Extracting the Past from the Present: Exotic Prizes, Empty Wilderness, and Commercial Conquest in Two Oil Company Advertisements, 1925–2012
This article undertakes a comparative analysis of two oil company advertisements—British Petroleum’s (BP) “Persian Series”, published in London in 1925, and Cenovus Energy’s “Canadian Ideas at Work”, published across Canada in 2012. These advertisements are separated by eighty-seven years, and were produced in different countries, by different companies, and for different audiences. Yet, a closer reading of these documents reveals that they are two sides of the same coin: both narrate the extraction of oil as a great game of commercial conquest, whereby exotic prizes trapped beneath wild and empty landscapes are unlocked by oil companies. How could two advertisements that appear so radically distant feel so close? In what ways do the oil cultures of the past inflect those of the present? This article engages with such questions by critically deconstructing and comparing the imagined worlds of oil presented in BP and Cenovus’ advertisements, tracing the ways in which the resource is represented through the binaries of ancient and modern, empty and urban, wild and civilized. By configuring oil as a constellation of ideas rather than a system of things, this investigation reveals how the colonial legacies of the past continue to seep through the oil cultures of the present.