Tickling tensions: Gazing into the parallax gap of the multicultural imaginary

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Abstract

This article explores why cultural branding – ideo-affective market communication addressing intense political tensions – paradoxically seems to lead to political inertia rather than political mobilization. I critically analyse advertising addressing political tensions related to race, ethnicity and immigration, but instead of only following the traced-out trajectory of postcolonial theory, I use the lens of Žižek’s radicalized Lacanian psychoanalysis and treat the therapeutic visuality in cultural branding as ideological fantasies of the market’s multicultural imaginary. Through critical visual methodologies, I situate four ‘multicultural’ commercials in their culture- and idea historical contexts, and juxtapose a postcolonial with a Žižekian reading for each of them. I come to argue that the market’s multicultural imaginary (unconsciously) serves important ideological functions in sustaining the political status quo not foremost because it placates anxiety, but because it doesn’t. Tapping into previous discussions in critical marketing on fetishistic disavowal and inversion, I offer yet another explanation. The political inertia following from ideo-affective dimensions of cultural branding does not primarily come from therapeutic sedation, but from the opposite, namely the parallax object’s upholding of gruesome tension and suspense; a fetishistic tickling. This article ends by critiquing the compulsory use of postcolonial theory in research on racial and ethnic relations. From the Žižekian reading, it appears that the postcolonial gaze is now a punishing agency like any dominant ideology, where the social inequality of global capitalism is deemed a more bearable alternative than the traumatic horror of visible racism, which, subsequently, closes the circuit from radical politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-413
JournalMarketing Theory
Volume21
Issue number3
Early online date2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication Studies

Keywords

  • Advertising
  • cultural branding
  • ethnonationalism
  • fantasies
  • ideology
  • Lacan
  • multiculturalism
  • neoliberalism
  • postcolonialism
  • Žižek

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