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Forbidden pleasures
  1. Faculty of Commerce, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2 Canada; pollay{at}

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    Signs of pleasure, danger and warning. Merja Salo. Helsinki, Finland: University of Art and Design, ISBN 951-558-008-0 (CD-ROM).

    This is a CD-ROM, not a book, and has grown out of a doctoral dissertation in photography. It is a detailed discussion of cigarette advertising in Finland, giving an analysis of a large universe of 2764 Finnish print advertisements from 1870 to 1994, and 379 anti-smoking advertisements of more recent dates, drawn from various Finnish archives, museums, and trade sources. The innovative CD-ROM mode was chosen “to give readers the opportunity to detach themselves from a linear manner of reading” and the ability to readily browse among the 550 colour illustrations.

    With a primary focus on the import of the images used, the result is an outline of the “symbolic spheres” used in advertising for and against cigarette use. Grounded in the European intellectual traditions, it relies primarily on the sometimes obscure paradigm of semiotics—exponents are, for example, Jean Baudrillard, Charles Peirce, AJ Greimas, Raymond Williams, and Roland Barthes. The result is a richly illustrated discussion that is far more qualitative than quantitative, although there are some frequency tables.

    The total time span is broken down into three phases: 1870–1942, with 1032 images from this “era of innocent pleasure”; 1949–1978, with 1103 images from this “era of dangerous pleasure”; and 1978–1994, an “era of forbidden pleasure”, with a more scant 165 images. In each phase, the images are analysed in terms of five dimensions: production (manufacture); product image; consumers; situations; and referential images. Like other studies, this maps the evolution of cigarette advertising images away from the product toward images of consumers and brand iconography—with odd and interesting specifics, such as the disappearance of smoke and ashes from advertising imagery.

    As Finland has been relatively persistent in its regulatory and legal efforts to curtail cigarette promotion since its 1978 Tobacco Act, this study is particularly helpful for its display of the many ways and means used by the industry to circumvent the intent of such legislation, such as indirect advertising through sponsorships, and the persistent use of brand logos, symbols, and fictive characters, such as the Marlboro cowboy, in advertising not merchandising cigarettes directly, but associated events—for example, races, clothing stores, travel agencies, and night clubs. This resource is also valuable for its comparisons of cigarette advertising with that attempting to promote non-smoking. The methods of this latter counter-propaganda include exaggeration, metaphoric variation, caricature, and salvation stories.

    The CD-ROM is quite easy to navigate, with major sections, each with pulldown menus, appearing on the main screens. These sections are theory/method, history, advertising, health education, comparison, results, and tables of contents, references and illustrations. Within any historical time period, additional menu bars allow ready access to the analysis of image categories—consumers, situations, etc. In addition, the text and tables of contents are rich with various hypertext links. This allows the reader/viewer to instantly look at any of the 550 cited illustration, or see complete citations for referenced authors. Hypertext links also provide cross references and easy access to other sections of text.

    Technically this is superbly well done. The text and instructions in English are well translated and easy to understand. The CD-ROM includes a five-minute animated introduction narrated in English. Despite a disclaimer that it was developed on Macintosh systems, and would be “coarser” when viewed in Windows 95, I had no such experience and had no difficulty loading and running the CD-ROM. I was less than entranced with the sound track and effects, repetitive when dwelling in any section, making me thankful for the volume control. Response times were excellent, and the entire package, including package inserts, is handsomely produced.

    All in all, interesting for its substantive content and innovative mode of presentation. A resource that can be browsed repeatedly with an unique experience every time. Comments and queries can be directed to the author’s email address: msalo{at}