Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Graffitist as Critic of Advertising
...at Least Theoretically

Banksy's "Because I'm Worthless"

D’Angelo, Frank. “Oscar Mayer Ads Are Pure Baloney: The Graffitist as Critic of Advertising.”  College Composition and Communication 26.3 (1975):  263-268.  Print.
In this piece, Frank D’Angelo makes the argument that graffiti artists sometimes operate as critics of advertising.  He explains that they reveal the subliminal messages made by the
advertising industry.  Of course, these artists construct their critiques through edgy parodies of the ads, rather than using genres that other critics of advertising might select.

D’Angelo’s article walks through various types of appeals that are made through advertisements and explains how graffiti artists might critique those appeals.  The author examines, for example, appeals to sex, adventure, and, fears and anxieties.  For each type of appeal, the author provides examples of an ad that uses the type of appeal in question, explains the type of subliminal message at work, and then suggests the type of response a graffitist might have.
For example, D’Angelo discusses the Virginia Slims ads that included a the line “You’ve come a long way, baby—Virginia Slims” and argues that the word choice (come, long and baby in particular) is meant to be sexually suggestive.  He then says that the graffitist wishes to make the audience aware of the subliminal sexual message by creating a parody of the original such as “You’ve come a long way, baby—Vagina Slims.”
This article is useful in depicting the means in which graffiti might accomplish tasks similar to those who select other genres for expression.  However, the article falls short in terms of building credibility for its argument through evidence.  While the author cites specific advertisements to deconstruct, his treatment of the graffiti artist is less specific.  Has an artist ever actually made the above parody of the Virginia Slims ad?  It’s unclear.  He speaks throughout the article of a nameless graffitist and the way in which this individual (presumably male) might treat or parody various ads, but gives no evidence that actual graffiti artists ever have parodied ads.  His argument is disconnected from the practice of graffiti and seems to only imagine a theoretical graffitist. 
Rather than providing evidence of this connection, he ends his article by saying that we ought to “study the appeals and the language that advertisers use to shape public tastes and desires and to look carefully at the graffiti which criticizes these appeals” (268).  His rationale for this recommendation is rooted in his sense of morality and a hope that graffitists can bring about social change by unveiling immoral usage of rhetorical appeals.  While he seems convinced that graffiti can “save” us (--of course I still believe it will be Rock 'n' Roll, not graffiti…), the strength of his article comes from its ability to draw our attention to how graffiti artists respond to exigencies that other communicators also address.  I believe it leaves contemporary readers in a position to seek out examples to serve as evidence for his claims, and to consider what this might mean for the composition classroom.

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