Everyday Semiotics

Monday, November 06, 2006

Can't resist this one

So there's a cleaner available in Costa Rica called "terror." (I don't speak the language, but at least according to BabelFish, terror in Spanish is terror in English.)

I can't help but be reminded of Barthes' "Soap-powders and Detergents" (Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers; New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), which posits that the story of cleaners has always been one of good versus evil: "[M]atter here is endowed with value-bearing states."
Products based on chlorine and ammonia are without doubt the representatives of a kind of absolute fire, a saviour but a blind one. Powders, on the contrary, are selective, they push, they drive firt through the texture of the object, their function is keeping public order not making war.
I wonder if the marketing department at whatever company produces Terror read Barthes. It seems altogether too coincidental.

But where the naming of the brands Barthes cites is more subtle -- "Lux" for light, "Persil" for (of all things) parsley, and "Omo" for, apparently, a river in Ethiopia -- "Terror" is blatant. It's the sort of directness of communications that deprives the semiotician of doing very much analytical work. Nothing like the mystery in "OMO blows a wind of freshness on your linen and re-examines the drudgery of detergent while bringing a key of gaiety and good mood… And always with the guarantee of the 99 spots! Who says better?" (that's the Google translation of French Wikipedia's entry on Omo's 2006 slogan).

As for "Terror," so writes Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing.net:

Oh, what dark, foreboding poetry lurks in those long-lasting pink suds. Do we use it to cleanse the world of terror, or does the war on terror wash our Constitution away? One wonders what might become of the foolish adventure traveler who attempts to fly back to the US with this stuff in their suitcase.
Granted, this is taking it a bit out of its Costa Rican context and putting it into that of the BoingBoingian critique of the so-called War on Moisture. But the "dark, foreboding poetry" is right on target.

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