Sign Wars (Hardcover)

The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising (Critical Perspectives)

By Robert L. Goldman, PhD, Stephen Papson

The Guilford Press, 9781572300149, 323pp.

Publication Date: May 20, 1996

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (5/21/1996)

List Price: 84.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Television has become so saturated with commercials that it is difficult at times to tell the different images apart, much less remember or care about them. But, on closer look, television commercials can tell us a great deal about the interplay of market forces, contemporary culture, and corporate politics. This book views contemporary ad culture as an ever-accelerating war of meaning. The authors show how corporate symbols or signs vie for attention-span and market share by appropriating and quickly abandoning diverse elements of culture to differentiate products that may be in themselves virtually indistinguishable. The resulting "sign wars" are both a cause and a consequence of a media culture that is cynical and jaded, but striving for authenticity.

Including more than 100 illustrations and numerous examples from recent campaigns, this book provides a critical review of the culture of advertising.  It exposes the contradictions that stem from turning culture into a commodity, and illuminates the impact of television commercials on the way we see and understand the world around us.

About the Author

Robert L. Goldman, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR.

Stephen Papson, Ph.D, is Professor of Sociology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

Praise For Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising (Critical Perspectives)

"Sign Wars is a path-breaking analysis of contemporary advertising, a work of sustained brilliance, rich in insight and imagination, that will reward repeated readings." --John Wilson, Ph.D., Duke University, Dept of Sociology

"Goldman and Papson have performed a real service for scholars and consumers alike. Their book tells us that images, like words, can be read, understood, and judged true or false. In a world where MTV competes with CNN and New York Times headlines with Nike slogans, no lesson is more appropriate or important. Sign Wars is a great leap forward in making America media literate." --Randall Rothenberg, senior writer, Esquire, and author, Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story

"The aptly titled Sign Wars offers an insightful and engaging examination of some of our most familiar and pervasive images, sounds, and messages. Goldman and Papson take readers inside the logic and structure of contemporary commodity culture to show how the economic interests of transnational corporations, the culture of ad makers, and the strategies of ads themselves all work to increase the intensity and velocity of corporate struggles for our attention, identification, and loyalty to their logos and products. Most importantly, Sign Wars convincingly uses ads and ad culture to ponder the collective crisis of meaning in late capitalism (over issues like gender, race, community, morality, the environment, and citizenship), a crisis which they argue is increasingly expressed in terms of a commodity culture where identification with and fluency in advertising images are the markers of citizenship and participation in society. To their credit, Goldman and Papson place advertising front and center in contemporary debates about politics and culture." --Herman Gray, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Watching Race: Television and the Sign of Blackness