Friday, April 27, 2007

An Autobiographical Look at Commercials Today

As this semester and this experiment come to an end, I have begun looking back on what I have accomplished in this Gender and Popular Culture course. From my first blog post to this final post today, I feel that my perception of television commercials has completely changed. By analyzing my initial attraction to the analysis of commercials as well as the radical change in my observations of commercials today, it is interesting to see how much progress I have really made in the analysis and interpretation of these ads.

My initial reason for choosing to analyze commercials came from a discovery that my father and I had while watching television one day. After watching almost an hour of television, my father and I noticed the same commercials or same topic in commercials was reappearing constantly during the course of the show. I had originally wanted to analyze why this was so, and examine how marketers were stereotyping the viewers of these shows through limiting the kinds of commercials that they presented. In the beginning of the semester, I only thought about analyzing how the products that were advertised were related to gender.

It was one day in my Gender and Pop Culture class, however, that an assignment completely changed how I related myself to television commercials. The assignment, given in the beginning of the semester, was to create a collage from magazine images that would show the way marketing and advertisers would ideally view you. After making my collage I began to make a connection with the assignment and my blog topic. These television commercials and magazine ads were all directed at me. The ads shown in the collage as well as the commercials that I watched on T.V. were all a reflection of how society viewed me and others like myself. It was after that day that I decided to analyze all commercials in general in order to find the messages and norms that these ads were sending.

Now that I could personally identify with television commercials, I began to realize some of the norms and messages that these ads conveyed. Many ads were related to the images of men and women, including ads for weight loss products and tanning lotions that I have discussed in previous posts. These commercials send messages and reinforce the social ideas of today’s society, depicting how the “perfect” person should look, and how others who aren’t so “perfect” can change themselves to become closer to what society has deemed the “ideal” man or woman. Sut Jhally, author of the article “Image-Based Culture” describes how ads depict how men and women should be. Jhally writes, “… Images having to do with gender strike at the core of individual identity; our understanding of ourselves as either male or female (socially defined within this society at this time) is central to our understanding of who we are.” (Jhally, 253)

After watching and analyzing hundreds of television commercials throughout this semester, my perception of these ads has radically changed. I have realized that these image- based commercials communicate and perpetuate the social norms of today’s society. Some commercials challenge the societal norms, but can also be considered too controversial (such as my previous post entitled “Commercials in the News”). I have also realized that many of the commercials on television today are oversexualized and even include such elements as homophobia and the creation of the “perfect body.” Jhally also discusses how today’s ads are oversexualized, stating, “In advertising, gender (especially for women) is defined almost exclusively along the lines of sexuality. This image-system thus distorts our perceptions and offers little that balances out the stress on sexuality.” (Jhally, 253)

Analyzing the messages and norms that commercials convey has also helped me gain a better understanding of myself in relation to these ads. I am now able to understand that society views me as a teenage woman with the same standards that are placed in these commercials. Products like tanning lotions, facial cleansers, and cover-up makeup are all marketed towards myself and people like me in order to make us believe that such products are necessary for us to achieve the “ideal” look. I now have a much more critical view regarding these commercials, and find myself questioning the true purposes and techniques of these advertising methods as I watch more and more commercials.

The end of this semester and this class have made me realize how much I have truly learned. From disregarding the messages that commercials send, to being able to critically analyze gender norms and placing myself within their context, my perception of commercials today has entirely changed. I can now watch these commercials and be able to understand the true meanings of the ads, as well as the implications the messages and products have on today’s society. I am genuinely glad that I was able to learn this skill, which I can now utilize to be more aware and more analytical of pop culture today.

Jhally, Sut. “Imaged-Based Culture”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Feedback From Alex A, Author of "Gender Representation in Advertisements"

Alex's comments:

1. Your posts on “Commercials in the News” and “The Conflict of Appearance in Women through Commercials” are a very strong and analytical and provide very insightful and useful information in viewing commercials and advertisements.
2. A good way to use these post for your final blog post would be to make a timeline on how images of women (and/or men) have changed since commercials were first aired to today’s average commercial. You could also use the video blogging as an extra oomph to your final blog assignment.
3. It is obviously evident that you feel strongly about what you write about and I can see how your blog as evolve from your first “Links about my Blog” to “Commercials in the News” and can also be a great idea for your final blog presentation.
4. I think that your posts make strong critical arguments on how gender is depicted in your everyday commercial and how ignorant people are to the stereotypes that are unconsciously engraved in these commercials. I also appreciate how the links and sources you use help the reader become more identified to the argument you are making.
5. I thought it was great how you observed and analyze the Snickers Commercial. Your argument really made me angry in the sense that I wanted to send the company a letter ...even though they probably stopped airing the commercial by now. :)
Hope this helped!!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blog Buddy Work With Alex A, Author of "Gender Representation in Advertisements"

1. Where has your Blog buddy shown strong analytical work (be specific—is it a particular post, a type of analysis, a site for analysis that seemed to click more so than others, etc)?

2. How could your Blog buddy use this strength for the final Blog post and presentation?

3. Think about the following statements in relation to your Blog buddy’s Blog and then provide feedback on each area (constructive praise/criticism):

The Blog is on a topic that has been clearly evident in the Blog posts throughout the semester

The Blog is on a topic that seems to interest my Blog buddy

My Blog buddy’s topic is one that has produced a good set of posts that were analytical used gender as a primary category of analysis

The posts make analytical arguments. The posts are understandable and each post logically outlines and supports the argument presented. The posts were clear, provided insight, evidence, and analysis to connect the topic with the assignment for each of the posts

The sources cited in each post are relevant to the topic and help to aid the understanding of the argument and/or assisted in proving the argument.

The quotes used illustrate a broad range of course readings throughout the semester.

The quotes were clear and succinct; additionally, the material was presented so that I could differentiate the Blog buddy’s ideas from that of the author cited.

4. Finally, complete the following:

I thought it was great when you...

I found it confusing when you…

You’re really great at…

I wish you could focus (more) on/alter/edit/explain/expand on/etc these three things…

Friday, April 6, 2007

Commercials in the News

Although television commercials are extremely abundant in today’s society, they may often be ignored by their viewers. Many people believe that commercials are simply time wasted in between their favorite shows or even just used to make these shows shorter. However, there are some commercials that stand out among others. These ads are recognized by viewers and may even be discussed among friends later on. Some commercials even make news, and bring more attention to the topic of the ad. What could be the underlying reason why a commercial would be newsworthy? I have found that commercials often make the news when the topic or content of the ad is discovered to be controversial.

One commercial that made the news in 2007 was a Snickers candy bar commercial that was set to air during the Super Bowl in February. The advertisement depicted two men working on a car together in a garage. One man takes out a Snickers bar and puts half of the bar in his mouth while the other man notices what is going on. The other man grabs the other end of the Snickers bar with his mouth and the two men accidentally kiss. After their kiss takes place the two men seem upset by what has occurred and attempt to rip out some of their chest hair to appear more “manly.” According to there was an alternate ending of the two men fighting after their kiss as well. (MSNBC)

The act of kissing by the two men puts gender and sexuality at the main focus of this advertisement. Because the men are both mechanics, they are portrayed as the stereotypical man which causes their kissing to be somewhat unexpected. The men ripping out their chest hair and fighting seems to convey the idea of what the male gender represents as well as what constitutes being “manly.” The commercial also implies the homosexuality is not a ‘manly” trait and therefore the men must prove their masculinity by acting in this way.

The major reason for the controversy of this commercial is the homophobia presented in the ad. The gesture of the two men ripping out chest hair or fighting to appear more “manly” seems to reflect the homophobia the two men experience after they accidentally kiss. These ideas presented in the commercial can be closely linked to a statement made by author Terry A. Kupers in his article “Homophobia in Straight Men.” Kupers wrote in reference to the straight male, “We stiffen our bodies when approached by other men who want to touch or hug and we keep men at a certain distance- where we can watch them and be certain that closeness and dependency will not make us too vulnerable.” (Kupers, 501) This quote reflects the commercial because the two men immediately distance themselves from one another after kissing and want to avoid appearing vulnerable, thereby less “manly.” They also feel they must prove their “manliness” by fighting and showing their chest hair.

MSNBC news also stated in their article that the Snickers web site contained video of professional male athletes reacting to the kiss. The Human Rights Campaign and Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) were both angry with the commercial because of the messages of homophobia that were presented. Through the reaction of the two mechanics, the ad seems to make a joke of the two men kissing and homosexuality. The reaction of the professional athletes seems to add to the teasing of homosexuality as well. Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign commented, “This type of jeering from professional sports figures at the sight of the two men kissing fuels the kind of anti-gay bullying that haunts countless gay and lesbian school children on playgrounds all across the country.” (MSNBC) Because of the controversy created by this commercial, the ad was removed from airing on television and on the web site.

The representation of gender and sexuality in the Snickers commercial, as well as the underlying theme of homophobia were the main features of the ad that caused it to make the news. Controversy and the eventual removal of the ad also resulted in greater attention by the news media.

"Snickers Ad Pulled After Complaints From Gays." MSNBC 7 Feb. 2007. 2 Apr. 2007 .

Kupers, Terry A. “Homophobia in Straight Men.” Revisioning Men’s Lives: Gender, Intimacy and Power. (1992): 499-501.

Links to sites:

Snickers Commercial

Snickers Ad Pulled After Complaints From Gays

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Kevin Federline Commercial

This commercial made news riight before it aired during the Super Bowl on January 24, 2007. The National Restaurant Association's cheif executive complained that the commercial gives the impression that working in a restaurant was "demeaning and unpleasant." (ABC News) What do you think? Should this commercial not have aired, as the association wanted it to be?

ABC News Article "U.S. Restaurants Blast Kevin Federline TV ad

Friday, March 30, 2007

Blog Post #4- The Conflict of Appearance In Women Through Commercials

“They’re always telling you to be the most natural girl in the world and you want to cooperate but, well, they ought to see you in your natural state. Pale, lashless, lusterless, bustless and occasionally, after a grinding day at the typewriter, almost fingernail-less!” (Ouellette, 121) This collage describes the many products that are advertised on television commercials to alter the appearance of women. After watching many commercials, I have noticed that many of the advertisements on television are for products such as those shown in the collage. Women often experience the conflict of society expecting them to be natural, but also expecting them to fit a certain mold. Examples of these products include tanning lotions, teeth whiteners, colored contacts, wrinkle release crèmes, and weight loss products such as slim fast and trim spa. Commercials such as that for Bally Total Fitness also encourage exercise for a slimmer waist and a thinner more “perfect” body. Ouellette then states, “Instead, ‘new looks’ created with wigs, false eyelashes, tinted contact lenses, fake beauty spots, false toenails, false fingernails, nose surgery, padded bras, false derrieres, and false jewelry were recommended.” (Ouellette, 121)
Ouellette, Laurie. “Inventing the Cosmo Girl”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Links to the photos:

Gender In Commercials Today

Television commercials are extremely popular in today’s society. Millions of commercials are seen everyday by television viewers, covering such topics as the newest movies coming to the big screen or the latest hair care products for men and women. Watching all of these commercials while analyzing gender in class has made me wonder what could actually be discovered when more attention was paid to these ads. These countless commercials are not just time wasted in between shows, but can actually be seen as a reflection of our society and pop culture today. While watching an episode of “Malcom in the Middle” recently, I noticed several commercials that seemed to attract my attention. These advertisements reflect gender ideas of pop culture today as well as the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic elements within them.

One of the commercials that I saw was an advertisement for a tanning lotion. In the commercial a young woman encourages the viewers to purchase the lotion in order to make their skin appear to look darker than its normal shade. The woman states that using this product will give women a “healthy glow.” This advertisement deals directly with the feminine concept of changing ones looks to fit into a certain mold of the “perfect woman.” However this message seems to conflict with some feminine ideas that women should be natural and not have to change their appearances to look like others. In Laurie Ouellete’s writing of “Inventing the Cosmo Girl” Ouellete mentions a column in Cosmopolitan titled “The Beautiful Phony” which discusses this conflict of appearance. The article states, “They’re always telling you to be the most natural girl in the world and you want to cooperate but, well, they just ought to see you in your natural state.” (Ouellette, 121) Ouellette then goes on to comment that the article recommended using products such as fake eyelashes, tinted contacts, and wigs to change their looks. (Ouellette, 121)

Another commercial with a similar topic to the tanning lotion advertisement was an ad for Bally Total Fitness. The commercial featured men and women at the gym working out and encouraged gym goers to get in shape to obtain a slimmer waist and get the “perfect body” for the summer. Like the tanning lotion commercial, this advertisement focuses on the appearance of men and women, encouraging them to be fit and thin. This commercial closely relates to the masculine ideal of being muscular and the feminine ideal of being skinny. This expectation begins at the adolescent age, causing people to diet and exercise in order to obtain this “perfect body.” In Jean Kilbourne’s article titled “The More You Subtract the More You Add” she writes, “Women are especially vulnerable because our bodies have been objectified and commodified for so long…Cultivating a thinner body offers some hope of control and success to a young woman with a poor self-image and overwhelming personal problems that have no easy solutions.” (Kilbourne, 260) This commercial also seems to have hegemonic elements because those fit and muscular men and women portrayed in the commercial seem to have power in that they are happy to have obtained the “perfect body.”

Yet another commercial that I saw was for the Visa credit card. The commercial features a young woman who seems to be upset over something and is very depressed. An older woman then approaches her and takes her to several different stores including a department store for dresses, a shoe store, and a hair salon in order to purchase items with her Visa credit card and make her feel better. This advertisement portrays the stereotype that women love to shop as well as demonstrates the consumer based society that Americans live in. In an article titled “The New Politics of Consumption” author Juliet Schor explains Americans fascination with spending. Schor states, “In contemporary American culture, consuming is as authentic as it gets. Advertisements, getting a bargain, garage sales, and credit cards are firmly entrenched pillars of our way of life. We shop on our lunch hours, patronize outlet malls on vacation, and satisfy our latest desires with a late night click of the mouse.” (Schor, 183) This commercial also contains elements of hegemony in that the woman in the commercial possesses the power to buy whatever she wants with no worries about how she will pay for these items.

Television commercials can be directly related to pop culture today because all of the concepts, jokes, and messages within these advertisements are taken from pop culture. By paying close attention to the concept of gender within these commercials it is easy to find some information reflecting gender ideas and perceptions in American society today.

Ouellette, Laurie. “Inventing the Cosmo Girl”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Schor, Juliet. “The New Politics of Consumption”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Politics of Plan B

This post is not about gender in commercials but discusses another topic related to my gender studies class. On Wednesday March 7, I was able to attend a presentation by Susan Wood at The College of New Jersey. Susan Wood was a former assistant FDA commissioner for women’s health and was also the director of the Office of Women’s Health. The topic of the issue was Plan B, the emergency contraception and the many issues that were raised because of it. Susan Wood discussed her resignation from the FDA due to the lack of action in approving the pill. Much of the discussion focused on the political side of this issue and the political issues that were the cause of such a hesitation by the FDA.

Susan Wood mentioned that the Plan B was a perfectly safe pill, yet the FDA took months and months to approve it. For any other medicine the approval process would be much faster, however because it was related to birth control the FDA was much more hesitant. The age of teens that should be restricted access to Plan B was also changed several times, eventually raising the age limit to 18. The political aspects of this pill being passed were related to the idea that they did not want to look like they were encouraging promiscuity in young teens. I believe that this pill should be accessible to teens of all ages in order to help prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring. Politics should not be involved in the approval of Plan B because it is important for the safety of young teens. I am glad that I was able to attend this lecture because it I was able to learn new things about the Plan B contraception as well as insight into how complicated the process of its approval was. I was very impressed with Mrs. Wood’s resignation and how she stood up for what she believed in.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The TV gods are smarter than us. - Greg Stevens

Here is a short view of some of the topics mentioned in his blog:

Second: The gender gap. OK, so your watching TV, a commercial comes on, you start

surfing channels and you see more commercials, but you wonder whats on that channel

anyway. Well, what kind of commercial is on? I’m willing to go out on a limb and

say that if you see more than one commercial about feminine hygeine products, there

is a pretty good chance that there is no sports on that network right now.

Conversely, if you see a commercial about “Built Ford Tough”, followed by a Bud

Light commercial, it’s a pretty sure bet that the Oprah Winfrey show is not on that

network right now. You see the TV gods know who’s watching what, and when. But what

about when men and women are watching the same show you might ask? Well the TV gods

have that figured out as well. The harsh reality is, we live in a male dominated

society. Almost every major network is run by men. One exception is the Lifetime

channel. Since these networks are owned and run by mostly men they do things from a

male point of view. So while you and your signifigant other are watching American

Idol, you will see all the girlie commercials for women, but the women will be

really sexy so the guys will pay attention.

My response:

Hey, I like the comments you made regarding the gender gap on TV commercials. I am very interested in this topic as well and I have created a blog for my gender and pop culture class on the very same topic. ( Why is it that you can practically determine what show you are watching just by seeing the commercials? How can advertisements only focus on one or two similar ideas when there may be many different kinds of people watching a certain show? I believe these commercials do not necessarily reflect the entire spectrum of viewers but instead seem to be based upon the perceptions and ideas of gender.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

"The Girls Next Door" Part 1: An Analysis of Femininity

“The Girls Next Door”- What are the concepts of gender being shown?

“The Girls Next Door” may best be described as a reality show chronicling the lives of Playboy creator Hugh Hefner and the many playmates of the Playboy Mansion. Viewers see extensive footage behind the scenes of Hef’s everyday life as well as an invitation to the many extravagant parties that take place at his home. Although this show is found entertaining to many of its viewers, one must question the content of a reality television program such as this. What messages are being conveyed to its audience and what do these messages say about our pop culture environment today? What ideas does this show demonstrate about sex and gender in today’s society? Through an analysis of an episode titled, “80 Is the New 40” I will attempt to bring these underlying messages to the surface and discover the true significance of this popular reality television series.

One concept of femininity that can be seen throughout this show is the desire to be thin and sacrificing of ones self in order to obtain this goal. Two of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends Kendra and Bridget help to present this concept, each in their own way. While getting ready for Hef’s Casablanca party, Kendra realizes that her dress does not fit her right and that it is way too tight. A few weeks prior to the party Kendra had been sick and after losing a few pounds decided to get her dress taken in. However, after she discovers that her dress is too tight she chooses to squeeze herself into it instead of wearing a different dress. Throughout the party, Kendra complains of being unable to breathe as well as a discomfort and inability to walk while wearing her high heels. Her actions clearly demonstrate her desire to remain thin by forcing herself into a dress that no longer fits her. When discussing the issue of thinness in today’s society author Jean Kilbourne commented, “Even more destructively, they get the message that this is possible, that, with enough effort and self-sacrifice, they can achieve this ideal. Thus many girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable.” (Kilbourne, 260)

While Bridget also conveys the desire to be thin, she has a different method of staying skinny. In preparation for Hefner’s party, Bridget prepares a striptease routine to perform for his birthday. In order to remain thin and look good for the performance, she creates a diet for herself to follow. During this episode Bridget is seen eating only carrots for lunch while her parents are eating chicken caesar salad. The radical diet that she uses demonstrates the same concept of femininity presented throughout the show. She is using an unrealistic method to reach an unattainable goal. Demonstrating dieting such as this through the media influences others to diet in a similar fashion and causes viewers to compare themselves to the thin characters that they see. “Before television was available, there was little talk of dieting in Fiji…In 1995 television came to the island. Within three years, the number of teenagers at risk for eating disorders more than doubled, 74 percent of the teens in the study said they felt ‘too big or too fat’ and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month.” (Kilbourne, 262)

Bridget also presents different concepts of femininity related to sexuality and fashion. While practicing her strip tease she makes a comment that pasties and a g string are practically dressed to her. She also practices her performance in front of her parents, who seem very approving of what she is doing. These ideas demonstrate the over sexualized concept of femininity. Through this concept, the media is sending the message that it is ok for women and girls to wear little clothing and to be over sexualized in today’s society.

One characteristic that seems to be omitted in the portrayal of women and femininity on “The Girls Next Door” is intelligence. None of the girls featured are ever shown reading, or doing anything that would make them appear smart or clever. In fact, Bridget mentioned that her striptease was one of her favorite things to do and jokes that she may want it as a new career goal. This statement does not make her appear any smarter. It also helps to show the over sexualized concept of femininity in that she wants to make a career out of stripping.

These ideas of femininity presented in “The Girls Next Door” can be closely related to Jean Kilbourne’s article “The More You Subtract, the More You Add.” In this article Kilbourne discusses that young adolescent girls are prime targets to market products towards and often follow closely what they see in pop culture. These girls feel the pressure to be thin as well as the desire to look like those they see in the media. By watching television shows such as that of “The Girls Next Door,” young girls will continue to follow and be strongly influenced by these concepts of femininity that are presented by Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. (Kilbourne)

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add". Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.