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.