3MT: Three Minute Thesis

This week we have the Three Minute Thesis final here at the University of Tasmania. The challenge? To sum up your research project in 180 seconds, with one slide for support. If you read that description and your brain translated it in to “procrastination!” you’d probably be about right… BUT it’s also a chance to practice being succinct, and getting to the point. Speaking of which, my pitch is below:

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Antarctica….

The word conjures up images of pristine icescapes, heroic figures battling against the blizzard, and the threat of masses of melting ice. As for billboards and dollar signs? Not so much.

Commercialisation is often seen as anathema to Antarctic values, and the continent is protected from much exploitation by the Antarctic Treaty System. Nevertheless, Antarctica has been “sold” metaphorically in many ways over the past 100 years –and the associations that come to mind when you hear the word are central to that selling.

That is where my project comes in – I’m analysing representations of Antarctica in print advertising media, asking how Antarctica has been used to sell different products and services:

  • What stories and themes emerge from these advertisements?
  • And what can that tell us about the ways we have imagined this Antarctic place?

Adverts showcase the commodification of Antarctic imagery, and they also provide a shortcut to ideas that are already in common cultural circulation, thus providing us with a mirror for our attitudes towards the place.

Imagined versions of Antarctica comes in many guises, but from my collection of over 300 adverts I’ve identified 4 main themes: First, there’s heroism, as old as the centennial Heroic Era itself. This is all about man vs nature, masculine figures battling against the blizzard, sponsorship, and whisky.

Heroism is closely linked to Extremity – this theme casts Antarctica as the ultimate testing ground: coldest, highest, windiest, driest – a place for firsts, for rolex watches, and for superior performance.

Then there’s Purity –Antarctica is no longer a place for people and machines, but a place without: representing freshness and ultimate wilderness, as seen in adverts for krill oil and skin products.

Finally, there’s Fragility: cue images of melting ice and calving icebergs, used to stand for a global climate that is under threat. Taken together, these adverts help to reveal the cultural frame through which we view Antarctica, and how our values and priorities have changed over time.

So, is Antarctica “Not For Sale?” My results suggest “Not really.” Antarctica is a powerful symbol that can and has been put to use for a range of commercial ends. It holds many resonances, so take your pick. Just remember to always read the fine print.

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