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In this research, it will be argued that the altered representations of Eastern cultures are more context-specific than western cultures. This will be seen through an analysis of alcoholic beverage posters from South Korea and Switzerland.
Most researches often focus on theoretical analyses of Eastern versus western cultures. In other words, they may study how both groups respond to particular pictures or the biological reasons behind them. However, most of them will not examine practical applications of artistic representations such as alcoholic posters. Therefore, there is a need to offer more practical applications of the influence of culture on these representations. This paper will attempt to close that gap by studying those two separate groups and how they advertise.
This research involved an analysis of 20 posters from Switzerland and 23 posters from South Korea. The predominant difference between these posters was that the Swiss ads focused on the alcoholic beverage while the South Korean ads focused on the people taking alcoholic beverages. Essentially, this affirms other assertions made by scholars that Easterners are context-specific. Instead of giving the drink much attention, most of the South Korean posters focused on the human figure which is supposed to be part of the background. They are keen on backgrounds more than the actual object for which an advertisement was created. Many explanations have been given for this tendency to engage in objects amongst westerners and backgrounds among easterners and one of them is the biological one.
Gutchess et. al. (105) explain that when Americans are exposed to complex scenes that possess both an object and background, the part of the brain responsible for understanding objects was activated more amongst them that it was amongst the Asians. This explains why Americans or westerners, in general, will be quite analytical about product features. They were keener on the special qualities and the focal point than the Asians were in this study.
The part of the brain that looks into the properties of a specific object is not normally activated by East Asians as much as it is among Americans. Therefore, cultural differences between these two groups reflect the structural and functional difference in the way in which the brains of these two categories of people operate. This implies that some of the occurrences are quite natural and should, therefore, be treated as such.
Cultural variations between the Swiss and the South Koreans can also be explained by the nature of the history between these two groups. In traditional East Asian beliefs such as Confucianism and Taoism emphasis was always placed on the interrelatedness of elements in nature (Masuda, 1261). Followers were always encouraged to stay in harmony with their environment. This kind of thinking was taught to various categories of people and it eventually led to their reverence for context.
It should be noted that even the origins of western civilization taught its people to be object focused. The concept of conquering other nations through colonialism and the like caused many westerners to be more interested in the details of subject matters rather than the environment around that subject. Furthermore, even the child-rearing habits of the Koreans explain why they have a preference for context rather than certain object features. Asian mothers often teach their children to consider the feelings of their toys or the effect their actions will have on others.
Eventually, this results in increased sensitivity to other people’s feelings. Western mothers teach their children to appreciate product properties or to focus on particular qualities of toys (Ji et al, 56). This makes them less sensitive to their environment and thus explains why they are less context-specific. In this research, it is therefore easy to understand why most of the Swiss posters have very little focus on the background and are more inclined towards the beer or alcoholic beverage being advertised.
Furthermore, it was also found that the degree of text usage was much higher in the eastern community than in the western community. In some South Korean posters, texts would occupy as much space as the person taking the alcoholic drink. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of the western posters. Swiss ads had very little text usage and most of the time; this was rarely written in small print. Masida (1270) carried out an experiment in which they wanted to classify the photo preferences of American students versus Asian students. It was found that Japanese students had a preference for photos that had a wider background frame.
In other words, these were photos that were taken with wide-angle lenses. On the other hand, American students preferred photos taken by narrow-angle lenses. The width of background in each of the categories was measured and it was found that Asians had a distinct preference for wide backgrounds. This finding can explain the observations made in this study concerning the differences in alcoholic ads between the Swiss and South Koreans. The Asian posters likely had a lot of text on them because first of all, they had more background space than the western ones and that space needed to be filled with text. Alternatively, it could be that Asians have a preference for detailed backgrounds hence explaining why they preferred to write a lot of material. They were certain that people would access this material and read it (Ishii et. al., 43).
It was also interesting to note that almost all South Korean ads contained an image of a beautiful girl sipping the drink or at least one who was going to take it. The Swiss ads exemplified the beer and placed it on the foreground. This can be explained by findings made by Chua et al (12630). Here they realized that the eye movement for Asians was distinctly different from that of westerners.
They found that culture is highly related to eye movement and amongst westerners, information processing on objects was much faster than it was amongst the no westerners. Generic questions asked of each group were distinctly different since the judgment was affected by eye movement. Therefore, such findings explain the reason why young, beautiful girls were placed in the background of most Korean poster ads while the same cannot be said of the westerners who instead placed people in the background.
Eastern posters tend to emphasize more on people than the alcoholic beverage being advertised. However, those people are normally placed in the background so it can be ascertained that their representations emphasize more of the context than the object. Conversely, most western ads from Switzerland tend to dwell more on the object being advertised than the people taking it or any other background information.
This study confirms findings that westerners are biased towards objects as Asians are biased towards the background. The difference can be understood from the neglect of the actual beer being advertised to the excessive textual information found in Asian posters.
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Ji, L., Nisbett, R., Zhang, Z. Culture, language and categorization. Michigan; University of Michigan, 2001.
Ishii, Keiko., Reyes, Jose & Kitayama, Shinobu. Spontaneous attention to word content versus emotional tone: differences among three cultures. Psychological science (in press), 2003.
Gutchess, Angela., Welsh, Robert., Boduroglu, Aysecan and Park, Denis. Cultural difference in neural function associated with object processing. Cognitive, affective and Behavioral neuroscience, 6.2(2006): 102-109.
Masuda, Takahiko., Gonzalez, Richard., Kwan, Letty and Nisbett, Richard. Comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans, PSPB, 34.9(2008): 1260-1275.
Chua, Hannah., Boland, Julie., Nisbett, Richard. Cultural variations in eye movements during scene perception. PNAS 102.35(2005): 12696-12633.