Last weekend, as I was sitting by the harbour down in Hobart town and enjoying a scallop pie for dinner, the man beside me on the bench struck up a conversation. People here in Hobart art very friendly and they tend to do that kind of thing, but in this instance the first remark on my polar bear backpack patch didn’t just flutter away into silence, as do so many cordial yet brief conversations between strangers. Instead, it opened up into a discussion of polar tourism, wooden boat building, and the ways we think about the world we live in today.
It’s a convoluted path, but I’m getting there – he mentioned ‘green wash’ in advertising (where companies use their environmental credentials to market a product, whether or not they are actually an environmentally conscious business), so I mentioned Ice-wash. Ice-wash is a similar concept, where the icy landscapes at the ends of the earth are used to market products or ideas. The ice performs symbolic tasks, standing for ideas such as purity, wilderness, or a fragile environment (sound familiar?). In fact, the ice can function as such a symbol even when the product being marketed is totally at odds with the ideas invoked by the ice. (The oil company Total‘s use of an ice scape is one example that Judith Williamson examines in her article ‘Unfreezing the Truth: Knowledge and Denial in Climate Change Imagery’)
Williamson’s 2010 talk was one of the pieces of work that convinced me that Antarctic advertising needed to be examined more closely. Not only did she write one of the seminal books on ‘Decoding Advertisements’, the fact that she stopped to ask the question “How do we see climate change?” really got me thinking about the ways we see Antarctica as well. On the simplest level, it’s a case of a generic white backdrop, complemented by the formula of penguins – yes, polar bears -no. But of course, there is more to it than that. There are so many avenues to duck into and explore – from the reference to ‘British Pluck’ in the Ballentynes advert that was created specifically to coincide with the return of the Nimrod to Lyttelton, to the jeweller’s advert that suggests that women are like penguins, in that they ‘like big rocks’, there is so much juicy material to delve into and to craft into insightful analyses.
I’m like a penguin herder – a modern day JosephHatch, corralling the adverts and then boiling down the juiciest for the oil of their ideas. Don’t worry though – scholarly enquiry within the Humanities is much less stinky than any of the industries that took place on Macquarie Island, and no animals will be harmed in the collation of my thesis…
Back to Tasmania: before I shouldered my bear-patched bag and left the docks, the friendly fellow gave me a copy of his home-made board game. It has nothing to with Antarctica (unless you want it to – you actually make up your own rules) – so now I have a distraction for the evenings, in that sliver of time between when I am in at IMAS immersing my brain in frozen concepts, and lying in bed, dreaming about doing the same thing.
PS – If you haven’t read it already, Judith WIlliamson’s aforementioned article is worth a look. Available at http://dialogues.org.nz/2010/index.php?/06/judith-williamson/