The old ball-and-chain is a phrase that many Americans are familiar with. Oftentimes we imagine it spilling forth from the lips of some distressed, fatigued, overworked man who is with his nagging wife. It is this image that the advertisers for Southern Comfort are trying to reproduce. They want the person looking at the ad to sympathize with the man in the image, the man dragging his imaginary ball-and-chain. We associate the ball and chain with oppression, hard labor, and unfairness. These connotations are probably derived from the images that we have seen in old prison movies where the convicts are forced to work the fields, shackled by a ball and chain. Let us back up for a moment though and look at just how this Southern Comfort ad takes us from the image of a man to the labor intensive fields of old prison movies.
There are many denotations in this ad. There is a man, three women, bags, sides of buildings, a chair, writing on a window, a sidewalk-like walkway, a bottle of Southern Comfort, some white lines, and two lines of copy. The first line of copy reads, Your free time may have changed. Your drink doesn't have to. The second line reads, Hang on to your spirit. There is also a division in the ad, the top two-thirds of the ad being the photo image and the bottom one third being a black background.
How is it that the advertisers take our mind from the image on the page to the thoughts that progress in our head? To figure this out let us more closely examine the images, or signs, that have been presented to us. Let us first examine the image of the man in the ad. He is dressed casually preppie, wearing khakis and a blue, collared shirt. Tucked under his left arm is a box and his hands are full of shopping bags. On his right foot is the image of a ball-and-chain created from dashed white lines. On the man's right (the direction in which he is looking) is a woman wearing a short black dress with black heeled-shoes. The woman is holding onto the right arm of the man, clutching a purse with her right hand. Her head is turned toward him and she appears to be smiling. Much of our reaction to this ad comes solely from looking at these two individuals. More specifically, from the image of the man.
The brightness of the man's shirt and the bags he is carrying stands in contrast to the black of the woman's dress and thus attracts our eye toward him. The fact that he is carrying so many bags, whereas the other individuals in the ad have at most one bag, also makes him the center of our attention. By using metonymy, we substitute the bags that the man is carrying to mean that there has been a day of shopping, a shopping spree perhaps. The paradigmatic relation between the man and woman, aided by our own codes of what the duties of both the male and female are in a relationship, leads us to assume that the bags do not belong to the man but rather, he is carrying them for the woman next to him. It would be one thing if the man were walking along carrying the bags by himself but once we see the woman next to him, holding onto his arm, our mind begins to draw its own conclusions. Another paradigmatic relation begins to form after we have made the assumption that the man is carrying the bags for the woman. The image of the ball and-chain along with the woman's grasp of the man's arm, leads us to believe that the man's presence here may not be a completely voluntary action. Rather, one may begin to associate this with the myth of commitment, of a man becoming whipped. That is to say, the man is suckered in or captured by the woman and is then forced to do things that he otherwise would not do (in this case, spend the day shopping).
The copy of the article supports the myth of commitment, or the lifestyle change that a man