Journal Article — Teaching Cultural Competence in Print Advertising: Postmodern Ads and Multi-Race Clothing Models — by Mary Ball Howkins




We recognize advertising imagery as propaganda for selling commodities but our students are less apt to recognize that it also reenacts the symbolic rituals of our postmodern society by implying the underlying structures of social stratification and power relations, of class, race, ethnicity, gender, language, sexual orientation, religion, age, and ability by using subtle visual tools. Postmodern “shock advertising” has presented some of the most controversial print ads in regard to race and sexual orientation, yet a more subtle ordering of differently raced models often reveals a hidden hierarchy that privileges blond and/or white models in clothing ads. This hierarchy can be the result of carefully manipulated photographic lighting, spatial placement, centering of a privileged model, and the strategic redesign of the less visually arresting zone of a photographic field. As in the case of some ads that are designed to appeal simultaneously to heterosexual and homosexual publics, advertisers have developed visual tactics that can simultaneously appeal to both a white public and consumers of color. Yet the subtle privileging of white models is still a norm.

Recommended Citation

Howkins, Mary Ball. 2009. “Teaching Cultural Competence in Print Advertising: Postmodern Ads and Multi-Race Clothing Models.” Pp. 93-98 in Teaching Transformations 2009 (Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Volume VII, Issue 1, 2009.) Belmont, MA: Okcir Press (an imprint of Ahead Publishing House).

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