I am what I desire; and I desire what I gaze upon.
Sigmund Freud (1905)
Power relationships within our societies are image-based (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst, asserted that humans imagine themselves as individuals within the social constructs of Western capitalism (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). An example of this is the advertising campaign known as The Champion Family. The Champions are the hyperreal, simulated family who feature in a set of advertisements directed at shoppers who shop at the various shopping malls owned by the multinational corporation known as AMP (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010). Their images are displayed throughout these shopping malls in the act of consuming products. This essay will focus on this family as it analyses how this advertising campaign affects the target audience through the technologies of visualisation and evaluates it effectiveness as a normalising process of vision.
The Champion family are depicted as the average Australian family ‘flaws and all’: Anglo-Saxon, youthful, attractive, and comfortably wealthy. The mother, Mrs Sarah Champion, is represented as the centre of the household being in the centre of the picture. She is referred to in the advertising campaign as someone who ‘manages to juggle the demands of the household while keeping the family together’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). Mr Paul Champion is described as a ‘doting husband’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010); this is represented by his close proximity to Mrs Champion with his body leaning into to her and his arm protectively around her. The older son, Will Champion, is also represented as a small version of his father. He is well-dressed in casual white shirt and beige pants with his arm also protectively and lovingly draped around his mother. The older daughter, Chloe Champion, is also represented as a reflection of her mother. Both have blonde hair, are dressed in casual white dresses with an emphasis on their smooth-skinned arms and legs. The younger children are the ‘mischievous’ twins Charlie and Annabel, representing the younger consumer. The image’s whiteness is reinforced by the repetition of the colour beige throughout the subjects’ clothing and the furnishings of the room. Even the dog, Millie, and the flowers are white.
The organisational properties of the image group the family together as a whole. In such group photographs the identity of the individual is dissolved into the identity of the group (Schirato and Webb 2004). The conformity of the Champion family’s smiling faces denotes compliance and contentment (Schirato & Webb 2004). The interior design which surrounds this group in the photography can also be deciphered through the value that it places upon the group (Communicating the Visual). As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss posited, much can be learned by analysing the clothes people wear, and the colours, lines and textures with which they decorate their home (Schirato & Webb 2004). The cultural theorist Stuart Hall goes on to state that this displayed visuality tells us how valuable these people are within their society and how powerful they (Schirato & Webb 2004). The simulated Champion family has a name that denotes success within society. The advertising campaign tells us that, ‘when it comes to shopping, they’re champions’ (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010).
The advertising campaign tells us that this campaign is relevant to all consumers at these shopping malls because of the ‘unique and endearing characteristics of the individuals that make up the Champion family’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). ‘Templates of normality’ are used by capitalism to promote consumption by advocating the transformation of people so that they can be assessed by others as normal (Schirato & Webb 2004). The role models used become an interactive way of seeing through which the audience plays out its relationship with them and it perpetuates through the audiences evaluation of the people that surround them to create a ‘normal’ way of seeing the world (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Paradoxically, one of the most important notions of this way of seeing is that the role models are depicted as individuals.
To individualise the campaign the story of the family is then broken into its individual segments. For example, Sarah is described as a ‘fun-loving caring mother’ and the heart of the family (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). Her job is to organise the household’s needs and, being 39 years old, we are told that she is at the age when she can enjoy spending time with her girlfriends, shopping for the latest fashions and pampering herself (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). The shopping mall is the centre of her life because it solves all the family’s problems (Knox Shopping Centre, 2004). By individualising the family the campaign is imitating reality. This imagery represents an ideal and it is this trick of advertising that can convince the eye into thinking about the aspiration of the ideal (Schirato & Webb 2004). It mimics reality by reflecting a family moment and representing such ideals of marriage, family and happiness (Schirato & Webb 2004).
In modern Western culture such visual imagery has come to control and influence people’s perception of reality (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are seen by institutional powers through their ability to contribute to the state. They are contextualised and evaluated through normalising processes just as selective breeding programs occur on farms (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are trained from an early age to lead non-reflective ‘normal’ lives with reality being decided by the rules of society (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Therefore people relate themselves in the everyday context to what is seen as normal which is evaluated through such things as people’s appearance, clothes, sexuality and work (Schirato & Webb, 2004). In the Champion family the two older children are depicted as normal because Chloe loves ‘shopping, texting, facebooking and thinking about guys’, while Will likes ‘surfing, skate-boarding and eating fast-food (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010).
In order to produce a population that is pliable, productive and reliable the logic of what is normal prevails. As the seventeenth- century French philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted by Pierre Bourdieu: “Custom is the source of our strongest and believed proofs” (Schirato & Webb, 2004). As Judith Butler, the gender theorist, argues that there are sites in society where we can assess whether we measure up to the normalised standard by their imagery of what are considered normal, healthy, desirable subjects (Schirato & Webb, 2004), the advertising campaign of the simulated Champion family does this work upon consumers that attend the shopping malls of AMP. The relationship of the consumer within this advertising campaign is one that plays upon what Jacques Lacan refers to as the gaze or le regard (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). This imagery has the power to articulate desire for the consumer, an ability to shop without consequence. It is an opportunity to see themselves in the role of this family; to achieve happiness through shopping. However, the integral function of this advertising campaign is to activate the latent desires of the consumers relative to their social circumstances (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).
The simulated Champion family works its effect upon the consumers attending these shopping malls by presenting themselves as the average Australian family. They are something to which the advertising executives want people to aspire: white, youthful, well-off, and happy. By trying to convince consumers that it is desirable to conform to such standards and that through being compliant they will achieve happiness, the advertisers present their shopping mall as the place where this achievement can take place. They have given the consumer individual role models that cover all aspects of the consumers that they wish to encourage by convincing them that to be like the Champions is the expected societal ideal. Thus the world becomes shaped by such fictitious and normalised visual ideals.
- Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Normalising Vision (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 131-150
- Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Communicating and the Visual (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 57-80
- Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Spectatorship, power, and knowledge (extract)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 72-84