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.
http://www.neb.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rpblctn/spchsndprsnttn/2008/lbrtnryftrfcsnl/mg/mg24-eng.jpg

Pallanik, Kyle. “The Oil Sands Project and the Battle that Threatens Canadian Unity.” Digital Journal.
http://rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect5/alberta_oil.jpg

Winton, Ezra. “Alberta tar sands documentary raises questions about the newest bonanza.” Art Threat Culture+Politics.
http://artthreat.net/wp-content/uploads/pulling-oil-from-the-tar-sands.jpg

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