CNN’s Pipeline Gets Plugged

Feeding, riding and streaming has never been so draining!

Enterprising newsplumber CNN turned on the taps of a new service called Pipeline, which delivers a liquid diet of live streaming video feeds to thisty e-potators. This dim-sum of fresh and canned material, which at one time was only available in control rooms, serves newsgluttons an all-you-can-eat buffet of the journalistic staples.

In recent weeks, CNN has really started plugging the Pipeline, leading to this ruptured metaphor:


The metaphor “pipeline” itself is suitable, if not perfect. It fits with the “streams” of video and the concept of “data flow“. Its brush with a plumbing metaphor system gives us a sense of control-over-chaos and choice – a network of pipes and valves joining supply and demand a world apart.

This whole image springs a leak with the “Ride Your World” slogan, which puts us not at the end of the line turning a hot or cool tap, but seated on board a vehicle – the Earth – the Himalayas undoubtably causing uncomfortable gluteal abrasions. In transit, we become as the travelling data in the “pipeline” metaphor, which completely ruptures the mental image of us as the destination. Are we then travellers in the pipeline?

The London Underground transit system, affectionately known as the “tube”, brings us more in line with the “travelling data” implied in the “Pipeline” slogan. It’s not a metaphor, but a geometric description, its physical existence is a metaphor of the pneumatic tube delivery systems found in hospitals and factories (with carriage/car = carrier; electric motor = pressure/vacuum; passengers = materials/forms; platform = landing pad, etc.). In 1812, George Medhurst suggested a passenger version of the pneumatic tube delivery system, fulfilling the metaphor. One could then, technically, “ride the pipeline“.

The “world as vehicle” position of “ride your world” does not make clear whether we are, as traveller, the driver or a passenger. However, returning to the pipeline image, we see that steering control is sacrificed to the rails, walls or switches, with “embark” or “disembark” the only option for liquids in pipes or passengers in subways. If we are passenger, the adventurous overtone of “ride” cultured into us by bikers and cowpokes is rendered invalid, and bustle is reduced to bus.

These days product need not be contiguous with slogan. While Earthlink does “revolve around you”, and Dentyne Fire MintsUnleash the Heat“, we are forced to mind the gap in Ford Fusion’sLife in Drive“. People appear to be far more interested in the natural vitals of color, sound and sex. So is linguistic propriety destined for the sewers? Are our lively metaphors quickly dying off to become a sticky homogenous, gray goo of polysemes? Or could it be that we can readily accept a cognitive contrast between product and slogan because we accept the deep sociological contrasts of our diverse contemporary civilization? One thing for sure, though the destination is uncertain, the world always makes for an interesting ride – even when we have to experience it through a feed tube.


Footnote: It’s been a few months since CNN’s Pipeline appeared. Over that time, little if any changes to the marketing have occurred, forcing me to re-examine my take of the intended meaning of the word “Pipeline”.

As the first comment suggests, it may be referring to a surfboard, with the whole “surfing the ‘net” system – which works well with the adventurous presentation, music and voiceover. However, I keep getting stuck with the pipes used in the animated demonstration of the service, and the perfect symmetry of the pipe used in the logo.

I’d really like to hear from readers about their interpretation of this commercial, rather than go to the source (CNN). If the purpose of an ad is to successfully communicate an idea, then to go directly to its source would seem to admit its defeat. Considering that CNN has risen to an enormous success and I still have to roll pennies, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Who knows? Maybe we don’t need congruency in our metaphors. After all, living and dead metaphors seem to coexist in paragraphic harmony. Then again, the very stigma attached to the use of mixed metaphors implies that they inevitably lead to a literary wipe-out. And that would leave Pipeline pluggers all wet. [I hope the irony of this paragraph is not lost...]


It’s been a while since my last update. I see that the logo and slogan for Pipeline remain as they were, and the rate of promotion is slightly lower, though much more embedded into CNN scripts. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Pipeline, and I’ve had more time to think. I still come to a wall when trying to carry the metaphor much further than directly implied.

The hallmark of a complete metaphor is its unique ability to be extended to great lengths while retaining its strength. If it weakens before its full extension, it may only qualify as a limited metaphor, useful to poetry perhaps, but of substantially less use to cognitive science, artificial intelligence or interdisciplinary studies. This is because a limited metaphor’s mathematics – the equation it builds – is incomplete, making the transfer (the true meaning of the word metaphor) a conceptual bridge with a few essential parts missing.

2 Responses to “CNN’s Pipeline Gets Plugged”

  1. Anonymous writes:

    A slightly more obscure meaning of “Pipeline” is that it’s an Oahu beach legendary among surfers. It’s also one of the more famous surf music songs of the ’60s (tey, which cemented the connection of the word “pipeline” to the activity of surfing.

    Surfing, of course, is a well-established metaphor for using the Web, and a quite apt one, I think; a Web surfer, like a surfer in a wetsuit, is neither quite a passenger nor quite a driver. A surfer is dependent on the environment, adjusts to it, and follows its contours, but its an activity that requires skill and rewards the patient. Riding a wave is not as passive as riding a bus.

    In that context, “ride your world” makes sense. But nothing in the language or the imagery makes the pipeline-surfing-ride connection. To me, it seems like one of those slogans that came out of a brainstorming session and made perfect sense to the participants, who forgot that a person seeing the slogan for the first time wasn’t in on the thought process that led to it.

  2. J. D. Casnig writes:

    Great comments, Anonymous – if that is your real name! Your description of surfing leaves me thinking you get your feet wet.

    Here’s a quote from that’ll really congeals your points:

    “The North Shore [of Oahu, Hawaii] is home to perhaps the best stretch of surfing waves in the world, including Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and the world’s most renowned and revered wave, “Pipeline” (or “Banzai Pipeline”), so named for the yawning chasms it regularly hurls over the heads of awe-struck surfers.”

    This puts the surfer inside a pipeline, riding a surfboard and being powered by water. Among the other related surfing terms: “tube” and “tube ride” – which brings us right back to the London subway and pneumatic tube delivery systems.


    Personally, I find the emphasis of the word “ride” as it is spoken in the commercials seems too adventurous for a “passenger”, while the visuals provide a sense of bordered self-destiny. To cap it off with the limited-offer/you’re-in-control effect of “take a test drive” leaves me making comparisons to a “luge”: down, fast, bordered, linear – but such comparisons are a slippery slope…

    Thanks for writing in.


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