WHEN THE IMAGE SUBVERTS
THE WORD(S) WHAT IS THERE TO NOTICE?
In a number of libraries is a poster. 'READ' is the
largest word, in the upper left corner, so it seems to encourage
But the poster shows only one person, an older man. It
appears he is Paul Newman. So, considering his age, race, etc.,
exactly who would this ad be appealing to--and, who would it NOT be
appealing to? But that's not what's puzzling. It's what Newman is
doing (and therefore NOT doing).
He is stretched out on his side, leaning on his right
elbow, with a book titled STAR, held up in front of him. Down by his
feet are two piles of maybe twenty books total. Big deal, you say,
it's a promotion for reading.
What undercuts everything else in the 'ad' is the fact
that Newman is stretched out, leaning on his elbow--on a pool table
in a room with other pool tables, supposedly reading. I say
supposedly because who can believe that anyone could stay very long
in that position, on the very hard surface of a pool table.
The words may say READ but the entire visual image says
not to expect much reading to be going on.
The book title, STAR, is important because the pool
hall setting is important. One of Newman's most famous roles is that
of Fast Eddie Felsen, a pool hustler who acts as if he has never even
seen a book and who, on top of that, is a L-O-S-E-R. How can this not
be a part of the ad's message?
In other words, this ad has messages at two levels, but
is set up so that the visual one contradicts the verbal one. This is
not unusual in magazine ads