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Jas Johl
Selection # 1: The following paper was written for Professor Kaja Silverman’s fall 2007 seminar The
Rhetoric of Psychoanalysis.
The Product of Fantasy
A bold, bright blue screen containing a starkly contrasted black outline of a human figure
appears before our eyes. Simultaneously, a steady pumping of music begins to flood the ears.
The image joins the rhythm and flux of movement, rapidly shifting between a variety of mono-
chromatic screens, dancing figures, and camera angles; all the while relentlessly transitioning
and unfolding in perfect synchronization with the tonal changes in the music. As we watch, the
outline figure and our own vision become subservient to the movement and flow initiated by the
music. The source of this new impetus to movement is illuminated at the foreground of the
image; it is the new Apple iPod.
The effectiveness of this highly successful advertisement can be understood through the
Freudian notion of fantasy. For Freud, a fantasy is constructed around multiple, often repressed
wishes, and employs disguise to mask and mark the very defensive processes by which desire is
enacted. The subject’s desire to maintain distance from the repressed wish and to simultaneously
experience it opens up a type of third person syntax allowing for multiple entry into the fantasy.
Therefore, in fantasy, vision is multiplied-- it becomes possible to see from more than one
position at the same time, to see oneself and to see oneself seeing oneself, to divide vision and
dislocate subjectivity. This radical omission of the “I” position creates space for all those
processes that depend upon such a center, including not only identification but also the field and
organization of vision itself.
It is precisely this constructive and consumptive capacity of fantasy the iPod
advertisement moves to utilize. By operating in the language of the unconscious, the iPod ad
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seeks to confer its ready-made legible identity, organized around the consumption of the product,
onto the fragmented unconscious of the subject through a series of symbolic displacements.
Hence, the advertisement operates primarily in the realm of affect, privileging the movement
between the visual and acoustic registers. While certain aesthetic markers are perceptible, no
story or narrative is employed to convey any explicitly causal message. The images proffered do
not bend to any rational, sequential ordering. Instead, the ad gives way to an associative free play
or simultaneous reckoning of colors, sounds, bodies and iPod. And yet, while the camera never
settles too long on a single element, the gaze continually lingers back in a repetitive fashion to
the iPod, which is continually restaged in relation to the dark outlined figure.
This constant restaging performs Freud’s discussion of the scenic character of fantasy.
For Freud, sexuality is linked from the very beginning to an object of fantasy. However, “the
object to be rediscovered is not the lost object, but its substitute by displacement; the lost object
is the object of self-preservation, of hunger, and the object one seeks to re-find in sexuality is an
object displaced in relation to that first object.”
1
This initial scene of fantasy is created out of the
frustrated infants’ deflection away from the instinctual need for milk and nourishment towards a
phantasmization of the mothers’ breast, which is in close proximity to the instinctual need. Now
bodily pleasure is derived from the sucking of the mother’s breast itself. The mouth that was the
original source of nourishment is now the mouth that takes pleasure in its own sucking.
2
This
substitution of the breast for milk and the breast for a phantasmic scene represents a further level
of mediation which is increasingly psychic. The child cannot experience the pleasure of milk
without the psychic re-inscription of the scene in the mind. “The finding of an object is in fact a
1
Laplanche, Jean. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1990. Pg. 20
2
Ibid, pg. 23.
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re-finding of it.”
3
It is in the movement and constant restaging away from the instinct that desire
is constituted and mobilized.
It is here interesting to note the particular strangeness of the solid black outlines of
“human” figures within the ads, which comprise a type of negative space in the place of the
body. They are shadow bodies, effacing all human details except the perceptible outlines of
fashionable clothing and hair. The advertisement presents us with an idealized blank canvas that
is ambiguous and yet coherent enough for us to project ourselves upon. It encourages us to see
ourselves where we are not, and in fact where no one is, only a shadow figure. The image of the
figure demonstrates the incorporation and inscription of the body into the realm of fantasy.
The child’s initiation into what Lacan would call the "mirror stage" entails a "libidinal
dynamism" caused by the young child's identification with his own image and creation of what
Lacan terms the "Ideal-I" or "Ideal ego."
4
This reflexivity inherent in fantasy is apparent in the
mirror stage, since to recognize oneself as "I" is like recognizing oneself as other ("yes, that
person over there is me"); this act is thus fundamentally self-alienating. Indeed, for this reason
feelings towards the image are mixed, caught between hatred ("I hate that version of myself
because it is so much better than me") and love ("I want to be like that image"). A type of
repetition compulsion develops from this vacillation as the attempt to locate a fixed subject
proves ever elusive. "The mirror stage is a drama…which manufactures for the subject, caught
up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a
fragmented body-image to a form of its totality.”
5
This misrecognition (seeing an ideal-I where
there is a fragmented, chaotic body) subsequently "characterizes the ego in all its structures."
6
3
Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Basic, 2000. Pg 88.
4
Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1999. Pg. 2
5
Ibid, Pg 4.
6
Ibid, Pg 6.
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Jas Johl
For in fantasy, it is the charged space between positions, not the viewpoint of the fixed
subject, which articulates the scene. This de-centering is produced in the instability of speaking
positions; in the alternation or tension between image and text; and in the operation of a frame
that mediates a reciprocal encounter between viewer and object. Transformed from a container
or boundary of the visual field to a sort of two-way mirror, the frame produces a dynamic gaze.
Like fantasy, which is produced at the interface between two events - one remembered and one
fantasized, one fixed and one fluid - the framework of the iPod ad simultaneously holds two
scenes, or two positions, in play. This move, which may be articulated by changing places, by
masking and disguise, by techniques of substitution, projection and opposition, can be very
difficult to see. And of course the difficulty of seeing an oscillation within fantasy has very much
to do with desiring to know, as Freud did, where the subject is located within the scenario. If, on
the other hand, the subject is assumed to be dislocated within a scene of fluid desire, then the
moves are easier to follow, and this oscillation can be seen as demonstrating the contingency of
both subjectivity and vision.
The ad performs this oscillating movement in multiple ways. The act of seeing “is
ultimately derived from touching,” and thus causes libidinal excitation.
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In viewing the ad, a
blank canvas is made available to us in order to facilitate the projection of our own narcissistic
fantasies. The seemingly self-contained fantasy on the screen calls out to be looked at. Thus the
ad mobilizes the voyeuristic pleasures in looking and, simultaneously, of being looked at, in
order to restage the mechanisms of desire around the iPod. Freud’s notion that perversions occur
in pairs helps to illuminate the voyeur’s hidden agenda: self-identification and self-visualization.
As the voyeur unconsciously longs for the return of his or her gaze, the focal point of such a gaze
7
Freud, Pg. 22.
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is directed ultimately back upon the self. For when we dance and sing to ourselves, we are
always already role-playing and mobilizing a state of fantasy. The act displayed in the ad
becomes one of voyeurism: an act of us viewing the reenactment of our own private fantasies.
And since the ad is public and open to multiple spectatorship, it is at the same time inversely
exhibitionistic. Therefore the effectiveness of this ad can be linked to its restaging of our desire
to see ourselves being seen in fantasy.
The space created in this movement allows for enough distance between the mobilization
of the ego ideal and its realization to introduce an additional element. After this highly affective
experience, the words iPod+iTunes flash on the screen, followed by the Apple logo. This
technique seeks to create an associative link between the affectively charged visual components
and the linguistic signs offered at the end. The ad implicitly states that the complete and
satisfactory realization of the fantasy can occur with the purchase of the iPod. By using
techniques of unconscious fantasy - superimposition, juxtaposition, affect - the ad is able to keep
two scenes constantly in play: the manifest content of the ad and, simultaneously, its latent
motive. The ad therefore taps into a personal store of fantasies and wishes, and renders them not
only acceptable, but available and consumable.
Indeed, it is the iPod that takes the foreground within this fantasy. It is the source of
movement for different components in the ad, and it is upon the iPod that the camera’s gaze
returns to perversely linger. The image of the iPod glows white, illuminated in stark contrast to
the dark “human” outline figures. Its exterior is flawless, seemingly uninterrupted by the
constraints of manufacturing. It has no visible screws, it offers no access to its interior, it will
mysteriously play endless music, and it suggests that it will never need to be opened because it
will never break down. It takes on a sense of mystery and interiority, supplanting the human
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which now lacks even a specific state. The very things which identify and distinguish the human
- eyes, a face, etc. - are gone and instead the “human” figure functions only as a tool for the
complete realization of the iPod.
Within the fantasy space created by the ad, the iPod becomes the face with which we
identify. Our outlines are drawn and bodies traced around it, and it in turn effaces everything but
itself.
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We are encouraged to now see ourselves in the product, and human identity is conflated
with the product. The iPod comes to be personified through the manipulation of our lack, gaining
intelligibility while the human figures have become shadows. This deliberate movement of co-
option and insertion of consumer products into the chain of unconscious displacements
ultimately calls into question whether or not Freud’s fantasy subject can counter capitalism’s
move to colonize desire. By articulating desire through fantasy, Freud’s subject is driven to some
extent by its own impossibility. To come too close to our object of desire is to threaten to
uncover the lack that is, in fact, necessary for our desire to persist. Therefore, our desires are
ultimately most interested in a constant scenic restaging and swerving away, not in fully
attaining the object of desire. It seems we must keep our distance in order to allow for our desire
to persist.
And yet, if our fantasy and desire are born from the misrecognition of an initial fullness,
how can we defend ourselves against the constant barrage of consumer advertising that moves to
increase this constant lack in order to open up spaces for its own iteration? Advertisements seek
to relocate desire, the address that is made and what it conjures, and displace it onto the product.
In the case of the iPod, with constant uploads, new releases and upgraded versions, a constant
state of unsatisfied yearning is maneuvered to be maintained. The glossing over of race and class
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The product proliferates its own identity into every sphere of life. Its beauty is in its personalisability, its ability to “synch up” to
almost everything. The recent release of the “OhMiBod,” a vibrator that connects to the iPod, is especially performative of this
merging at the most intimate level of the body.
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in the outline figures of the iPod ad begs the question of the implications inherent in the move to
organize identities around the consumption of a product. Does such a move depoliticize social or
political situations, making it harder to mobilize resistance around issues of social or economic
standing? The mechanisms of advertising ultimately thrive on loss, on disguise and
disappearance, on the pain of failed identification. Capitalism calls upon us to continue our
masochistic tendencies in order to further its existence, and the success of products like the iPod
indicates that we seem willing to let it.