Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Absolut Aztlán

About a month ago, Absolut Vodka ran an advertisement in selected publications in Mexico titled "In An Absolut World" and showing a modified pre-1845 political map of North America. Evidently the ad (produced by Mexico City-based Teran/TWBA) stirred up quite a bit of discussion ranging from hard-lined close-the-borders remakes to characterizations of Absolut as exceedingly leftist, from calls for boycotts of the vodka to more nuanced historical reflections on the Mexican-American War and reconquest movements. That's quite a bit to come from a localized print advertisement. Absolut apologized before retracting the ads just a few days later. And though many of the spin-offs reflect entrenched anti-Mexico perspectives, there are more takes on Flickr here and here. I've collected some of the links in this entry because I can imagine returning to this fracas as an example of the rhetoricity of maps--an extended foray into what Denis Wood might have been thinking when he suggested in The Power of Maps that maps are always, unavoidably interested. Yes, advertisements even more so--or more overtly so. By no means am I well read or well studied on reconquest movements, but glancing the few threads of conversation linked above does remind me of a line in Silko's Almanac of the Dead when she mentions the quiet celebrations each time a Spanish-speaking leader is elected to public office in the southwestern U.S.

One of the more compelling responses I've seen comes from a commenter to the blog Conservative Dialysis who points to the hypocrisy in the great outrage over the "In An Absolut World" ad when postcards like the one below still circulate in the Lone Star State and beyond (also featured on Strange Maps). Of course, it's not as simple to establish the tie that connects the circulation of one to the circulation of the other.  But, that both of them circulate (or rather that one is retracted while the other one is so mundane as to go unnoticed) makes their pairing (possibly) electric.

I'm intrigued by, as much as anything here, the small leap from (interested?) map to worldview. What are those interests? Whose are they? How are they coded in the map's symbology? Written into or inscribed in the layers of the map itself? These few examples, slowly aging among my "starred items" in Google Reader, seem to get at that leap fairly well (well enough for a future assignment on map writing practices or something?).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 6, 2008 9:50 PM to Rhetorico-Geography

Viz had a post about this awhile back. What I find interesting about the Absolut Map (and I posted this as a comment over at Viz.) is that it exemplifies how difficult it is to parse one's audience. Viral texts make it really hard to pander to one audience and hope that the "other side" doesn't catch on (politicians are obviously having problems with this as well.)

Posted by: Jim at May 9, 2008 5:03 PM

I'm glad you pointed this out, Jim. I hadn't seen it, probably because it turned up around the time of CCCC. I think you're right that the "rapid-viral" has a drastic effect on the circulation of such images. It's no longer the slow viral crawl of yesteryear but something much quicker (perhaps as quick to flit from the scene as to arrive on it, or so the politicians can hope, anyway). Duration or lastingness, then, takes on renewed significance, no?

Posted by: Derek at May 12, 2008 10:31 PM