Friday, October 11, 2013

Perfect Provocawhata?

       Advertising: perhaps the most obvious, tangible, accessible, and influential form of media. Advertising appeals to a wide array of people that range in gender, age, race, and cultures. It is delivered in many distinct forms; television commercials, magazine and newspaper spreads, posters adorning the walls of nearly every subway cart and bus stop, and even while we watch films via product placement. Advertising is essentially everywhere, waiting to infiltrate our minds when we least expect it. Advertising is extremely prevalent in how we judge society, our peers, and ourselves. As consumers and spectators taking in the messages being conveyed, we often lose sight of what the primary goal of these ads were; to sell a product. Most advertisements follow similar strategies in that they all attempt to target specific groups of people. Whether it be adolescents, men, women, senior citizens, Latinos, Asians, etc., no one is spared; advertising is all-inclusive. It is a pity that advertising, many times, perpetuates society's old and outdated gender and race roles because, as Kilbourne points out, with each of us being “exposed to over 1500 ads a day”, advertising is “perhaps the most powerful educational force in society” (Kilbourne, 121). Although the primary goal of every advertisement is to promote their product effectively enough to make the consumer go out and purchase that item, they “attempt to sell the product by associating it with certain socially desirable qualities, but they sell as well a world view, a lifestyle, and value system congruent with the imperatives of consumer capitalism” (Kellner, 127). In a nutshell, advertising drastically shapes the way each and everyone of us, living in a media driven world, identifies with ourselves, each other, and our surroundings.
      Although ads typically all follow suit of targeting a particular audience, the stereotypes used often range and vary. For instance, women tend to be depicted as one of two things; “sex objects or mindless domestics pathologically obsessed with cleanliness” (Cortese, 54). Similar to film and television, advertisements perpetuate notions of the 'ideal woman' or the “perfect provocateur” (Cortese, 54). Defined by Cortese in “Constructing Bodies, Deconstructing Ads”, the 'perfect provocateur' is essentially impossible to achieve; with not one blemish in sight, no wrinkles, split ends, scars, or pores, the 'perfect provocateur' is every woman's worst nightmare and wildest dream all wrapped up in one. We all hate her; the Victoria's secret model staring back at us through her perfectly symmetrical bedroom eyes, yet we all secretly long to be her; to encompass her effortless beauty. So, as a means to get as humanly close to being the 'perfect provocateur' as possible, we buy the liquid concealing foundation; the pressed mineral powder; the teeth whitening strips; the 'perfectly plum' lipstick; the push up bra; dieting pills, and so on and so forth. “Women are constantly held to this unrealistic standard of beauty”, and if they fail to attain it, “they are led to feel guilty and ashamed” (Cortese, 54). Thus, we the 'imperfect provocateurs', consume and purchase more and more products while we obsess and stress over what we see (and what we don't) being reflected when we look into a mirror. Cultural ideology that is perpetuated through ads, suggests that we are flawed and broken; in need of mending and repair. If, in fact, we cannot be fixed by the endless amounts of makeup and pushup bras, we are led to believe that we are not desirable and are essentially unworthy of love. Even ads geared towards men depict images of the perfect woman, always seen, yet rarely heard.
      According to Jean Kilbourne's, “Beauty and the Beast of Advertising”, by constantly being surrounded by these 'artificial' images of what women should look like and behave, “a woman is conditioned to view her face as a mask and her body as an object, as things separate from and more important than her real self, constantly in need of alteration, improvement, and disguise” (Kilbourne, 122). This phenomenon of women, young and old, constantly feeling inadequate in their own skin and feeling the unrelenting urge to check their images because they are not the 'perfect provocateur', can be related to the writings of John Berger in “Ways of Seeing”. Berger states that “a woman must continually watch herself”, “from earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself” (Berger, 46). Berger argues that women must always be watching and observing how she appears to others and “ultimately how she appears to men” because, it is “of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life” (Berger, 46). If we look back through history, and the iconic women that dominated in media, we see a drastic change in what was considered to be the ideal woman, then and now. Marilyn Monroe for instance, weighed approximately 140 pounds during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; a huge difference from say, Gisele Bundchon's whopping 100 pounds soaking wet.
      Men have also been typecast-ed and influenced in advertisements throughout history; pressuring them to be a 'real man' and 'man up', while also having a perfect body that oozes sex appeal and a rugged, blue-collar man charm. As Cortese notes in his writings however, this macho male image has not always been the projected male identity prevalent within advertising; “In fact, 90 percent of male models are working class- rough around the edges and beefy, not as frail, thin, or chiseled as their predecessors” (Cortese, 58). It appears as though muscularity is becoming the prerequisite for masculinity. Although the idea of an uber muscular man as the poster boy of masculinity may be a new one, the notion that real men do what the men in advertisements do, dates way back. “Such symbolic images in advertising attempt to create an association between the products offered, and socially desirable and meaningful traits in order to produce the impression that if one wants to be a certain type of person”, then one should purchase certain promoted products (Kellner, 127). The iconic Marlboro Cowboy, made infamous through Marlboro cigarette ads, was considered the ultimate “man's man” fully equipped with his crush proof cigarette box (because everyone knows men like crush things), and was considered as the ultimate symbol of masculinity. Today, its more about how much you can bench press and how good you look with your shirt off, in a pair of Calvin Klein boxers, than being the 'lone ranger', drifter cowboy that always wears his boots and hat. Similar to the anxieties women face when they feel as though their looks/ body image is not up to par with those depicted in the advertisements, men too struggle with body image. Personally, in my life, I have noticed that more and more of my guy friends have become borderline obsessed with their weight and how others view them publicly, more so than a majority of my female friends. Not only do men have the constant pressure of having to be strong, reliable, tough, thick skinned, and athletic, they have to be able to get the hot blonde's phone number at the end of the night, and if they can't, then there must be something wrong with them. The same goes for females as well, not only are we expected to be beautiful every minute of everyday, but we also have to be sweet, gentle (so as to not intimidate the big strong muscle man), sophisticated, and well spoken (only when addressed, of course), and again, if we do not achieve all of these, there is something inherently wrong with us.
     Perhaps, however, it is not us as individuals who are wrong, so much as it is the advertising strategies employed by the big advertisers. Whether they are aware or not, the ads they are creating and releasing are plaguing our minds with images and desires of an artificial being. Rather than using the same washed up strategies that have been circulating around for decades now, why not challenge the stereotypes, norms, and values embedded within advertising, that objectifies and detaches the individual from themselves by reversing the roles. Imagine, a commercial on daytime television, that depicts a father and son outside playing [insert sport here], when, uh-oh, little Johnny got grass stains all over his nice new khakis! Mom can't be found anywhere, but its okay because dad's a real man who knows how to score a touch down and get rid of those pesky stains. Or how about a commercial for Triple A's roadside assistance with a female tow truck driver, that can take apart and rebuild your entire engine in a hour's time. Or perhaps even one, just one, magazine cover that is not all composed of photo-shopped images of Beyonce in a ball gown, but instead a thirteen year old girl with glasses, braces, and acne, smiling as hard as she can for that picture because at that moment, she was genuinely happy and carefree, totally comfortable in her skin and surroundings. It is as simple as substituting one person, object, item, theme, and message in exchange for another as a means to transform these stereotypical ads we find ourselves gazing at numerous times daily into something more meaningful, positive, and potentially beneficial monetarily. Rather than advertising cosmetics as corrective treatment, which insinuates something was wrong in the first place, why not market them as tools of enhancement. There is no need for this constant devaluation of the consumer done by not only the advertising companies and media, but by themselves as well. Never should the sale of a product outshine the consumers interests and well being, we should be encouraging happiness and being content with ones self rather than feeding off of their insecurities, bullying them into purchasing a product because with out it they are inadequate, not good enough.

  • Kilbourne, Jean. "Beauty and the Beast of Advertising." Media & Values. N.p.: Winter, 1989. 121-25. Print.
  • Berger, John. "3."Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting, 1973. 45-64.
  • Kellner, Douglas. "Reading Images Critically." Journal of Education. 3rd ed. Vol. 170. N.p.: Trustees of Boston University, 1988. 126-32. Print.
  • Cortese, Anthony Joseph Paul. "Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads." Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. 54-76. Print
    ^what do you think? Should Elle magazine have portrayed Melissa McCarthy similar to how they portrayed Shailene Woodley/ Resse Witherspoon?
    lol Joe Namath

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