Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Insidious Misogyny: Ads, Stereotypes, and Distorted Images

Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash with inputs from Venkatesh Ramanujam

Cartoon by Wilcox / Crikey Blog
I enjoy watching advertisements! Another reason why I prefer catching the series and movies I like on TV rather than watch online marathons. When the Australia Broadcasting Channel was available through my cable operator I used to regularly watch the panel-format, ad analysis show The Gruen Planet (Named for the confusing design of shopping malls: “the Gruen transfer is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, lose track of their original intentions. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen, who disavowed such manipulative techniques.”) As I check into the social media platforms daily I also get bombarded with the latest viral video clip and the “not-really-ad” ads that proliferate online. The insidious misogyny masked as pro-women/pro-girl advertisements/clips are quite a shock to the system.

The fact is underage children have unrestricted access to the Internet through myriad devices (with more Smart devices being invented all the time) is as worrying as the hypocritical viral videos doing the rounds sending the wrong message to young unformed mind. Peer pressure in the smart, flat world has a whole new dimension. Kristi, the senior editor and columnist for Cracked, nails it when she says, “The Internet has exploded in an estrogen-charged fury of pro-girl viral ads … each more emotionally manipulative than the last.” The seemingly innocuous messages that come out of exaggerating societal mores to emphasise them to sell product is that the viewer generally picks up the wrong message while being influenced to buy a product or service. The Idea, Airtel, and Tanishq all try to showcase a changing society with an empowered and informed public yet many of them subconsciously reinforce the most misogynistic ideas and practises. 

It’s a step in the right direction that international ad agencies and the ad industry as a whole has come together to adopt guidelines to make more responsible ads but with the avenues opened up online it’s hard to control the manipulating material and messages coming out of their stables in the form on viral videos. Anyone who’s seen The Apprentice Asia will know how easy it is to put out a video that’s meant to go viral and boost sales for a product.

I’ve always admired the products from Levi’s (waste-less jeans: jeans made recycling 8 plastic bottles, the instructions from their CEO that their jeans was meant to be washed less thus using less resources and polluting less), and generally mindlessly enjoy their ads but the recent one has left me conflicted. While most of the ad is cute the last bit immortalizing street harassment is a thoughtless addition in a time when the facts and figures on sexual harassment and violence against women in America and across the world is deeply disturbing.  Ads, media, news are all reflections of society but that doesn’t mean you glamorize crimes and misogynistic acts. The haute-couture layout doing the rounds on social media that showed stylized versions of the gang rape and street harassment is another case in point. These are just the tip of the iceberg wrecking the image of girls and women and valorising the wrong role models for boys and men. 
Cracked analyses five supposedly empowering ads/viral and music videos in one article that emphasises the “bad girl, shame on you” messages being passed on insidiously through them. It’s all about choices the subtle but powerful messages being sent assigning values to questionable mores or as Kristi puts it,

I also want to teach them to OWN THEIR FACES AND BODIES and not let Dove, Colbie Caillat [referring to the music video for her song “You Don't Have To Try”], or me demonize them for wanting to wear makeup or paint their nails.
Girls aren't sticking with math and science beyond middle school, and people want to fix that. I'm all for that … these are the same girls who are heading into a world where 1 in 5 of them is going to be sexually assaulted in college. That's a terrible statistic … but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the … message isn't a direct slap in the face to girls who like dolls.Women Are Manipulative Liars, and That's OK, Because Periods. . . terrible message for girls hitting middle school: When someone wrongs you, go Mean Girls on them … feelings of defeat, self-doubt, and disgust that come with living in a world where everything is out of your control, including your own body.

The Gruen Planet/The Gruen Transfer (A programme that takes apart ads and the advertisement industry with a panel of award-winning ad. execs. and some wonderful “sell the unsellable” competition to local ad agencies), Australia Broadcasting Channel (abc TV)
Wikipedia entry: The Gruen Transfer.
The Live in Levi’s ad!