Barthes’ analysis of signs reveals that there are very few ‘innocent’ objects, that almost everything is ‘coded’ (assigned meaning). He contends that two levels of meaning, or signification, are found within a single image: (1) a denoted meaning that is instantly recognizable by the viewer through its faux-naturalness, and (2) a hidden, connoted meaning that is coded ideologically. One can ask, then, is an image’s meaning mediated by context?
One can see how, in this Clinique advertisement, Freud’s theory of the dream-work is logical; both dream-distortion and dream-censorship are evident. An initial psychoanalysis of the image reveals an inherent desire to be “wholesome” (or “moral”, as depicted by the rounded bubbles), “clean” (or “moral”, as depicted by the medicalized soap) and “pure” (or “moral”, as depicted by the clear, natural water). It is my understanding then, that this advertisement appeals to the viewer as a “sinner”, or flawed individual, and aims to reconcile this deficiency through morality.
As psychologically savvy advertising executives plague the fashion industry, it is often cited that “sex sells”, that consumers are drawn toward purchases due to the sexual content and appeal of an image; but is this clichéd utterance enough to grasp the cultural phenomenon of material fetish? Even if one accepts that mass culture is driven to consumerism as a result of selling by sex, one must wonder: what is sex selling?