Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars
University of California at Berkeley
April 26, 2012
The document used for this project is an image taken by Julian Lee of a homeless man lying down inside a bus canopy with a Kaiser Permanente advertisement poster inside the casing. It was taken on April 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm on an iPhone 4s and is currently listed as image 186 within the iPhone. The actual location the photograph was taken at the corner of University Ave and Milvia Street in Berkeley, California. It is from the perspective of the streets where people drive, take public transportation, and walk along the sidewalks. The photo was also taken at close range to accentuate the contrast of the message within the poster and the situation of the man. I chose to take this image in black and white because the use of color contributes to the everyday mundane routine and does not force the viewer to stop and analyze. The image is a clear indication that the very design of hegemony creates dividing lines between the haves and the have not’s.
A closer and more insightful reading of this image shows an advertisement campaign for Kaiser Permanente located within a casing of a black steel canopy bus stop. The message reads PHARMACY and displays a couple hiking in an open field as a form of recreation or exercise. The word is a suggestive meaning indicating that this physical activity is a place one receives medicine. Just at the bottom of the PHARMACY text is a Data Matrix barcode, which is used by mobile phones to retrieve additional information about a company. Also, the name of the company is displayed as KAISER PERMANENTE MOBILE, along with an image of a mobile phone underneath the Data Matrix barcode. There is a small caption that says, “Manage your health from anywhere” followed by “Kaiser Permanente: THRIVE.”
Leaning his head up to the advisement is a white male approximately 50 to 60 years of age, roughly 6 foot, and approximately 160 pounds. He is sunburned with a gray beard and appears to have dirt on himself. He is wearing a black hat, brown worn leather jacket, and his shirt is brown but looks grayish from the stains on it. The environment is urban and it was overcast on this day. There are business buildings in the background alone with cars parked behind an attached mesh on the canopy bus stop.
The reason I decided to take this image was because I found a disturbing contrast to what was being displayed. It is an advertisement for helping maintain the health of people but it cannot do anything for this man because he does not follow the guidelines required.
Kaiser Permanente is an integrated managed care company, which is based in Oakland, California; just about a mile south of where this image was taken. It has 8.9 million health plan members, 167,00 employees, 14,600 physicians and reported a combined 1.6 billion in net income. Yet, with all those resources, the man in this image will most likely not be able to participate in the dream of a self pharmacy as described in the poster because he does not follow the hegemony of working and being part of this society.
Not only does the poster convey this message but, as a whole document, this homeless man exist within an environment which reveals a disconnect in the community. In one since, the question could be asked how would this poster be perceived if this homeless man was not visible in the image? Sadly, I would argue there would be no difference because people like this man are generally invisible to society. I would also argue that hegemony is at work in this image by indicating that hegemony waits for no one, similar to the description of time. From analyzing this image, this man does not appear to be moving with the technology provided. At his present state, work of any sort would be necessary to take part in what this company is offering. However, this does not appear to be the case. Also, on the left portion of the image next to the man’s head is that word thrive. This is clearly another contrast, which I would argue that the signage is expressing, like most advertisements, that all will be well and better if individuals choose this plan. The alternative could be lying in the streets like this man and no one wants that. They would rather be what hegemony is describing; people who take hikes and enjoy life because they follow the rules of the game, the game of haves and have not’s.
In conclusion, the composition of this image reflexes how the selling of any product continues to work it’s hegemony on society while people in situations like this man get left behind. This image of a homeless person on the street isn’t anything new. What is different is how advancements and technology like the Data Matrix barcode and using mobile phones to manage one’s health has become the power control of the day. Geographically, homelessness is a global dilemma. One can walk in downtown Berkeley and see the same conditions in Los Angeles, New York City, and even places like suburbia, USA. Yet, it’s odd to see and even wonder how a company with 1.6 billion in net income projects itself in environments where people may not have the luxury of using their services. Antonio Gramsci described the intellectuals as the dominant group “deputies” used to enforce its powers of social hegemony. Today there are companies acting as “deputies” and supplying the masses with commodities that provide the comforts of security. Giving the illusion that if you use Data Matrix barcodes, mobile phones, take hikes as they recommend, everything will be all right. This is done in the same manner shoes are marketed. By the way, the gentleman in the image is wearing a pair of New Balance shoes. Hegemony is lost on no one.
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