Updated: Jun 17, 2021
In this vintage advertisement for Dial soap, a woman is having a fantastic time dancing at a party presumably because she doesn’t smell like an animal, all thanks to Dial soap.
One of the things I appreciate about these older advertisements is how they don't really bother all that much with a lot of symbolism, trying to be overly covert with their messaging. Instead, just about everything gets communicated fairly straightforwardly through the reassuring voice of the narrator. In those golden years, consumers seemed perfectly happy to comply with the demands of the culture industry especially when those demands were articulated in the reassuring, authoritative, and sonorous voice of the supremely confident white man as heard in the Dial advert. It’s a familiar enough voice, one that can still be clearly heard today, even with the attempt to filter out much of the white-noise with a multicultural effects-processor. Still, the symbolic register presents in subtler ways as well. Images of dancing and frivolity, of social cohesion, merriment, and of possible sexual conquest commingle, activating the subject's latent desires, interpellating them into the hypnotic circuitry of capital, directing them towards the ultimate satisfaction of those desires.
The ad presents the viewer with a simple choice: either use Dial soap and enjoy all the benefits, successes, and pleasures of life depicted on screen, or don’t, and well... At this point a large gray zone comes into view, splitting the screen, indicating some sort of unpleasant interruption, freezing the dancers in place and halting the flow of frivolity. Party's over everyone. Time to go home! The obvious suggestion is that failing to use Dial soap risks a potential loss of sociality and perhaps even missed sexual opportunities. The male dancers do seem like fine potential mates. After all, their hips would never lie to you, would they?
The fine folks at Dial soap clearly know what any good preacher will tell you. It doesn't matter if you're selling Jesus or grape-jelly, one must first manufacture in the unrepentant a feeling of dissatisfaction. Mediating the relationship between consumer and market, advertisers in modernity thus fulfill a priestly role necessary for the production of desire which must accompany the production of goods. It’s old magic, really - basically religion transposed and packaged into a capitalist milieu, surgically applied, technologically disseminated, kid-tested, mother-approved. Here's the thing, though. No one wants to be a social outcast because of their natural body odor which only serves to remind all of the other upstanding, and/or gyrating monkeys attired in suits and skirts of their disavowed animality, that they eat, shit, fuck, and will eventually die, or that they live in relation to and are dependent upon other creatures for their own existence, even the stinking bacteria. Honestly, who wants to be the one bringing all of that bullshit to the party, stinking up the whole scene? No one, that's who. The viewing subject is therefore encouraged to align themselves with the other good, clean, nice, successful (and probably morally superior) monkeys who dance the night away and have sex with each other in the missionary position at the end of the evening. For as long as I can remember, I've always been aware of the Dial soap but had never realized the brand was originally symbolized by the face of a clock. It’s fitting, actually. The introduction of standardized time permitted the flow of life to be measured and compared, analyzed, chopped up and dissected as one does to a fetal pig or some other dead thing. This in large part made the entirety project of modernity possible, or at least extremely efficient, especially in its industrialized form. Keeping the trains running on time is no small task. It's no coincidence that bourgeoise values typically include punctuality or being “on-time”. To be late is to be undisciplined, and to be undisciplined is to disobey the master’s summons. I grew up during a time when just about every man, and many women, wore watches on their wrists. I myself wore one for years. Disciplining an entire population is far easier when people can be convinced their obedience was originally their own idea. Mechanical clocks had already been around for a long time, but introduction of the wristwatch in 1868, and then with the introduction of the electric light bulb only 10 years later, humans were no longer bound by the cycles of night and day, of sun and moon, sleep and wakefulness that had governed the basic rhythms of human existence since the very beginning, and instead began to move according to the demands and providential guidance of the market. The face of time with its ceaselessly spinning dial is a stubborn reminder of one's situatedness between life and death. Thus, the image of the clock is a fitting symbol for Dial. It at once evokes the ancient quest for mastery over time and an overcoming of decay, and stands as a reminder of the impossibility and indeed the foolishness of that quest.