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This report is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Allegorical Meerkats Ian Gregson
There must be many people, confronted by those meerkats on TV and hoardings, who don't know what they advertise. Their impact is the opposite of that which Roland Barthes attributed to mass culture in Mythologies, where he analysed advertising to show how it presented ideological 'myths', not as the capitalist constructs they were, but as self-evident and natural. The meerkats make their impact through gratuitousness, through the blatant lack of natural connection between small furry mammals and insurance, other than the similar sounds of 'meerkat' and 'market'. In bestowing Russian accents on the meerkats and deploying them in increasingly self-referential narratives, the ads depend on an audience that is highly sophisticated in its enjoyment of the gratuitous premise, and in its appreciation of parody and irony. The hidden agenda of Barthes's advertisements resembles that of classic realism, in being an art that conceals both art and its own ideological orientation: the meerkats - and much of contemporary advertising - are closer to allegory, where the ideology glitters on the surface and, as Walter Benjamin has said, ' any person, any object, any relationship, can mean absolutely anything else' (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: New Left Books, 1977), p. 175).

W.H. Auden is the poet who most conspicuously understands the appropriateness of allegory in the representation of modern experience. His critics frequently use the word to describe his invention of fables such as Paid On Both Sides and The Age of Anxiety, in which characters ...


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