February 16, 2022

Week 4 | Dominant Readings

Biggest takeaway: In the lecture, someone commented on how Dior uses manufacturers in India and the Far East for their clothing. This is the oppositional reading that I was seeking from the advertisement that I couldn’t see because I was so in awe of the craftsmanship of the set, photography and story. I have never been one to buy into brands when it comes to clothing and I would typically view an advert by a high-end fashion brand automatically from an oppositional reader perspective because I believe the high prices are for the ostentatious elite who like to spend money purchasing things that make them look rich. I had a friend who worked for Prada once and she told me the cost price of the clothes are not that dissimilar to New Look but their mark up for the brand value was staggering. Also, my dad always told me never to pay for a label, because it was for people with more money than sense and there was not necessarily any quality to be gained from it. I think this is what I’ve been wrestling with so much with this advert. The fact I loved it so much despite it going against my usual stance of opposing such brands advertising.

This week we were shown this advert

Baz Luhrmann (2006No.5 Le Film for Chanel



It reminded me of the Dior campaign I added to my CRJ a few weeks back. The rich use of storytelling and borrowing of symbolism from the Tarot. I shared the advertisement in the forum.

When we looked at advertisements in the forum we were asked to consider whether we experienced a dominant, oppositional or negotiated reading of the advert.

What I found was that in the Dior advert I was so swept up in the beautifully crafted staging, costumes and story that I immediately fell into experiencing the advertisement as a dominant reader. I noticed this too with adverts shared by other students. If I immediately loved what I saw I was less likely to look at it with a critical mind.

In the forum I posted the following:

I’m sharing this advert for an Haute Couture Collection by Dior. The advert was directed by Matteo Garrone and is based on the Tarot (as is the clothing collection). I’d really love to know what people’s thoughts are on this, especially if you’re not familiar with the Tarot because I wonder how much of the meaning and enjoyment I took from it, is because I’m familiar with the Tarot and the symbolism, meanings and interpretations that can be taken from the cards. Does the advert have the same meaning and resonance with those who are not familiar with the Tarot? (as I’m guessing many viewers aren’t) or is the meaning of the Tarot implied enough through commonly understood signs, symbols and archetypes within the advert that understanding the tarot is not required? [interestingly my daughter asked, “who’s that?” when Justice was shown and she said “ah yes, I know why, because she’s holding the scales. She’s 5 and has already associated the two, which I find fascinating!!]

I definitely watched as a dominant reader, I enjoyed seeing how the concept had been used in the advertisement. The narrative seemed to me to be a clever and sophisticated interpretation of how the Tarot can be used and I enjoyed seeing how it had been turned into a visual story. The staging, lighting and storytelling really drew me in and I thoroughly enjoyed the advertisement. Would I aspire to buy the clothing? No, not at all, but I really appreciated the work that went into both the clothes, the moving advert and still images that were created. I think the advert helps to elevate the brand and definitely has a high-end sense of craftsmanship to it. Which I imagine is what was intended.

After reflecting on the video you might want to read this article in Vogue which explains quite a bit of what’s going on in the advert as well as some of the background behind it https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2021-couture/christian-dior (Links to an external site.)

What I also found interesting is when the woman was in the room with the devil my daughter said “mummy it’s like Beauty and the Beast”. I find it so very interesting how symbolic messages and meanings are embedded in our minds and transferred onto other imagery even from a very young age.

And later….

That’s interesting that you used the Major Archana in your previous work Peter. I love the archetypes and symbolism contained within the cards, to me, they’re an ancient visual map of the human experience. They remind me a lot of the archetypes and symbolism in Carl Jung’s work which I also find fascinating.

I have a wonderful book called Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom (by Rachel Pollack) which talks of their possible history and all the possible meanings which can be taken from the symbols used in the images, it’s utterly fascinating to me.

If anyone is interested in a bit of background on what’s known about the Tarot…

In the mid 15th century an artist named Bonifacio Bemba painted a set of cards for the Visconti family of Milan. The Italian game of Tarocchi included 4 suits of 14 cards and 22 cards showing different scenes “trumps”. The trumps depict medieval social types “Emperor” or “Pope”, virtues such as “Temperance” or “Fortitude” as well as other religious-mythological scenes such as “the last judgement”. 

In the 18th century, an occultist declared the Tarot to be the remnant of the Book of Thoth, created by the Egyptian god of magic to convey all knowledge to his disciples. In the 19th century, a Frenchman linked the cards to the Kabbalah and since then people have looked deeper into the Tarot, finding more and more meanings and wisdom.

The Tarot is viewed by some as a kind of path, a way to personal growth through understanding ourselves and life. Many believe the aim is for psychological unification rather than the fortune-telling it is so often associated with. A psychological process, passing through different stages of existence to reach a stage of full development.

It’s that last paragraph that I think the advert embodies, the girl’s path into the unknown, seeking personal growth/development. There’s a lot in the Tarot about the balancing of masculine and feminine energies which is what I believe is happening in the scene when the masculine and feminine versions of the main character unify in the water.  

I think it’s fair to say that my fascination with the symbolism and archetypes in the advert probably led me to blindly take the role of the dominant reader. Seeing some of the other examples above I’m noticing that if I immediately like what I see, I’m more likely to read it in the first instance as a dominant reader, only later questioning my assumptions. Where I’m not so taken with the visual at first glance, I tend to approach it with a more critical and cautious mindset. I guess this is the power of advertising, if they can stun us with something visually spectacular, it takes us a while longer to remember to critically analyse what it is we’re consuming.

Then Mandy commented…

What a beautiful film. I know nothing about tarot cards at all however the story telling in the short film is superb. Everything about it, the location, the acting, the clothing, the atmosphere is truly stunning. It’s a work of art. I read the article you suggested and also looked up the leading actress Agnese Claisse as I was so fascinated by her acting. Sadly I couldn’t afford the clothes but they too stand as a work of art in their own right which obviously is the whole point of the advert. Interesting that your daughter already has the perception to read sophisticated signs, however the fairy tales we listen to and read as children tackle and prepare us for the the decoding we do in later life without thought, it is instilled in us without us even noticing. 

To which I responded…

Yes I agree, we’re well prepared from an early age to read signs, I guess it’s done so automatically that I’ve never really stopped to consider how little we are when we start taking meaning from them, I hadn’t considered that my daughter had really understood them until yesterday which took me by surprise.  The signs in fairy tales also fascinate me. I’ve always wanted to work with fairy tales and myths but never quite worked out how to, perhaps it’s something I’ll try in the future. 

In the lecture someone shared this link https://www.nylon.com/fashion/see-dior-couture-spring-2021-collection