Sunday, April 27, 2008

We See 3,000 Ads a Day

Quite a while ago, I was directed to a video of a lecture by Jean Kilbourne. It was an update of her findings since her groundbreaking documentary Killing Us Softly aired in 1979. Kilbourne has apparently made a career out of analyzing the havoc that advertising wreaks on the self-images of women and girls. I know that advertising is annoying and invasive, but I'll be the first to admit that I've never really thought about its effects on how I see myself. Everyone thinks they're impervious to advertising, but is that really the case? The video, which you can see here, is engaging, funny, and highly recommended. That ads are damaging to our body image is well-known by now. What I hadn't realized was advertising's rigorous pushing of all things heteronormative. Kilbourne says:

Advertising does sell products of course, but it also sells a great deal more than products. It sells values, it sells images, it sells concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, of sucess, and perhaps most importantly, of normalcy.

Here's a shocking ad for you to look at while you ponder all this:

"She was asking for it! Shop at JCPenney!" I found the above image at a very interesting site called Gender Ads, which teaches you how to analyze the layers of meaning found in advertisements. It's worth checking out. In her lecture, Kilbourne shows us an ad with the headline, "You have the right to remain sexy!" She says:

You have the right to remain sexy. Which, according to this ad, really means "the right to be a sex object". The right to be passive, the right to have our sexuality defined in a rigid, shallow, extremely limiting and cliched way.

Selling images of sex to asexuals won't make us buy a product, but selling us images of sex as universal will make us buy into standards we can't meet. If I can, I'll try not to let ads just wash over me, but to really look and understand them. Just like we can choose what kind of oversized energy drink to buy, we can also choose what parts of society's "guidelines" we buy into. We're told, in some part by advertising, that we can't. That's why so many asexuals, and myriad other sorts of people, think there's something wrong with them. But here's what JCPenney doesn't want you to know: We can. At least, I'd like to think so...


Anonymous said...

You have the right to remain sexy.

=> You are sexy, but will not be if you do something wrong.

=> You would be doing something wrong if you did not follow this advert.

=> If you have freedom of thought enough to not follow this advert, or simply do not care about being sexy, you will be doing something wrong, there is something wrong with you.

I do not like this chain of logic. It scares me.

Ily said...

Right with you Cupati, it's freaky...

Anonymous said...

Even just the phrasing (Miranda rights, which I'm sure we all recognize) means that women need to be passive, quiet, and well-mannered to be desirable - which I think was one of Kilbourne's points about that particular ad.

Like cupati said, if you do not follow the advert, in any sense, then there is something wrong with you: which apparently means that if you are not
a) quiet
b) passive
c) "sexy"
d) sexual
then there is something horribly wrong with you.

So if you
a) don't want to be sexy or
b) don't want to shut up and be a victim of any sort
then you're out of place in the producer's society. Brr. Not a society I'd want to be in anyways, thanks.

The ad you put up was...*shiver* I mean, sure, it works I suppose, especially since red is supposed to be a "sexy" underwear color, but what's next? One of those bondage-style ads for silk panties with "Sometimes "no" doesn't always mean stop"?

Superquail said...

Advertisers have discovered that making people feel inadequate is profitable. There are many ways to do this. One way is to make people feel fat so they buy into the billion dollar diet industry. The thing that really gets me about that is the way the medical community really bought into. The height/weight charts you'll see in doctors' offices are known to be completely off target. Insurance companies had them adjusted in the 1950s so that they could charge higher premiums for people who were "overweight."

Another place that seems to be a soft target is to make people feel inadequate sexually. Anyone who has an email address knows just how many products there are out there promising penis enlargement or breast enlargement. None of these ads ever claim that having larger breasts will make you a better person, or a happier person, but that seems to be the implication.

Yvonne said...

I got a spam e-mail just today titled "Women measure love in inches." After I stopped laughing, I really thought about it and said "Jeez! That's terrible!" Unfortunately there are men who believe it, just as there are women who believe they'll only get love, acceptance, etc. if they fit into a certain measure: weight or bra size, what have you. Now I'm just left wondering whether I want the things I want because I actually like them, or because I've been told by ads and the media in general that I should like them.

Anonymous said...

" doesn't have to mean stop."

They're quite right. Sometimes, as in this case, it means "Keep moving. There is nothing for you here."

-Sarah T.

Heidi said...

Oof. One of the best classes I ever took in college was Gender Paradigms, an interesting medley of exploring gender stereotypes and perceptions of sexuality and such. As a fairly androgynous sort of female, I was disturbed at some of the assumptions projected on me... leg shaving among other things. It's quite distressing to be female in this society, though it's remarkably empowering to not feel the need to conform to certain standards to "get a guy" (cause I don't want one!) ...go figure.

Thanks so much for the post, time to re-read it and muse a bit more.

Ily said...

That's funny, one of my favorite college classes was called "Gender, Body, and Religion"... go figure :-)