Catherine Dodd Corona

Defining Visual Rhetorics

Advertising History and Gendered Environments. By: Diane S. Hope 

Progymnasmata: Refutation

While the majority of Hope’s arguments are valid and backed up with firm evidence there is a small claim she makes that is not true. In the beginning of the section titled “Advertising History and Gendered Environments” she argues that advertising companies in the 20th century were aware and did not try to cover the harmful effects of advertising commodity consumption. She writes, “ advertising did not hide the production process nor its effects on nature. Advertising’s paradoxical images extolled the benefits of modernity and mass production while insisting that commodity purchases reaffirmed traditional values.” While her argument that advertising caused environmental despair is correct, she negates to share that advertisement companies did in fact hide the “production process” and its effects on nature. Proven by the example of the Crying Indian advertisement. 

The Crying Indian advertisement was produced by the Keep America Beautiful and anti-littering foundation, in 1971. The scene opens on an American Indian rowing in a traditional canoe down a scenic river, the background then shrifts from lush trees to factories and smokestacks. The American Indian docks his canoe on a shore bed and the background shifts again to traffic, a man throws his trash out of a car and it lands at the American Indians feet. The camera zooms in on his disheartened face as a single tear trickles down his face, while the deep voiced narrator says, “People start pollution. People can stop it.” 

The Keep America Beautiful foundation was made up of the biggest plastic polluters in the world. Comprising thirty companies total, some notable figures are Dixie Cup Co., and Coca Cola but before their contribution the company was founded by American Can Co. and Owens-Illinois Glass Co in 1953.

These companies were not just trying to help clean up what they produced, they were actively against many environmental initiatives. Including the “bottle bills”, a set of proposed bills to mitigate the use of one-use plastic bottles. Keep American Beautiful lobbied so hard against these bills they once labeled the bottle bill supporters as “communist”. Even ten years before the Crying Indian premier, Keep America Beautiful coined the term “Litterbug”. 

Joining with the Ad Council in 1960, a character, Susan Spotless, prompted anti-littering tag-lines such as “Don’t be a litterbug” and “Every litter bit hurts”. This foundation and foundations like it shifted the responsibility of keeping the world clean from the producers to the consumers and it has remained a deeply systemic problem since. The power for change was no longer in the multimillion-dollar corporation but instead it lied on the shoulders of the individual American. Because of these advertising efforts the bottle bills were dropped, and one-use plastics skyrocketed.

This example not only exemplifies Hope’s argument that advertising companies forced American consumers to switch from traditional long lasting commodities to easily replaceable products while still supporting “traditional values”, but it also shows that companies were intentional about subliminal messaging. They did try to hide their intentions. They created companies that fought for one value when in reality they were trying to distract and deter people from the real issue. This contradicts Hope’s point that, “advertising did not hide the production process nor its effects on nature.”. They did try to sweep it under the rug, and distract the consumer from their real intentions. While that one claim is not valid, the evidence that proves its validity also supports her main aim that advertisement companies shifted the way of buying and selling consumer goods.

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