The new Irish Independent advertisement campaign ‘we are defined by the choices we make‘ raised a few eyebrows; firstly, by using the well practiced method of not revealing what the advertisements were for a couple of days and secondly, by using some mildly provocative juxtaposed imaging with the defining choices tagline, for example a pro-choice versus pro-life badge and so on. The advertisement gives a sense of faux radicalism with images such as a bishop juxtaposed with a red condom, but in reality all the images remain safely within ideological boundaries.
The campaign also gives the appearance of there being two sides to the story; both of which you can read in the Irish Independent, before making your mind up. This of course is nonsense in itself, there usually being all sorts of sides and shades of grey. The image of private sector versus public sector represents this most continuing the trope of a direct division between the two sectors as compared to the reality of a heavily subsidised private sector and working families stretched across both. Unsurprisingly for an Irish newspaper the final image is one of property juxtaposing the buying or renting of private property, there being no other alternative.
But even allowing an artistic licence in the juxtaposition of images, upon closer inspection there are quite a number of ideological tropes and assumptions underlining these ‘choices’.
And much like the content of the newspaper itself the choices are already made. The image to jump out first and probably the most provocative image in the campaign is that of a Greek riot versus an empty O’Connell Street. And to be fair to the Indo this juxtaposition could be read in a number of ways.
While on the one hand, it could be read as a congratulatory ‘aren’t we great for not rioting’ , a more likely reading might question the so-called compliance of Ireland. Of course it does play into the trope that there has been no resistance in Ireland, which is oft repeated in the media where most forms of resistance continues to be either ignored or denounced. And in an ironic sense, the empty O’Connell street may well represent the media’s blindness to various forms of struggle over the last number of years..
While street politics is happily ignored the next more overtly political image is far less provocative and rests comfortably within ideological norms; here, we are given the choice of de Valera (clearly representing Fianna Fail), or Michael Collins representing the Fine Gael party. Independents, small parties and indeed not so small parties are not included in this binary equation, never mind politics outside parliamentary arithmetic.
It was however the following two images that really caught my eye, two images that flash by in the television advertisement but which contain a wealth of semiotic ideology. The first shows two pregnant women, both headless and faceless. Yet even faceless we can tell immediately the polyester-clad woman on the right is clearly working class, most likely single, living on benefit and smoking and bereft of pregnant glow surrounding her linen-clad counterpart. And as the tagline tells us ‘her choices’ made her this way.
The second image is another one of class: here, we see juxtaposed those who ‘choose’ to be unemployed compared to those who ‘choose’ to emigrate. The migrants we can see (even in the rough cartoon image) are young, strong and struggling to make the best of things and making the obviously correct decision to leave the country. On the other hand the mainly fat (and yes they are mainly fat) people who ‘choose’ to remain in Ireland as feckless doleys are seen literally dancing out of the dole office throwing their money in the air. It doesn’t take a genius to pull out the underlying message there.
The entire advertising campaign itself is based on a key ideological trope and one which underlines much of the media response to the condition of austerity: that is that outcomes are not a result of class, structures or even economics but due to choices made by individuals. I might boldly suggest an image to the editors to complete the series…