The advertising construction of identity in Lebanese television
The Middle East saw much social change in recent tumultuous decades. On one hand, some communities embraced Westernness as part of the inevitable path to development and modernization. On the other hand, there were communities that resisted global trends that were mostly dominated by the West. The latter deemed these trends as a threat to native cultures, religious groups, and local traditions. This made the Arab world a ground for constant redefinition of the meaning of identity. Of the countries in the region undergoing a turbulent debate over what constitutes national identity, Lebanon serves as a good example. Ever since its independence, Lebanon was a nation-state with no sense of nationality to unite its people. As some communities saw themselves more francophone than Arab, others felt a close connection to a pan-Arab nation. Arguably, the Lebanese people found themselves amidst a tension between the two poles. Defining one’s identity required a negotiation between the two extremes. Not only did this negotiation demand a thorough investigation of one’s beliefs, social network, and history, but it also necessitated a diligent ‘performance’ of identity. An individual represented her identity by habits and expressions that she associated with that particular identity. The study at hand is an exploration of the relationship between identity and consumption in the Lebanese society. This project applies a unique approach in that it considers the producers’ agency in the construction of identity. Taking television advertising as a site for inquiry, the study explores how commercial advertisers utilize the tension between the local and the non-local to promote the consumption of the advertised products. Through exploring the values that educate advertising producers’ choices in creating text and meaning, this study applies theories of globalization, postcolonial studies, and consumer behavior through which advertisers manifest an ambivalence of identity. Therefore, by taking Lebanon as an example and focusing on advertising, this study contributes to the debates of globalization and the Arab world by invoking questions of producers’ agency in producing identity references through attitudes, behaviors, and social status associated with the featured products.