I’ve written before about the curious relationship between form and content — and the manner in which (despite how we usually think about it) meaning is the product of the former.
As but the latest example, consider this Lipton commercial currently on TV here in the US.
Recognize the song?
That the song — 2015’s S.O.B., by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats — seems to be about an alcoholic at a make-or-break moment is completely irrelevant to the advertiser, of course, probably because of the catchy hook and the fact that it mentions drinking. And their product is something one drinks, so it’s a match made in heaven.
Until you know the lyrics, maybe?
Take the song’s second verse and chorus:
Now for seventeen years I’ve been throwing them back
Seventeen more will bury me
Can somebody please just tie me down
Or somebody give me a goddamn drink
Son of a bitch
Give me a drink
One more night
This can’t be me
Son of a bitch
If I can’t get clean
I’m gonna drink my life away
I don’t think he’s talking about “fresh-brewed Lipton iced tea.”
But, as we recently saw in the case of Donald Trump’s tweet about Hillary Clinton,
which included what many would call a Star of David (later changed to a red circle when they were called on it), signifers are not securely tethered to the earth; they float as freely as the interpreter’s efforts to make them work for their own purposes — such as those on the right who insisted that the reaction prompted by the tweet was evidence of political correctness had run amuck.
So just what do symbols really mean?
Or is that the wrong question to ask?
Might the better question be: Who is making the meaning — and yes, in this approach it is a constructive activity that requires creativity and labor — in what setting, for what audience, and for what purposes…?
If those were our questions then what would we make of that Trump controversy? And might we start to see Twitter as one of the manufacturing sites where some of that work is taking place…?
Oh, and here’s the music video for that song — you’ll see that it’s set in a prison. Quite some distance form the commercial’s colorful picnic. But does it matter? Apparently not to the Lipton executives.