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Best Laid PlansCultural Entropy and the Unraveling of Aids Media Campaigns$
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Terence E. McDonnell

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226382012

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226382296.001.0001

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Scare Tactics: Interpreting Images of Death, Illness, and Life

Scare Tactics: Interpreting Images of Death, Illness, and Life

(p.145) 6 Scare Tactics: Interpreting Images of Death, Illness, and Life
Best Laid Plans

Terence E. McDonnell

University of Chicago Press

AIDS campaigns designers are confident that their campaigns can change people’s understandings of AIDS. Using a reception theory approach, I assess whether the newer, life-affirming campaigns have replaced older imagery introduced by campaigns from the 1990s’ scare tactics. HIV/AIDS campaigns in Ghana, like campaigns around the world, have shifted from associating AIDS with death and illness to producing campaigns with hopeful slogans and images that promote the idea that people live with HIV/AIDS. When I asked community members in my focus groups to design mock campaigns or discuss images, they drew skeletons and images of dying AIDS patients that they found more resonant than the language of the new life-affirming campaigns. This is surprising considering that the new life-affirming campaigns are better funded, more rigorously designed, and produced in an era when anti-retrovirals are increasingly available. These findings suggest another mechanism of cultural entropy: exposure to the field of earlier symbols constrains the cultural power of later messages.

Keywords:   cultural entropy, reception theory, focus groups, resonance, field theory, cultural power

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