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.
Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc.
Schor, Juliet. “The New Politics of Consumption”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc.