Selling America: How Post-Recession Ads Told Americans the Story of Themselves

Adriana Mariella


This work argues that after the recession in 2007, a kaleidoscope of similar themes about industrial Americana and the beauty of work came to dominate representations of “Americanness” in advertising and pop culture. Brands like Levi’s, Walmart, and Chrysler depended on the careful overlaying of collective imagination with existent myths about work, class, and grit, to create a distinct picture of America’s industrial past and establish themselves as part of its heritage. In doing so, they helped populate American culture with a hegemonic sense of national identity. They depicted an America built from greasy hands on Rust Belt factory floors, “summed up” (as Jameson or Barthes might put it) in whiskey, grit, and the frontier, in skyscrapers and pick up trucks. In turn, this reconstructed past helped inform an understanding of what made America, America and the things that would keep it that way: labor, hard work, “making.” In a post-industrial economy where widespread anxiety about industrial decline helped wage a Presidential campaign on promises to restore America to its former industrial glory, the stakes for remembering our past in this way are particularly high.

To better understand how our past came to be remembered in this way, I look to modern culture’s blurred lines between entertainment and advertising, memory and fact, identity and myth, a phenomenon that has allowed advertising to disguise itself as historical fact and embed itself in collective memory. In capitalizing (quite literally) on anxieties of the modern moment to appeal to traditional American notions, it is able to reinforce and re-invent them in the process. 


(Collective) Memory, Identity, Nation, Politics, Media, (Popular) History

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