Paint it White!

Segregationist Logics in Advertising and the Electric Guitar

Sociologists recognize that symbolic boundaries may be activated and reinforced through the production and consumption of cultural objects. Less attention, however, has been paid to the role of advertising as an ascriptive boundary-making mechanism in the life cycles of objects. Using the case of the electric guitar, this study examines how a cultural object-pioneered and popularized by Black celebrity guitarists became homologous with White masculinity through the production and circulation of visual images featured in advertising materials. Data come from product catalogs circulated by the two preeminent electric guitar brands during the instrument’s large-scale production and consumption in the United States (1955–1982). I conduct a content analysis of annual product catalogs focusing on the proportional representation of visual images of Black and White celebrity guitarists. Findings indicate that Black celebrity guitarists were rarely featured in advertising materials despite their exclusive use of both brands’ instruments. Consistent with segregationist logics embedded in modern advertising, Black celebrity guitarists were rendered non-existent and replaced with images of White celebrity guitarists and depictions of middle-class White masculinity. I interpret my findings as evidence of the prevalence of segregationist era logics in the advertising and construction of the electric guitar as a racialized and gendered cultural object. I conclude by discussing how this study advances recent scholarship concerning racial inequities in the consumer marketplace and the significance of ascriptive boundaries in the production and consumption of cultural objects.

Released: Replika 123, 137–159.
Replika block:
Ágoston Fáber