Clinique’s Freudian Purity (In-class exam)

Although Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis tended to deal exclusively with dreams, his understanding of the unconscious proves to be entirely useful in deconstructing popular culture. We can take, for example, the Clinique advertisement into consideration by viewing the image itself as a public (perhaps collective) and published dream.Freud may not have been particularly interested in the visual features or compostion of the image, yet these components are vital to the translation from conscious to unconscious thoughts.

First, we can examine the bar of soap itself, as depicted in the scene. We are at once struck by the grotesque and commanding zie (certainly unrealistic) of the bar; yet it also appears insolated – from a consumer, from production, etc. The bar is shown in another (unusual) manner: its yellow-green colour portrays a “clean” and “natural” product, but also conveys an immaculate, medicalized one.

The bubbles surrounding the bar also carry stylistic features; they appear as perfectly “round”, “firm”, “gentle” and “clean” (although we can see a lather/suds, the bubbles remain completely “pure” in themselves.)

Finally, the pouring water re-iteratres this sense of purity and nature; the waterfall-like motion generates feelings of tranquility and harmony. (The text found in the advertisement supports these sentiments of purity, carlessness [“allergy tested” = worry free] and nature, and for the purpose of my examination require no further mention.)

At this point we are able to undertake a Freudian analysis of the image. While the components mentioned can be understood as the visual, manifest content, we can attempt to translate their hidden, subverted, latent thoughts. According to Freud, all manifest content is subject to distortion by the “dream-work” (the mechanism by which such thoughts are altered, and thus we must decode the image by paying particular attention to the hidden elements (the ones that resist our analysis most). If all thoughts are generated in the unconscious, as Freud believes, then we must center our analysis on these hidden or latent components.

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.

In this light it seems wholly reasonable to me that this image delivers serious religious, as well as social implications. A secondary analysis of the manifest content renders another unconscious meaning. As the isolated soap is individually cleansed in the image, one can identify a sense of ritualized activity. Similarly, the soap bar (perhaps a symbol for the viewer) appears medicalized; could these medical and religious prescriptions have meaning with the image? If, as Freud believes, all meaning is derived from the unconscious, then the answer is yes.

It is my understanding of this image as the remnant of a much larger concern of the viewer: a fear of death. Though it may perhaps seem clich├ęd to align any Freudian analysis with subverted sexual desires or a fear of death, the latter seems like a viable option in lieu of the evidence.

If one chooses to see the streaming water as a ritual act of cleansing, as I assert, it can be likened to baptism, or any other “rebirth” of the soul. The medicalization of one’s personality, habit, character and essentially, being, as exemplified by the soap, can serve to identify the universal innate realization of one’s own humanity, and also impending death.

It is, therefore, my understanding of this image (as I suspect if would be Freud’s as well), that the imaginary dreamer/viewer (potentially, all of humanity) desires to be “reborn”, to be cleansed of any questionable moral activity, and to become a “pure” individual before his or her inevitable death.

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