Dolce and Gabbana in attempting to promote their fashion event used three videos titled “Chopsticks to Eat” to attract people. The advertisement comprising a three-part video that was posted on the company’s social media pages elicited anger from the Chinese audience, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the fashion event. The following paper utilizes Hall's model on mass communication to show that oppositional coding was the dominant hypothetical position through which the audience decoded the message. While the creators of the Dolce& Gabbana’s three-part video campaign for the audience in China used Chinese cultural elements intended to promote its upcoming Shanghai runway extravaganza, the oppositional decoding shows a different interpretation which argues that Dolce & Gabbana are acting racist and portraying China as a poor country.
The three-part video consists of a Chinese model wearing Western clothes and set within a Chinese cultural background attempting to eat pizza using chopsticks. A Chinese musical instrument is playing in the background. The model finds it challenging to eat pizza, pasta, and cannoli using the chopsticks. A male voice that uses a Chinese-Italian accent then gives the model instructions on how to eat the various types of food.
The media producer’s preferred meaning
In encoding the message, the producer intended to draw a comparison between Western and Asian culture. The advertisement intends to show that it is possible to achieve an intersection between Western and Asian fashion trends. The intended meaning during the encoding process is derived from the description that the model is a representation of the perspectives of Western Nations on how a Chinese woman should look (QQ). The advertisement contains aspects of Western and Eastern culture. The woman uses chopsticks, a culinary aspect of Chinese culture, and western foods such as pizza and cannoli. Thus, it can be derived that the producer intended to present the adoption of Western dressing practices among the Chinese people as the latest fashion trend. In encoding the message, the producer considered that Dolce and Gabbana has its roots in Italy. The advertisement thus intends to present the need for the Chinese people to adopt Western dressing styles which it considers to be more advanced.
Popular oppositional decoding of the advertisement
The encoding and decoding of the message may sometimes lead to the audience perceiving a message that is different from that which the producer intends. Hall elucidates that misunderstanding between the creator and the audience often arise from the presence of asymmetry in the encoding and the decoding of the information (131). Further, Patterson et al. enumerate that the decoding of the message using oppositional codes leads to the audience rejecting the meaning that the producer intended (20). Thus, an analysis of the oppositional codes in the Chopsticks to Eat advertisement shows that the Chinese audience rejected the original message and adopted one that significantly departed from the intended one.
The oppositional view that the audience adapted is that the advertisement was racially biased and portrayed Chinese culture in a negative light. Aitken, Gray, and Lawson elucidate that oppositional decoding occurs when the audience, though aware of the intended message adopt a globally contrary interpretation (284). It is thus vital to consider the aspects in which the audience's interpretation may precipitate into a global contrarian perspective.
An analysis of the social media responses on Weibo reveals the reactions of the Chinese audience to the advertisement. An example of the post is one on Instagram in which Dolce and Gabbana is castigated for the advertisement. The post explains that following the Dolce and Gabbana’s cancellation of the Fashion event after the controversy, they should focus more on being respectful. The post further adds that Dolce and Gabbana only loves money but does not appreciate Chinese culture. The post has more than twenty thousand likes, showing its popularity (Instagram).
In another ten minute video posted on Weibo, Dolce and Gabbana attracts criticism for its lack of sensitivity to the culture of the Chinese people. The video explains that Dolce and Gabbana demeaned the Chinese people and should create advertisements that are respectful. The video has been forwarded 8779 times, has more than thirty thousand likes and more than seven thousand comments.
In another video, people in China celebrate their cultural heritage by tracing the origin of the chopsticks. The video has attracted the attention of people in China as a form of rebuttal against Dolce and Gabbana. The video shows parents teaching their young daughter how to use chopsticks thus celebrating the connection between China's family values and the chopstick. The video has been forwarded 5163 times and has been liked more than twenty thousand times. Consequently, the Chopsticks to Eat advertisement elicited anger and attempts to show that China is proud of its culture.
Various articles addressed the aspects that made the advertisement unappealing to the Chinese audience. One of the prevailing interpretations is that the voice of the man giving instructions to the model on how to eat Western foods using chopsticks is an Italian. This is deciphered from the strange pronunciation and interpretation of the Chinese language. The article that appeared on QQ describes that the tone is demeaning to the Chinese people. The article further adds that describing chopsticks as “small stick-shaped tableware” used to eat “great Italian traditional Margaret pizza” also insults Chinese culture while elevating European culture. It thus emerges that the global decoding of the message arises from the current competition for dominance between the East and the West.
In a further description of the effect of the competition between the East and the west as a factor that affected the interpretation of the advertisement, Zhang expounds that the advertisement brought out orientalism. Zhang describes orientalism as the West’s definition of the Eastern nations while considering itself the center of civilization Thus, the Chinese audience interpreted the advertisement as insulting due to the perceived biased elevation of Western culture above Eastern culture.
Further, an article that appeared on NPR enumerates that the voiceover used in introducing the advertisement can be interpreted as using a derogatory tone. "Dolce and Gabanna" is mispronounced, attempting to mimic how the Chinese say the words. Thus, the audience interprets the advertisement as intentionally mocking the Chinese people. The advertisement focuses too much on cultural aspects that the people in China may consider inappropriate.
Xinhua further identifies some of the aspects of the advertisement that made the audience adopt oppositional coding. Chengcheng expounds that the advertisement was “arrogant, demeaning, and reinforced stereotypes about Chinese culture. Thus, the producer may have placed too much attention on some of the inaccurate ideas that foreigners may hold about Chinese people. The videos focus on showing that Chinese people are not sufficiently civilized to eat various types of Western foods due to their insistence on using chopsticks when eating. The video thus failed to bring out the attributes of Chinese culture that the people are proud of, instead focusing on perceived inaccurate representations.
The balance of power between producers and audiences in determining the meaning
The advertisement shows that the message that the producer encodes may not be the same as the message the audience decodes. It is vital that producers consider the cultural impact of the message and the repercussions in case the decoded message is demeaning to the audience (CNN). Halls explains that the audience should be both the source and the receiver of the message (130). Halls further elucidates that the production process should have feedback. The encoded communication should only lead to messages that are meaningful to the audience.
A consideration of the consequences of misunderstanding in the advertisement shows that the balance of power rests with the audience. Due to the uproar from the audience, Dolce and Gabbana had to cancel its event. Additionally, the company experienced a reduction in the number of stores at which its locations were present. Some of the stores stopped stocking Dolce and Gabbana’s product while other consumers started returning previously purchased products. That Dolce and Gabbana had to retract the videos and issue an apology shows that the audience has disproportionately greater control on the encoding and decoding of the information.
The Chopsticks to Eat Advertisement shows that producers should be cautious when encoding the information. The producer should consider how various aspects such as culture and the social environment will influence the decoding of the message. It may then be possible to avoid the development of costly misunderstandings. Mass communication requires consideration of possible oppositional coding. Advertisers should consider the audience as the primary source of the message to guarantee appropriate interpretation of the advertisement.
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