In the publication Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising, McClintock examined the concept of soap as a historical agent that modified the elements of British culture and contributed to its unity (208). I believe that viewing soap as a symbol of “monogamy”, “Christianity”, and “industrial capital” was an interesting perceptive to discover, as it helped in understanding a transition to an entirely new culture of consumerism with mass advertising and commodity racism (McClintock 209).
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I support the opinion of the author that this culture assisted in filling gaps in domesticity and empire by helping consolidate Britain with its colonies. For a typical reader, these traces were not apparent, and analyzing them from this perspective assisted in discovering the approaches that helped Britain regain its strength and modify the order in society.
In turn, the author made a thought-provoking claim that making soap a commercial product rather than a fetish triggered the rise of advertising. For example, Pears, “the father of advertising” was the first professional, who utilized the concepts of mass advertising and viewed it as a political tool, so-called “Empire Builder” (McClintock 209). Generally speaking, the basic characteristics reflected in the soaps’ advertisements were spirituality and domesticity. I believe that there was a clear rationale for choosing these concepts since Britain wanted to create unity and change attitude towards labor. I can freely claim that making this point was essential not only for history and British politics but also this idea was vital for understanding the role of advertising as a value-generating instrument in modern culture.
Thus, returning to the immense role of soap and commercials in British culture, it was also used as an approach to cultivate regeneration and “racial progress” (McClintock 214). For example, in one of the advertisements, the “black boy” turned white after being washed with soap and became a new social hybrid (McClintock 214). Another symbol of “industrial progress” was the soap monkey, and it characterized individuals such as prostitutes and representatives of “lower social classes” (McClintock 216).
Along with that, mirrors or other reflective surfaces such as frying pans (essential attributes of soap advertisements) tended to present the idea that the goods had to multiply without any intervention while being discovered as a sign of consumerism (McClintock 216). Overall, these aspects implied that soap advertising attempted to show a link between household life and power, make purity a core value of the society for all classes, discover the role of fetishism in shaping national culture, and create a perception of “black” people as servants.
In the end, apart from the active engagement of monkeys and “black” people in advertisements, it could be noticed that whites were still the main consumers of the products while “blacks” were just “frames for commodities” (McClintock 222). I think that making this point was reasonable, as Britain wanted to promote purity everywhere, but “whites” were still discovered as more important.
Nevertheless, engaging representatives of other classes helped deliver the advertising message to other target groups and promote soap as a magic product across the continents. Unfortunately, these intentions were not solely pure, as Britain was violent when selling these commodities in their colonies, as not all of them wanted to accept new values and modify their attitudes (McClintock 230).
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I could freely claim that this article expanded my understanding of advertising due to its multifaceted perspective, as advertising was not simply used to create economic surplus but also aimed at developing a new culture and social phenomena such as commodity culture and racism and assisted in delivering political ideas to its other parts. Overall, it was possible to understand these concepts since this publication elaborated and supported the ideas with the help of examples from the past.
McClintock, Anne. Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising. Routledge, 1994.