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3.5 The thrill of the ride: Pleasure and desire

3.5.1 Pre-reading activity

Here are the first sentences of each paragraph of the passage that follows. Discuss with a partner how helpful these are in summarising the ideas of the passage and why this might be so.

  1. In looking at the concepts of discourse, surveillance and games of truth, you have considered how society encourages the use of language in particular ways, and puts in place certain processes and rules, in order to discipline the behaviour of us all.
  2. However, once we start talking about ‘rules’ and ‘games’, we must also take into account that individuals might choose to not follow the rules.
  3. While the rewards and encouragement a society might offer for behaving in a certain way are powerful motivating forces, they come from outside of the self and are imposed on or given to us.
  4. For example, if a body like Transport for NSW (TfNSW) wants to convince drivers that it is in their own interests to drive in a particular way, it will need an advertising campaign that addresses the various desires that drivers bring to the driver’s seat, as well as the pleasures they get from driving.
  5. As anyone who has ever given in to any sort of temptation knows, desire is a complex thing.
  6. In this section, you will examine and evaluate how TfNSW has attempted to represent the desires and pleasures of drivers in particular ways.
  7. A common understanding of desire is that it refers to the lack or absence of something in our lives.
  8. If I say, ‘I’d love to buy a new car’, I might be suggesting that my old car does not fulfil my needs any longer.
  9. When desire is understood to be defined by that which is lacking or absent, pleasure is defined as the fulfilment of that desire.

PLEASURE AND DESIRE

In looking at the concepts of discourse, surveillance and games of truth, you have considered how society encourages the use of language in particular ways, and puts in place certain processes and rules, in order to discipline the behaviour of us all. To get us, in other words, to follow the ‘rules’ which it is generally agreed are necessary to ensure that we live in an ordered and productive way. The result is what might be described as the normalising of behaviour. This normalising of behaviour allows a society or institution to make known to its members what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

However, once we start talking about ‘rules’ and ‘games’, we must also take into account the fact that individuals might choose to not follow the rules. In his thinking on power and how it operates, French philosopher Michel Foucault argues that the exercising of power is not a one way street. He points out what any child or parent knows: individuals will not automatically or blindly follow the attempts of others to influence their thoughts or control their actions. Resistance and disobedience are always possible, and these are also a form of power - the power to do that which others would have you not do. It becomes important for those who might want to discipline our behaviour to understand what might motivate acts of resistance or disobedience.

While the rewards and encouragement a society might offer for behaving in a certain way are a powerful motivating force, they come from outside of the self and are imposed on or given to us. Yet, as anyone who has experienced the deep satisfaction of doing something very well knows, inner rewards are also powerful motivating forces. The pleasure you receive from doing something to please yourself can be a much stronger motivator than words of encouragement and praise from others. For this reason, the desire to do or experience something can be so overwhelming it will lead us to break free of the restrictions others might seek to place on our behaviour. So society and its institutions must find a way to persuade us that our desires and pleasures coincide with those needed for the social good. In short, if individuals are to be persuaded to follow the rules, individual desires and pleasures will have to be normalised.

For example, if a body like TfNSW wants to convince drivers that it is in their own interest to drive in a particular way, it will need an advertising campaign that addresses the various desires that drivers bring to the driver’s seat, as well as the various pleasures they get from driving. Moreover, as TfNSW’s aim is to discipline driving behaviour to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone on the roads, the advertising campaign will need to endorse certain desires and pleasures. It will also express disapproval of others. Consequently, the campaign will need to focus on the desires and pleasures that promote good driving, and identify other desires and pleasures that are incompatible with good driving because they are dangerous.

Pleasure and desire - Cars on scales image

In this section, you will examine and evaluate how TfNSW has attempted to represent the desires and pleasures of drivers in particular ways. You will also explore how, in the process, it has attempted to normalise the desires and pleasures of drivers. First, however, it is necessary to develop a clear understanding of what is meant by the word ‘desire’.

A common understanding of desire is that it refers to the lack or absence of something in our lives. A sense that this thing is lacking or absent from our lives leads us to want to ‘fill the hole’ or replace it with something. It is desire that does this for us. For example, if I say ‘I need a holiday’, I might be understood to be really saying, ‘I need to relax and I currently lack the opportunity to do so because there is so much pressure on me at work and at home’. In other words, my desire is fixed on a particular emotional state (relaxation) and more particularly its absence from my life. My desire for a holiday fills the hole created by my sense that relaxation is absent from my life.

If I say ‘I’d love to buy a new car’, I might be suggesting that my old car does not fulfil my needs any longer. These needs could range from something practical like reliability (for example, a car that will start first time every time and not stall at the traffic lights), to something less practical and more personal, such as a belief that a new car (for example, a more powerful, sporty or expensive car) is necessary to support the ‘image’ I have of myself and want to project to others. In both of these instances, my desire is fixed on a particular material object - a car - and more particularly, the fact that I do not possess it. The desire to possess it will fill the ‘hole’ created in my life by the feeling that I need a reliable vehicle, or my sense that the image I am projecting through the car I currently own is lacking, as it does not match how I feel about myself.

When desire is understood to be defined by that which is lacking or absent, pleasure is defined as the fulfilment of that desire. In other words, pleasure comes when that which was lacking or absent is obtained or made present.

3.5.2 Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. What desires are you expected to bring to school and what pleasures are you expected to get from school? What are some of the ways that school authorities (for example, the Department of Education and Communities, school board, principals, teachers) ‘normalise’ particular desires and pleasures for those attending school?
  2. What desires and pleasures are involved in learning to drive? Which of these does society endorse? Which of these are not openly endorsed by society? Record the results of your discussion in two columns labelled ‘Endorsed desires and pleasures’ and ‘Non-endorsed desires and pleasures’.
  3. Outline some of the ways society encourages learner drivers to not pursue those desires and pleasures you have listed as ‘Non-endorsed’.

Textual analysis

Texts: Heaven and hell suite of television advertisements
Notes suite of television and print advertisements 

Introductory activity

Consider the three television advertisements, Heaven and hell, and the Notes series (television advertisement and print advertisements). Discuss the following statements with a partner and decide whether each is true or false. Be prepared to explain and support your response.

STATEMENT

Image: 
a. Young men desire freedom.
b. Young men desire power and control.
c. The desires of young men need to be controlled.
d. Young men do not desire the acceptance and approval of others.
e. Young people desire independence from their parents.
f. Parents have a desire to give their young adult children a degree of control over their own lives.
g. Parents of young adult children who still live at home cannot be held responsible for the actions of their children - they are very busy and have their own lives to lead.
h. Parents need to be involved in the lives of their children and to supervise their behaviour even when they have left school.

Textual analysis

  1. Consider the series of three television advertisements, Heaven and hell, which highlights the consequences of speeding. In your answers, make supporting references to visual techniques and, as required, other processes that make meaning such as dialogue, and diegetic and non-diegetic sound.
    1. What sort of desires and pleasures does the first advertisement associate with young men? In what ways does the first advertisement make these desires and pleasures obvious to the viewer?
    2. How do the advertisements then challenge and question these values and pleasures?
    3. Does this series of advertisements openly and obviously endorse any particular desires and pleasures? Support your response by making specific reference to advertisements.
  2. Consider the Notes series which includes a television advertisement and a series of print advertisements. This series has the common motif of a note for a parent left by a now deceased young driver, who had set out to drive somewhere only to have a fatal accident.
    1. How might the series be said to convey its message to the viewer through the idea of ‘absence’? In your answer, make supporting references to both visual techniques and the print text.
    2. What desires and pleasures are consequently invoked by the series?
    3. How does it appear to link the death of the child to the actions of the parent? What does the series seem to suggest are some of the qualities of a good parent?
    4. Explain how the series might be read as attempting to ‘discipline’ the behaviour of parents in order to reduce the number of deaths on our roads? How can this normalising of parental behaviour be said to involve desire and pleasure?

3.5.4 Composing

You have been asked to create a print advertisement that focuses the attention of adult drivers on their own driving behaviour by evoking their relationship with their children. Follow the format of the print advertisements in this series in designing your advertisement.

Be prepared to present your advertisement to a partner and explain how the following have informed the composition of your text:

  • audience and purpose
  • aspects of visual design
  • your understanding of discourse, surveillance, desire and pleasure.

Advertisement

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA GRADE/ MARKS 
  • Composes a coherent and sophisticated text
  • Demonstrates a highly developed understanding of how the ideas, cultural understandings and discourses of a text are shaped by audience and purpose
  • Demonstrates well-developed knowledge and understanding of visual design, and how meaning is conveyed through different language forms and features
  • Uses language appropriate to audience, purpose and context in a highly effective way.

 A:
15
14
13

  • Composes a coherent and highly effective text
  • Demonstrates a developed understanding of how the ideas, cultural understandings and discourses of a text are shaped by audience and purpose
  • Demonstrates developed knowledge and understanding of visual design, and how meaning is conveyed through different language forms and features
  • Uses language appropriate to audience, purpose and context in an effective way.
B:
12
11
10
  • Composes a coherent and effective text
  • Demonstrates understanding of how the ideas, cultural understandings and discourses of a text are shaped by audience and purpose
  • Demonstrates knowledge and understanding of visual design, and how meaning is conveyed through different language forms and features
  • Uses language appropriate to audience, purpose and context in a competent way.
C:
9
8
7
  • Composes a coherent and somewhat effective text
  • Demonstrates limited understanding of how the ideas, cultural understandings and discourses of a text are shaped by audience and purpose
  • Demonstrates limited knowledge and understanding of visual design, and how meaning is conveyed through different language forms and features
  • Uses language that is generally appropriate to audience, purpose and context.

D:
6
5
4

 

  • Composes a rudimentary text
  • Demonstrates little or no understanding of how the ideas, cultural understandings and discourses of a text are shaped by audience and purpose
  • Demonstrates little or no knowledge and understanding of visual design, and how meaning is conveyed through different language forms and features
  • Uses language that may not be appropriate to audience, purpose and context.

E:
3
2
1

 

Presentation (peer marked)

Instructions: assess your partner’s presentation by ticking the most appropriate box

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Delivered with confidence a clear and coherent presentation.
Demonstrated understanding of the key concepts studied and how these informed the composition of the advertisement (that is, audience and purpose, aspects of visual design, discourse, surveillance, desire and pleasure).
Made sustained and detailed reference to the advertisement as support for explanations provided.
Used the metalanguage studied in class in a consistent and appropriate way.

Reflection: The hidden persuaders

In this unit we have been examining how public education campaigns work to establish desirable social behaviour through language and texts. Through critical readings of the purposes and techniques of advertising we have considered how social and cultural contexts shape meaning. This has been done by identifying, describing, analysing and explaining how relationships of power are established and maintained between social institutions and individuals to achieve these desirable and necessary social goals.

OR

Think about the ways in which relationships are assumed and/or power is involved in various texts you have encountered in this section. Write a reflection on how helpful a critical reading of these texts is in bringing about a change in the reader’s behaviour for the good of society. If it isn’t helpful, reflect on why not. 

Last update: 5th September 2016