Brand New Language

Despite my earlier post stating that sport is a globalanguage (based on the proposition that the Latin citius, altius, fortius is understood by athletes from all corners of the world), sport is in fact not a globalanguage, but it is a medium for a true globalanguage: Logos.

A little over a century ago, ranchers would sear the flesh of their cattle as a means of identifying one herd from another. Each ranch had its own sign that represented its own particular brand mark; the sign came to have meaning for those in the community that reflected the mores and values of that particular ranch.

Over time, corporations began to use brand marks to represent the mores and values of the firm, marks that we now commonly refer to as corporate logos. Conglomerates such as Nike, McDonald's and IBM spend millions of dollars annually to reinforce the meaning of these logos. And in a move that would shock the cattle before us, we voluntarily brand ourselves with these image-signs, either on the extended skins of our clothing or, less (dis-?) figuratively in some cases, by tattoo.

The difference in our case, of course, is that our herd affiliation has much less permanence that that of our bovine counterparts. Simply by changing a t-shirt, an athlete may go from the Nike stable to that of rival adidas. We live as transientities in the world of Logos.

The logo, in its iconographic nature, is highly contextual. For example, if one were to see this:

one might consider the mutually beneficial relationship between Nike and Michael Jordan during the NBA's phoenician rise from the economic ashes.

On the other hand, if one saw the same logo in this context:

one might ponder the transformation of the Olympic Games from homage to the gods, through allegiance to nation-states, to corporate servitude, and Nike's role in recruiting the world's best labour force to that end — citius, altius, fortius, copiosus.

Finally, the same corporate logo in this context:

might recall complaints from the 1990s about Nike's sweatshop labour practices in Vietnam.

In short, brand marks have extended themselves at electric speed to form a language of their own — what I have termed Logos. In a retrieval of iconographic forms of communication such as the Egyptian hieroglyphics or the Sumerian cuneiforms, Logos is a highly-symbolic, highly-interpretive form of communication, unique in its global nature. The implosion of all meanings around the world down to the very level of the sign leaves the logo or brand mark trembling under its own energy.

What is dangerous in this scenario, however, is that we currently have very little control over the evolution of this globalanguage. Copyright and trademark law essentially prevent us, via the threat of (legal) force, from attaching any meaning of our own to a particular logo. This is radically different from the usual evolution of a language through common usage of words and phrases; what was once a public good has reversed into a medium of private ownership.

Artists have made their voices heard in response to the rise of Logos, through derivative artworks, such as "American Alphabet" by Heidi Cody, to more specific culture jamming exercises, such as "Consumer Whore" by Kieron Dwyer. Given that sport is a such a powerful medium to communicate via Logos, one can only speculate as to potential responses against the sportocratic apparatus.

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  1. Andrea Watpool says:

    I agree that logos are highly symbolic, a highly interpretive form of communication and unique in its global nature. A logo is a symbol that represents something, whether to identify organizations or differentiate from other similar markets, logos are a large form of communication. In class we learned the theory Symbolic Interactionism which explains how people are social products who act toward things based on the meaning those things have for them. These meaning are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation. For example when we see the golden arches we know that represent McDonalds because that is what we have learned through social interaction and media. Also if you look around you can see how people themselves have been branded whether by Nike, Hollister, Hilfiger etc. A hundred years ago if we saw a Nike symbol and 23 we wouldn’t associate it with Nike and Michael Jordan during NBA. Also people act towards brands differently. In class we used the Nike symbol and how that can represent different things for different people. In conclusion, as much as we don’t want to be branded we are and sports will continue to use logos to communicate.