The Representation of Cultural and National Identity

Figure 1 iThis child is in for a very rough time, much to the enjoyment of the onlookers.


Pears’, a company that has nearly been in existence for two hundred years owes its success to not only the founder Andrew Pears but also to Francis Pears, son in law, and Thomas J. Barratt, a man often referred to as the father of modern advertising. Andrew Pears initially identified the cultural stigma attached to a tanned face, as this was seen to be associated with the lower classes and those who toiled with manual labour. Not only was this tanned face established from work but also from the use of inferior, harsh soaps which were then used by the upper classes. Through this abrasion caused by soap the indistinguishable colour of class was established. Andrew recognised the necessity to create a purer more gentle soap. Spotting this gap in the marketplace he continued to create a superior product to fill it. Pears product was so exclusive and expensive that he personally signed each package he sold. Thomas J. Barratt, who had married Francis Pears’ eldest daughter Mary was a risk taker, whose aggressive vision and foresight saw the revolution of the distribution of Pears products. His vision of modern advertising was to think in terms of weeks, and the campaigns to change direction like yachts in a strong breeze. His highly original publicity schemes greatly improved the company?s sales. Through extensive advertising and promotion Barratt convinced as many people as possible to purchase Pears. His radical methods struck fear into Francis Pears and he left his son and Barratt in sole charge of the business with £4000 as a loan. Barratt forced the manufacturing world to see the ad-vantages of paying good money for good advertising; in the 1880s Pears were spending between 30,000 and, 40,000 pounds a year on advertising and by 1907 the figure had risen to 126,000. Even advertising took up the phrase. Pears’ Soap claimed to be “a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances.”

iOnly the pictures themselves changed from time to time, and it is interesting to look at a 1907 newspaper interview with Barratt in which he says:

‘Tastes change, fashions change, and the advertiser has to change with them. An idea that was effective a generation ago would fall flat, stale, and unprofitable if presented to the public today. Not that the idea of today is always better than the older idea, but it is different -it hits the present taste.’

Pears advertising on a whole aimed to provoke an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. It was considered tasteful and restrained. This helped to communicate through art to the working class illiterate masses, not only the exclusivity of the Pears product and its global domination of the soap commodity but the global success of Imperial domestication. Pears advertisements generally used black people as a source of amusement in their use as displacing commodity racism. Thomas J. Barratt aimed, he said, to make his advertisements ‘telling, artistic, picturesque, attractive, pretty, amusing’ -and of course commercially successful.

Barratt joined the Pears company at the time when advertising was seen as an afterthought. Crude handbills, posters and small newspaper advertisements were the basic methods. Barrat?s sophisticated techniques opened up new horizons and he successfully pioneered saturation advertising. Pears soap was everywhere in Victorian and Edwardian times. The image would have been displayed as a poster on hoardings and on railway stations, billboards, buses, shop fronts, newspaper advertisements and leaflets. 3W. E. Gladstone, searching for a metaphor to convey a sense of vast quantity during a debate on a topic now forgotten in the House of Commons, suggested the articles in question were as numerous as the advertisements of Pears Soap, or as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa’. After the end of the campaign the image would then be redisplayed in the Pears cyclopaedia. This form of advertising saw commodity racism delivered to the masses as it had the ability to cover all class systems and introduce art and the news of the apparent colonial conquest and civilising of the natives. The working classes would have been the general audience for this type of image and product as Pears? claimed to remove the dirt associated with the working class. This was particularly predominant with the female members, hence the majority of the advertising slogans had them in mind -‘Matchless for the complexion’, ‘Good morning! Have you used Pears Soap?’ were simple and unchanging, reflecting an era of guiltlessness and security in which the good things in life might reasonably be taken for granted -at least by the more fortunate.

iBarratt evidently had philanthropic as well as commercial motives in bringing art to the public eye: the 1897 edition claimed that: ‘It is beyond controversy that, before the popular advent of Pears Annual, pictures of the refined quality of our Presentation Plates (which surpass any works of even this high” class order ever previously attempted) were unattainable by picture-lovers at anything less than a guinea a-piece.

Our ambition has been to offer an appreciative and increasing public, which has grown to expect these advantages at our hands, presentation pictures of superior quality and of artistic values, to ensure our extended popularity, and to constitute Pears Annual the foremost achievement of this kind . . . ”

His method of delivery was through Pears Annual, which was first published in 1891 continuing until 1920.

The more recent audience for this image would be collectors of nostalgia and advertising enthusiasts Barratt created the association between product and culture. It is with this form of advertising in mind that I wish to discuss the identity established through representation of cultural and national form within an image. My aim is to deconstruct the image and through the removal of its layers perform a semiotic analysis of its elements. These elements are entwined in a multitude of ways and that culture is crucial to the construction of national identity.

My choice of image for discussion is a Pears soap advertisement (Figure 1) of the late nineteenth century where an African woman attempting to bathe her child in a wooden bath on the porch of her wooden house whilst three boys peep around the side of the domicile enjoying the infant’s misfortune. Above their heads on the exterior wall of the home is the previous successful Pears advertisement, ?You Dirty Boy? campaign.

The image was created in the latter part of the nineteenth century, some time after 1878 as the inset image is from the campaign ‘You Dirty Boy’ which was based on a sculpture created in 1877 by Focardi. I cannot establish the exact designer or artist who created the main Pears? soap advertising image I am discussing, but for the time period the artists who created Pears? presentation plates included Frank Dadd, J. C. Dollman, Hugh Thompson, Will Owen (of ‘Bisto Kids’ fame), Maurice Greiffenhagen, Gordon Browne and Tom Browne. Thomas J Barratt, who is often referred to as the father of modern advertising who from 1877 had control of the family firm A & F Pears?iii had a great influence in the plight of bringing art to the masses which confirms the image is post this date.

This form of image finds itself in the genre of advertising although if the typographic elements were to be removed the image would belong within the realm of fine art and painting. The majority of Pears? soap advertisements generally started out life as paintings. The branding of the image and strap line are clearly considered and work harmoniously with the image.

My initial discussion is the image components within the implanted advertisement of the previous successful campaign ‘You Dirty Boy’, which, are not, displayed exactly the same as the original. The original image was an illustration of the statue created by Focardi (Figure 2/3), which was then transformed into a painting (Figure 4). We can see the colours of the woman?s clothing are unlike the one portrayed within the image. In this version it shows the elderly, working class woman dressed in a crisp white apron combined with a red blouse and a blue skirt. This combination of colours reflects the Union Jack communicating the national identity of Britishness, symbolising the Imperial domesticating force that was sweeping the colonies. The young street urchin child she forcefully cleans is partially clothed. He wears trousers and shoes and over them an apron. Not the pristine white the woman is clothed in, but a seemingly dirty apron. This reluctance of the child’s behaviour with regards to being washed echoes the defiance of the cleansing within the colonies. The position of this image is significantly higher than the main subject matter contained within the picture. Through this intertextuality the meaning of the image is transformed as it acts not only as the definition of superiority within the social hierarchies, acting as an example of how to behave but demonstrates that consumer culture is bound through the processes of imperialism, colonialism and whiteness associated with civilisation. The location of the image is embedded within industrial capital relations, which were defined by the imperial power relations (the uneven relationship between the imperial western civilisations and the colonies) this definition is affirmed by the use of UPPER CASE letterforms within the advertisement verifying the dominant position of Imperialism within the social hierarchies and is also reflected through the use of Title Case within the main image containing the natives.

The presence of the previous advertising campaign poster acts as a role model and dictates how the African woman should behave and shown as an image to aspire to. Although her aspirations could never be anything more than working class.

The aspirations to develop into civilised and through the dominant influence of the West, and the heavy influence of Christianity and the aim to become closer to God through the use of soap.

If “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” soap must be considered as a “Means of Grace” — and a clergyman who recommends moral things, should be willing to recommend Soap. I am told that my commendation of Pears?’ Soap some dozen years ago has assured for it a large sale in the U.S. I am willing to stand by any word in favour of it that I ever uttered. A man must be fastidious indeed who is not satisfied by it. HENRY WARD BEECHER Nov 29, 1882iv

Moving on to the main image we are presented with this display of apparent defiance from a young child whose mother is attempting to bathe him while three young boys find amusement at his misfortune. The African woman and children are presented here as degenerates and their structure portrayed as being only slightly higher than ape like.

The African woman is in brightly coloured attire along with a headscarf. Her dress, which seems traditional, mimics the clothing presented in the poster. Her feet are oversized and the presence of shoes seems incredibly masculine and western and not the typical wear for a woman who would most probably work the fields. The shoes symbolic reference denotes the confusion of cleanliness and dirtiness as in Victorian England; shoes were seen as threshold objects. This element adds to the racist and sexist, masculine portrayal of this ‘degenerate’ woman and the fact that although she has acquired some, she has not yet reached civility. The woman is portrayed in the cultural role of domesticity, as a maid-cum-housewife seen attempting to wash a child. vAlthough her presence within the image is huge her significance culturally, is the visibility of the invisible, as being female, black, working class and presented as a degenerate she is everything hidden within Victorian England. Her character reflects the imperial domestication occurring through the globalisation of the use of soap as a commodity to civilise.

The bath unlike Victorian England is outside, although the material and structure seem to reflect the Pears’ advertisement the bench that the bath is placed on seems solid but of poor construct signifying poverty.

The house appears to be constructed of quite weathered, unfinished wood. The hinge fixtures are quite rusty on the door, which gives the home the look of a stable portraying to the western civilisation the poor way the colonials live unlike the civilised homes of middle class Victorian England whose metal fixtures shone and gleamed like reflective surfaces.

The frying pan is symbolic of a mirror (McClintock, 1995) although this, still dirty and black reflecting the cultural identity, its display in full view affirms the uncivilised behaviour of the woman as in Victorian society cooking utensils and implements that were used in manual labour were never on show as dirt was seen as a scandal. Dirt was seen as an association with waste and disorder while cleanliness with rationality and industry. Inside the house there is what looks to be a nicely polished kitchen chair with carved spindles. This is clearly of better construct than the elements displayed on the porch signifying that the ‘degenerate’ has acquired some western influence within her domicile. The woman through the influence has aspirations of achieving civility through the use of Pears’ soap.

The three children who appear to be laughing at the child, who does not want to be washed, seem to be clean, dressed in smart white clothes and black shiny shoes although are seen as aged and disfigured affirming the portrayal of degeneration. Their appearance seems to be civilised and their positioning within the image defines the dominance of the Pears’ image as the increasing height of each child leads to the advertisement. The children are portrayed as being civilised and ‘domesticated’ no longer savage like animals. Alongside the three children are three chickens sitting on a fence. The hierarchy continues through the representation of the chickens’ domestication who are seen as being fenced in like prisoners. This demonstrates that alongside the domestication and civilising of the colonials they have been given the information on how to become self sufficient through the domestication of animals.

The small child, who does not want to be washed, suggests that the natives are born uncivilised and that until they are washed and clothed they will remain that way. “A person without clothes is a person without language” West African proverb.  Emergent middle class values class control cleansing the great unwashed and the imperial civilising mission “washing and clothing the savage”. (McClintock, 1995) The child?s fist represents the defiance of the colonies in the attempt of Imperial domesticity, yet we see immediately above this sign the dominant presence of Pears? soap confirming the discourses of inequality and power.

Unlike the clear control demonstrated by the working class white woman, appearing in the ‘Dirty Boy’ advertisement, the African woman does not seem to have any power, necessitating the dominance of western civilisation to aid with the domestication of the natives.

The spectator is positioned in a high point of view where they view a chronotope of global history. This is what McClintock (1995) calls ‘panoptical time’. viPanoptical time is a framework of progression evaluated by an overseer in a role of dominance. McClintock (1995) states that the panoptical stance is enjoyed by those in privileged positions in the social structure, to whom the world appears as a spectacle, stage, performance. viiThe image of global history consumed – at a glance – in a single spectacle from a point of privileged invisibility.

This portrayal of colonial life would be interpreted by Western civilisation as how the ‘degenerate’ third world live and that the civilised world was expanding through Imperial domesticity. The image communicates that the company Pears’ has reached the colonies and through the use of soap has begun to civilise the ‘degenerates’. Through the use of commodity racism the company has achieved global domination in partnership with Imperial domesticity and the civilising of the colonies.

In conclusion I feel that racism as a hegemonic ideology, expressed through the display of domesticity portrayed in the use of soap is the apparent social, national and cultural

identity of  ‘Britishness’ within the latter part of the nineteenth century, which Pears’ successfully manufactured and communicated through Imperial domesticity. Thus as domestic commodities were mass marketed through their appeal to imperial jingoism, commodity jingoism itself helped reinvent and maintain British national unity in the face of deepening Imperial competition and colonial resistance. The cult of domesticity became indispensable to the consolidation of British national identity and at the centre of the domestic cult stood the simple bar of soap. (McClintock, 1995)

Dempsey, M. Bubbles; Early Advertising Art From A.&F. Pears Ltd. Glasgow. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1978

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Baldwin, Elaine et al. Introducing Cultural Studies; London; Prentice Hall Europe; 1999

vi (1 of 5)09/02/2006 15:34

vii McClintock, Anne, 1954-Imperial leather: race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest / London ; New York : Routledge, c1995

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