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Where is ‘IT’?

I’m having a technical difficulty

Today’s quotidian involves a relentless osmosis of information. Wall to wall ads, targeted to our needs and desires, map the perimeter of our consciousness; uniform and ubiquitous with their motives. Each a flâneur, we nonchalantly stroll through the thoroughfare of targeted imagery, both virtual and physical:

The advertising image, then, in its fully realized form succeeds in having no content; it is an image of image, a mirror that reflects back the subjective intention. The image in this way takes on a fundamental feature of the commodity – over-determination arising from the productive requirements of capitalism itself – just as the representation of the image, in representing just this over-determination in order to capture both its hellish and utopian modalities, ceaselessly replicates just this structure, driving the dialectical image back into allegory. |1|

We become lost in this ‘satanic game of mirror-on-mirror’, where reflected images of prescribed capitalism slip into our stream of consciousness, filtering into our instinct for pleasure and satisfaction.|2| A formula consisting of the primal id and plastic wrapped commercialism, we have become hybrid, meshing into the cycle of satisfying desire and creating new desires; this aspirational economy running on the implicit knowledge that human desire will always outstrip the range of commodities on offer.

Weaker. Our mindless short-termism and our destructive self-indulgence is a result of the saturated information climate we exist in: a fibre-optic jungle that excretes jouissance. Where does our true self stand and can it withstand this climate, or are we all doomed to combust from information overload? Are we becoming numb to sensation in an environment where ‘there is more and more information, and less and less meaning’.|3|

The influence of advertisements is a controversial topic. In a world beset by social and environmental turmoil, advertising can be seen as urging people to consume more by making them feel dissatisfied or inadequate, by appealing to greed, worry and ambition. It is driven by our desire for ‘superabundant vitality’,|4|where we are constantly seeking satiation for our craving in a search that goes beyond the ‘pleasure principle, into the terrain of transgression.|5|

On the other hand, many ads are skillful, clever and amusing; it’s unjust to make them the scapegoats for all the sorrows of the modern world. Crudely speaking, advertising can fall into two categories: a caricature of one of these categories is ‘the amoral aesthetes mesmerized by its decadent beauty’, and the other is classified by over-serious moralists as corruptive materialism. |6|

Classifying as a professed advertising enthusiast, I am drawn to the system of meaning as a matter of encoding and decoding. Understanding semiotics in adverts is about making appropriate choices and combinations; a person who knows the language encodes their thoughts into the words and transmits them to another person, as it continues to travel from person to person. Elusive in its nature, the language of advertising is similar to our own, but riddled with code. Synonymous with the ambiguity of adverts is the nature of our desire, the two forces holding hands in a bitter sweet symbiosis.

The territory of Desire becomes abstract. Distraction through Desire.

The abstract notion of Desire is fumbled about with through adverts and their slogans. Religiously chanting, ‘IT won’t let you down’, ‘Just do IT’, ‘I’m lovin’ IT’, we submit to the omnipotent presence of ‘IT’.

‘IT’, the solution to all our longing.

‘IT’, the answer to all our problems.

‘IT’, steadily taking over our independent consciousness, creating a conglomerate community that mindlessly bows to its ever presence.

‘IT’, the empire that manifests and generates the ever growing urbanopolis that we inhabit. It is reaching the point that ‘More and more, more is more. Junkspace is overripe and under nourishing at the same time, a colossal security blanket that covers the earth in a strange hold of seduction’|7| a richness of information that fails to satiate our cravings. Perhaps it’ll be our greed that’ll mark our demise. Greed for more and more.

So, what is ‘IT’?

An elusive pronoun that somehow comes to be the loci of our desire. Perhaps ‘IT’s’ first shift into the territory of Desire was made by American screenwriter Elinor Glyn with reference to the American actress and sex symbol Clara Bow, who made her name in such films as It (1927). In this instance, the definition of ‘IT’ became that of sex appeal, the indefinable quality that makes one irresistible to the opposite sex. What Clara Bow offered was the personification of ‘IT’: sex appeal, confidence and indifference. By bringing this definition into popular culture, ‘IT ’became a sought after quality:

‘IT’ is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘IT’ you win all men if you are a woman – and all women if you are a man. ‘IT’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction. |8|

Through this modified understanding of ‘IT’, mass media pumped ‘IT’ into the vast feedback loop where everyone is looking to sell you something, whether that is to be an aspiration or a dream. It seemed fitting for the mid-1920s in America, a time in which agency copywriters had figured out how to appeal to more psychologically complex aspects of consumer culture: print ads began to prey on people’s fears of social failure, and radio announcers told tales of how their competitors’ products would lead to illness. Over the span of just a few years, advertisers convinced the great unwashed to brush their teeth regularly, rinse with mouthwash and smoke as many cigarettes as humanly possible.

The effectiveness of advertising came to elevate the American ad-man to become the vanguard of modernity, creating popular taste and defining trends. The economy was booming and ad agency media purchases allowed magazines, newspapers and radio stations to expand their audience, in turn delivering larger markets to advertisers. Fast forwards 90 years and we are in a hyper-halcyon of advertising, each attached to our own personal advertising devices, pumping out new images that’ll soon create a developed virtual image of desire. The frightful thing now is, that in an age of technological ease, we are able to obtain these figments of desire in a very short space of time: endless entertainment (games), easy transport (Uber), and instant food (Deliveroo). The truth is, however, that the desires that we are able to fulfill are in fact generated through our personal devices. We are now so far immersed that we ourselves have become the adverts. In this, we have created a meta haven for ‘IT’, where ‘IT’ can be synthesised virtually, continuing to manifest in different forms, constantly regulating our desires and therefore our consumption of ‘IT’. We are emblazoned with the infamous ‘tick’ on our trainers, brand names on our chests, arms, legs - wherever we can promote our personal identity through the vessel of a mass produced ethos. Our label ridden bodies dwell within a throbbing environment of information pulsing through our public and private landscape screaming ‘JUST DO IT’.

But what are we going to do about IT?

Consider ‘IT’, personified as a kid in a playground, chasing you down. You’re not the only one running away from ‘IT’, hundreds of other people are sprawling and sprinting away from ‘IT’. What do you do?

Do you opt to face a perpetual battle running away from ‘IT’, choosing to separate from the system, or do you embrace the chance of becoming ‘IT’?

Neither, you have no choice. ‘IT’ is all around us.

‘IT’ is everywhere and not at all. ‘IT’ is all consuming.

‘IT’ tells you to shave your legs.

‘IT’ makes sure you drink Coke and not Pepsi.

Earth©, distributed globally without any instructions.

To sum ‘IT’ up, I will refer to the 1986 Calvin Klein Obsession perfume ad.

Man: She was a fever from which I will never recover. All heat and hunger. She inflamed my senses. And when she devoured my very soul, when I had nothing left to surrender, she abandoned me to the wreckage of myself and smiled.

Woman: In the kingdom of passion, Obsession is the ruler.

Man: Ohh, the smell of IT. |9|

The frenzied monologue of the male character, in this case the subject of ‘IT’, is one fueled by desire, the desire for the unobtainable woman who, much like Clara Bow, brought great anguish with her indifference. There is an excess of life that exists beyond Freuds ‘pleasure principle’; struck by the arrow of Eros, the pain brought by the woman is made incomparable to the anticipation of ‘consumption’. She is Desire personified, there is no difference between her and happiness. She embodies the jouissance that is the symptom of our Desire, and fueled by our cravings for the desired object. In the mind of the consumer, ‘the material reality of the [perfume] and the metaphysical concept of happiness and contentment are identical’. |10| It is much like how we are presented with close-ups of food and drink as though we are about to consume it, we are drawn into the myth of instant gratification, instead catching a ride on the anticipation train to the fictional metropolis of ‘IT’: Destination Desire.

In conclusion:

Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing Nameable. And at the same time this desire lies at the origin of variety of Every animation. |11|

Situating Lacan’s statement in the context of our techno-metropolis, we find the animation to be duplicated beyond capacity, to the state of a Desire driven frenzy. Perhaps ‘IT’ is making us all experience a mass fever, making us perspire at every tag line, logo, and jingle, craving the antidote, even if it only lasts a week or at best a month. Regardless, we will always want more. Advertising simultaneously fulfils and fails its system, in a way that constantly sets the consumer up for perpetual dissatisfaction it will never be able to do enough.

‘IT’ is already you, but ‘IT’ is what you’ll always want.

N.B This text is in conversation with the moving image piece D/E/S/I/R/E (2016) by Tasha Lizak-Naikauskas

|1| Beatrice Hanssen, Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (London: Continuum international Publishing Group, 2006).

|2| Ibid.

|3| Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014).

|4| Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, (New York: Norton, 1997) .

|5| Sigmund Freud, trans.James Strachey, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (New Yotk: Norton, 1989).

|6| Guy Cook, The Discourse of Advertising (London: Routledge, 1992).

|7| Rem Koolhaas, ‘Junkspace’, October (2002), vol. 100, pp.175-190.

|8| It, dir. Clarence G. Badger and Josef von Sternberg (1927)—From an intertitle card by Elinor Glyn.

|9| Obsession advertisement, Calvin Klein, (1986).

|10| Jean Baudrillard, ed. Richard G. Smith and David B. Clarke, From Hyperreality to Disappearance (Edinburgh: EUP, 2015).

|11| Jacques Lacan, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli, ed. Jacque-Alain Miller, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique od Psychoanalysis (London: Norton, 1988).

Tasha Lizak-Naikauskas studies Fine Art: Sculpture & Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art. She recently exhibited at TBCTV, Somerset House (2018).

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