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Advertising in Black and White: Constructing the Middle-class in Ebony and Life Magazines (1960s)

Sun, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512F

Abstract

Advertising is an integral part of commercial media in the US and as such is a unique and important barometer for gauging the extent to which social change “infiltrates” the media system and thus contributes to the overall cultural fabric of American society. This issue is important for sociologists who study culture, markets, and social change. To explore the linkages between social change, changing social norms and political institutions, and cultural representation, I analyze whether media products—specifically, magazine advertisements—in the 1960s reflected the rapid and cultural changes that occurred during the Civil Rights Movement. Relying on a comparative analysis of advertisements printed in Life and Ebony magazines, I argue that magazine advertisements constructed a middle-class identity across categories of race during a period of racial upheaval. I find that the magazines are more similar than different when looking at the types of products and services offered and the ideas and imagery used to convince the readers to purchase the items. Still, one key difference that did emerge relates to which aspects of middle-class lifestyle are emphasized in each magazine. Advertisements in Ebony focus on the labor and self-improvement required to attain middle-class status (through the development of one’s bodily and financial self), while Life’s advertisements assume middle-class status of readers, focusing on the leisure and luxuries associated with middle-class lifestyle.

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