her clothing and the billboard is particularly striking, as purple has long been associated with royalty and nobility, qualities most likely admired by people who seek “refined urban living.” Even the woman’s hair is pulled up, which offers a sense of elegance that corresponds with her genuine yet subdued smile. Beyond her physical appearance, she is using (or more honestly, posing with) a cell phone – the modern day device that no contemporary person could live without. This “posing of objects” was arranged with purpose, for “objects are accepted inducers of associations of ideas” (Heath 1977, 22).

By explicitly discussing several feasible meanings of this image, it becomes easier to see why it works in the advertisement. But one must also realize that when exploring connotation “the reading of the photograph is …. always historical; it depends on the reader’s ‘knowledge’ just as though it were a matter of a real language [langue], intelligible only if one has learned the signs” (Heath 1977, 28). Someone from outside of our culture who may have never even seen a cell phone would surely not make the same connections and this particular image would be rendered an ineffectual add-on to the billboard.

Given the cultural practices and values in our current society, this picture works well to sell its viewer on a polished, urban lifestyle. The text helps to explain and anchor the advertisement’s message, but the photograph serves a true function as well. The image is entrusted with giving a symbolic, affective description, which we can perceive and digest more quickly than a lengthy verbal description (Heath 1977). The advertisement is successful in that we can immediately grasp its message in more ways than one.

"As the population of the United States and Canada continues to mature, marketers in these countries are directing increased attention to older consumers" (Lumpkin et al., 1985). This is appropriate, as individuals in advanced years are becoming increasingly attractive targets based upon their numbers, income, and purchasing patterns (Keane, 1985). When seniors retire, they have the option of deciding where they would like to live. Many sell their homes in favor of moving to a smaller development. Sometimes seniors like to be around other people their own age and live in a building that caters specifically to their needs. They can choose a retirement home designed for old folks or maybe opt for something that will give them the optimum living environment.

This section will focus on illustrating several billboards of senior advertisements and contrasting them and their true meanings. These billboard advertisements are the perfect option for marketers to target the certain classes they are looking for.

These billboard advertisements are the perfect option for marketers to target the certain classes they are looking for."Most advertising is always constructing consumers as dissatisfied. "Most advertising is always constructing consumers as dissatisfied in some way with their lifestyles, appearance, jobs, relationships and so forth. Many ads imply that their product can alleviate this state of dissatisfaction. They often do this by presenting figures of glamour that consumers can envy and wish to emulate, people who are presented as already transformed, and bodies that appear perfect and yet somehow attainable" (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 275). In this advertisement above, you see a happy, senior couple wearing expensive clothing and drinking wine while smiling and apparently enjoying each other's company. This billboard screams prestige and high class. And it is no wonder; this billboard is advertising a senior's home that is aimed for the wealthy. WIth a built in nurse and cook, a huge recreational facility that provides entertainment, a pool, a gym and so much more, these seniors are living the life of luxury. With rent that is a minimum of roughly $200 a month, this senior home is exclusively for the rich and the billboard clearly supports that statement.

This billboard is located in the west side of the city with a suburb house environment located nearby. The houses that are located near this location are all pricey and belong to those who are upper middle to upper class people, Therefore, all these people living in this are would see the billboard for this new wealthy senior development and begin saving for when they themselves retire to live in it or perhaps for their parents if they can afford it. Therefore, this billboard is set in the perfect location targeting just the right type of people who choose to live in that sort of development.

“Representation is the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us” (Notes). As we can see, what is represented in this photo is a wealthy senior couple enjoying their life because they get to live it high class. It represents the notion that living wealthier means good times as is represented by the smiles in the advertisement. Of course, this whole advertisement plays into the idea of the myth of photographic truth. “We perceive photographs to be an unmediated copy of the real world” (Notes). What may in fact be a happy couple in this advertisement may just as well be a total set up. This brings us into the denotative and connotative interpretations behind this billboard. Barthes identified that an image has a literal, denotative meaning as well as a connotative meaning which employs a cultural and historical context. What is denoted in this photograph is a happy old couple enjoying life and their environment. This of course, could also be interpreted another way. It is interesting that this couple happens to be white and wearing clothes that would identify as being of an upper class. These characteristics in themselves show a broader meaning behind this happy couple. It shows the ways in which this marketing company is targeting to a certain ‘type’ of people and represents it by using white upper class couples.

Therefore, this demonstrates how what seems to be a standard advertisement, is in fact stereotyping a certain message to the buyers. That this certain living development is for those of the higher class and represents that through a white, wealthy senior couple.

These next two billboard advertisements as seen above show quite a large contrast with the previous
billboard. They represent every person’s fear of getting older: being put into a horrible nursing home environment. There is not much seniors can do when they are stuck in a place that takes little care of them or treats them with no respect. These billboards were both found on the internet and they represent the horrible outcomes to old people when they are put in a low care shelter.

Although the locations of these billboards are not identified, it is not surprising to see these sorts of advertisements in every city. Such billboards are universal as every location in North America has a senior home and when someone has little money, he/she is left to settle for what he/she can afford, which in some unfortunate circumstances is very little. There is always and have always been problems with certain senior homes and these billboard advertisements represent that. In contrast with the first advertisement, none of these seniors are smiling. None of them have fancy clothes and they all appear to be suffering.

With respect to these images’ denotative meaning, it is quite obvious that these seniors are depressed but if one delves further into the meaning of these advertisements, one can see the way marketers target those of all classes to show that these unfortunate problems of senior shelters can be represented towards every class and every type of person. This senior could be anyone's grandma or grandpa and it makes people want to invest into something better for their elderly family member so as not to have them suffer as seen in these billboards. The universality of these billboards creates a notion that these seniors are typical, everyday people and these billboards are easy to relate to as no one is represented as better off than anyone else. It also shows different races to connect to a more diverse group of people and create a sense of everyone coming together to help the seniors around us as a whole. This is how representation comes into play. It represents what seniors mean to the community and how they are showcased by these billboards as genuine people who do not deserve to be treated in such a way that degrades or abuses them. "Barthes coined the use of the term punctum to characterize the affective element of those certain photographs that pierce one's heart with feeling" (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 18). These billboards serve as a way for marketers to target people's emotional feelings and grab their attention through this punctum. People are more attentive to the advertisement when they can feel themselves relating or empathising with these billboards; thus, this serves as a good tactic for marketers to capture interest about the tragedies of seniors and to take effort into improving their living conditions.

Obviously, the main intention is to entice the viewer into purchasing one of these houses. But in order to create this desire, the advertiser consciously presents us with representations of a healthy and relaxed existence. The man running alongside his “best friend” and the woman riding her bike all embody a feeling of vigor, strength and happiness. They are disciplined people who are afforded leisure time in which they enrich and strengthen their bodies; they live their lives in a way that so many of us plan but never actually do. And when they are finished exercising, there’s a conveniently placed bench set in a picturesque atmosphere, which is awaiting their arrival.

When perceived together, the pictures portray a desirable communal life. They represent the conventional, nuclear family that our culture has long idolized, and which may be particularly a focus for this neighborhood, which maintains a military legacy. There are several explanations for the advertisement, as “the connoted image is reduced to a phenomenon of language, and it exhibits all the characteristics of a text: it possesses a “discourse” which can be “read” and interpreted in a cultural or ideological context” (Halley 1982, 70). The images are presented as more than just visual distractions; they are stories and metaphors, which are meant to entice wonder, contemplation and understanding.

This billboard is located on 127th street and 151st avenue in northwest Edmonton. At first glance, it is a regular condo advertisement that contains typical informative elements: title, price, directions, and of course, a website. As busy people drive past the billboard, or gaze at it while at a stoplight, these contents likely don’t appear as layered or strategically devised; instead, they seem straightforward and instructive. Such a first impression is reasonable and somewhat true; however, there is also a complexity to its design, which is in part what constitutes one’s assumption of its simplicity. We must not be fooled by its basic façade, because after all, it is an advertisement, and “in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional” (Heath 1977, 33)

This blend of picture and text was carefully chosen and produced for us to view in a certain way. The reason this tactic works so well is that we are unaware that our opinions on the subject are influenced. A photograph of the condo development is used because we immediately associate photos with reality. The irony of this is that our understanding of photographic advertisements as a form of mimesis is essentially a delusion. In actuality, this billboard is a representation, which helps to construct reality rather than to mirror it.

The misconception that a photograph is a direct reflection of the real world is a notion Roland Barthes refers to as the myth of photographic truth. When under this impression, the billboard is merely an unmediated announcement of a new condo development. But when we explore the myth, the billboard comes to have a new existence, a life that is born from history and culture and understanding.

Initially, the image is merely that of pleasant looking homes, but when we read the description on the right, “Tuscan Village, Start Living from $179,000,” we are instantly transported to an Italian villa, and we see the condominiums in a new light. Their stucco walls, ornate verandas, and terra cotta roofs suddenly stand out as prime features of an Italian lifestyle and may even seem to offer us a “quaint village atmosphere” as is stated on the Tuscan Village web site. The phrase “start living” posits that our current lives are inauthentic, and that this new community can offer us a more genuine, pleasurable lifestyle.

Part of what has made this advertisement successful is the communication between the photograph and the surrounding text (Heath 1977). The image is given instant additional meaning by association with the words beside it. Therefore, “in the relationship that now holds, it is not the image which comes to elucidate or ‘realize’ the text, but the latter which comes to sublimate, patheticize or rationalize the image” (Heath 1977, 25). In other words, “the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” (Heath 1977, 26). The picture’s hidden connotations are illuminated, and suddenly this thought “denotation of reality” somehow makes us crave a life that offers romantically lit streets lined with archways and green space, a place where we can roam serenely as if in a dream, a place where we can “start living.”


Barthes, Roland. “The Photographic Message.” In Image Music Text. Edited and translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, 15-31.

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” In Image Music Text. Edited and translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, 32-51.

Cartwright, Lisa. Sturken, Marita. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Halley, Michael. 1982. Argo Sum Diacritics 12 (4): 69-79.

Kips, Henry. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research; 2010, Vol. 2, P 91- 102

Lacan, Jacques (1981): The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Jacques- Alain Miller (ed), Alan Sheridan (trans) New York: Norton

Peterson, Robin T. “The Depiction of Senior Citizens in Magazine Advertisements: A Content Analysis.” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 11, No.9 (Sept. 1992) P 701-706

By: Stephanie Crawford, Andrew Nelson, and Yana Rogatko


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