By Mason

I know very little about professional soccer. I probably know about as much as your average Portland resident about our local Portland Timbers, certainly less than many. Still, the team and the games effect me much more than your average citizen because I cannot look outside my apartment window without looking at the glowing sign for Jeld-Wen Field, large banners bearing logos and advertisements. It’s the ever-presence, for me, of these images which made me think that they and the team they represent might make a good example to examine symbolism in advertisement.

Sports teams often appear have odd, arbitrary or indecipherable names and logos. The Portland Timbers does at least seem to make some sense, apparently drawing on Oregon’s and Portland’s association with large forests and also the timber industry. Yet despite the continued association, do most of us really have any connection at all with the timber industry, or even with the forests of Oregon beyond the occasional hike or camping trip? Connections with the forest, with logging, these seem to be associations that someone from another state might make, particularly if they’d never visited Portland or the more populated portions of Oregon. This is not to say that we have no timber industry or even that it isn’t very important to many Oregonians. However, naming the team this way implies bring to mind the association we have with the forest while also suggesting a relationship or knowledge with an industry that most of us do not have.

The actual logo itself reinforces these assumptions and creates a few of its own. Once again the colors, mostly green, bring to mind nature and also Portland’s connection with the term “green,” an interesting transformation from denotative to connotative in and of itself. The logo’s primary symbol is a double-sided ax, an interesting choice no doubt used for its associations again with the timber industry. Yet there must be more to the symbol than that because I’m sure that the industry today has developed far beyond the use of axes to carry out their work. Here I think the symbol must be being used for our cultural association with weapons. We don’t think of axes as a tool for survival so much as a tool for killing, although it’s rarely if ever used this way. This must speak to a human, or at least American, obsession with violence; to look at something which has been used as a vital tool much longer and much more often than it has been used as a dangerous weapon and see only the weapon. So here the association being produced may be with the timber industry, but the connotation of seeing the ax is strength and danger, something we’d like to see in our sports teams.

The final thing which is constantly within my view from the entrance to Jeld-Wen Field is a series of advertisements for the Timbers, depicting seemingly average individuals holding chainsaws and other related tree-felling instruments. I think that these pictures make the similar implications to those of the Timbers logo. The ad copy might read “Everyone is a Timber,” and you’d very likely come to that conclusion given its placement outside of the soccer stadium. However, given the pictures on their own I doubt much if any connection could be made between ordinary people carrying chainsaws and either soccer or the Timber industry. Once again the association may be with timber or with the team but the connotation of these pictures is intimidation; individuals holding tools which we’ve been taught, perhaps by popular horror movies, to connect with violence rather than their intended use.

Perhaps these images and their connotations represent a cultural ideology which is much less sinister, much less destructive, than that which we observed in the Jean Kilbourne documentary. Still they speak to certain values which are appealed to in our society through advertisement; strength and violence, also a desire to form an identity, something to be proud of even if that’s entirely constructed. Again, what knowledge have most of us regarding the timber industry, how many of us are directly effected by it and yet it can be made an object which we identity with our state and our city. It seems to relate to us but only because of the narrative we’ve been told. The effects of these symbols, the ideologies they purport, don’t necessarily need to be positive or negative. In this case I can’t identify a negative effect that the Portland Timbers have upon me directly but as one of Storey’s definitions of ideology suggests these things represent a distortion and a concealment. They suggest a truth which has been constructed without our compliance but which is accepted as normal or real.

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