Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Having TV again has made me more aware of how awful commercials are

So I finally got TV again. After 6 years of not having it, and having to watch all my shows on the internet or netflix, I like the ability to watch things when they're on (hooray True Blood!) and to have background noise without having to decide on something - I just turn it on and it's there.

I'm not a huge fan of most TV shows, since I think many of them are just ridiculous, or uninteresting, or foster unhealthy stereotypes or ideas that really impact people, both adults and children.

But what I really hate are commercials.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE some commercials. I think advertising is a really intricate and incredibly interesting business, as shown by my intense, conspiracy-theory level love of Mad Men. For example, I love this commercial:

I have zero license to talk about parenting or kids (this isn't that kind of blog people - I mean, really, it's pretty obvious that I don't have them), but yeah, I think everyone in this commercial is being awesome.

Or this one:

I pretty much die laughing whenever I see this one.

I love British commercials - Kirby and I went to the Arrow Awards presentation at the Brooks this year. And I think, again, that commercials serve their purpose. They show us things that we may want, or need, and try to convince us why - nothing wrong with that. They can even be art in a way. I love the David Bowie sample in this Kia (woot woot go Kia!) commercial:

And, not to seem like the commenters on Jezebel (I love Jezebel, but those people can take anything and make it awful - really people, some things are just happy, or are okay, even if they're problematic), but most commercials I've seen since getting TV again have just been really offensive, or so difficult to reconcile with the way I view the world and the world I thought I lived in that I had to say something.

This one is one of the worst:

I've worked in a lot of restaurants. The fact that I've been sexually harassed six ways to Sunday doesn't make it okay. It happens, but why do we need to make it seem like a thing that has to happen, and that, when it does happen, it doesn't matter? Here, this woman is having a shitty day. The male cook says he's on break (which, really, do you not have customers? although, I will say that the state-mandated "breaks" I had to take at Fridays were ridiculous), the woman is obviously tired, she's frustrated. We think that she's upset because, well, her work environment sucks and she's slinging grease at a diner. No. She's upset because she's on her period.

She's upset because she's a woman, having something that only a woman can have. Something that makes us intrinsically different from men.

Beyond the fact that there are thousands of items marketed to women that men don't need (women don't need makeup, yes, but the societal expectation is that we wear it, however ridiculous that may be, and men definitely don't need tampons, or pads, or "feminine products," since it's only women that are expected to keep their bits shiny and clean and sparkly at all times...which is unfortunate), this is basically saying that she can and should put up with assholes, but that, really, the whole problem will be solved by her taking Midol. Her boss won't be awful, her job will be wonderful, and her life will be great, all because she took something to fix her "woman problems."

What the fuck.

Beyond the tacky blue coats of the Midol women, their very cluelessness (not their fault, they're actors) is disturbing. I know there's a long trend of women being awful to other women, but come on ladies.

What should have happened is this:

Cook is awful. Waitress tells him that's inappropriate. Cook leaves anyway (because you have to have an antagonist, and Nazis just don't work here). Girls at counter say "what an ass. You don't have to put up with that." Waitress says, "You know what, I don't. I need this job, but I'm going to complain to someone who has the power to fix this problem, without fear of repercussion. Hooray equality! Now if only I could get rid of these cramps." Girls say, "Oh, I've got some Midol. Now go crush the patriarchy!"


Of course that doesn't happen. Part of this is because it's a familiar setup. Which is the root of the problem, really, since commercials like this perpetuate the idea that it's okay to treat women in the service industry, and in general, like children/second-class citizens/whatever. But there's another problem. And that problem is how we talk about "women things."

For example, we all know that menstruation does not involve blue, dish soap-esque liquid that is poured neatly out of a beaker. And yet.

And we all know that, no matter who you are, you are not going to wear that tiny white bikini in the sand, while on your period, for 8 hours and not worry about it. You're just not.

But we can't talk about it on TV. Why?

Yeah. I'll be the first to admit that anything you need help with that involves Midol (which is a miracle drug) is probably gross. It's certainly not fun. And I don't want to talk to people about it. But really? We all know what those tampons are for! And we ALL know that that poor waitress doesn't need a Midol - she needs equal pay, to tell that cook where he can shove it, and less annoying customers who don't order anything trying to solve all her problems by blaming them on her sex.

Of course, women aren't the only ones subject to this kind of ridiculousness.

Men can't do laundry. Men can't care for children. Men can't follow directions. Men can't commit. Men have to be dragged into marriage. Men always want to cheat. Men can't cook. Men can't change diapers. Men can't clean up after themselves.

Basically, we should clean up after men, make sure they are taking care of their own offspring properly, force them into marriage, keep them on a tight leash, and do a cute sigh and head tilt whenever they mess something up. In return, they will fix (but not clean) things, drive the car while women give directions, and play with the children, but for much too long and rambunctiously.


I know lots of capable, caring, clean (my roommate is generally way cleaner than I am), direction-capable, looking for commitment, loyal, culinary men.

Why is it "okay" (it's not, but it is in advertising and general discourse) for us to say these things about men, basically relegating them to sex-specific roles, but people are in an uproar (usually...hopefully) about women being stereotyped this way? Why can we be pissed about "keeping women in the kitchen" but not about "keeping men in the garage"?

There's not an easy answer for this. I don't even know that there is an answer.

Really I just know that I'm pissed off.

We, women, can not expect men, or even want men, to treat us as equals if we don't treat them the same way. We can't say that we can do anything if we don't agree, wholeheartedly, that men can too.

We can't be gender equals if we keep letting our silly biology get in the way where it shouldn't.

I did see one commercial today that really made me hopeful that this was going away:

First, girls are gross too.

Second, this guy refers to himself as an "expert dad" and he obviously has a ton of responsibility in raising his kid and caring for her and their living space. We don't know if he's a single dad, a dad who stays at home, what, but we do see a father who is not in any way incompetent with his children or laundry.

Thank the lord.

The other kind of awful trend I've noticed lately is about Greek people.

Not actual Greeks. Stereotypes of what Greek-Americans are like.

Yes, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was hilarious. And we all have cultural stereotypes that are super true. Growing up a German-ish kid, I ate a ton of strangely named breads and onions and meat and, as the grandchild of a first-generation American, I also ate weird instant mashed potatoes (which I absolutely still love - and I'm glad I'm not the only one, Amanda Lee!) But these are too much:

Let me make snide comments about your hair! Let me force you to eat! (My gramma absolutely did this...but not everyone does.) Let me make disparaging faces at you!

Some of the comments (ugh...) say she "sounds so Jewish" or "haha Greek people!" neither of which are good. Why is it okay to make fun of an entire ethnic group/community to sell a product?

These are the worst though:

So Yia Yia thinks you dress like a prostitute? Well, that's problematic first - why does she care? Why is it her business? Also, not everyone in Europe carries bundles of sticks and dresses like their in the "Old World." And, people who do certainly can't afford and don't have access to fancy processed hummus.

We're basically seeing "you deserve it" mentality combined with colonial superiority and cultural appropriation. Awesome.

I don't mean to be negative about everything. These just really bother me because they seem, on the surface, so innocuous, that they worm their way into our consciousness.

Finally, there's this gem:

The first 20 seconds = hilarious. I love Robin Williams, and the Snickers commercials are super funny. But then, why does a cheerleader have to fall off the top of the pyramid? Yeah, Bobcat Goldthwait is funny, and his physical humor is entertaining, but it's NOT funny when cheerleaders fall.

In this New York Times article from 2008, "Injury Risk for Girls Not Much to Cheer About," they cite some startling numbers:

"This summer the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, which tracks sports safety nationwide, reported that cheerleading accounted for two-thirds of all catastrophic injuries among female high school and college athletes. The group has documented 93 incidents resulting in death, head injury or permanent disability between 1982 and 2007. While it’s a small number, it translates to a rate of 2.68 catastrophic injuries for every 100,000 female high school cheerleaders, which exceeds the rate for many other high school sports."

What? 2.68 per 100,000? And that doesn't even include the non-catastrophic injuries, many of which are permanent and career-ending. I broke bones, suffered concussions, and have lingering pain and injuries, 15 years later, because of cheerleading. It's a dangerous and often un-regulated sport. And women are injured badly much more than men, although there are certainly male cheerleaders who are injured doing floor work, lifting, running, etc.

But, you know, eat a Snickers and you're fine. 

And even if you do fall, it's funny, cause you're just hungry. 

(But don't eat a Snickers, because you'll get fat.)

It's funny that the coach, assuming he's not having a stroke, starts quoting Robin Williams.

It's absolutely not funny that a hungry cheerleader falls on her face from the top of a pyramid. If that were a real cheerleader, beyond the fact that she would have serious emotional scarring, and probably some fear and trust issues, could have broken her wrists, her neck, one or more facial bones, a collarbone, either or both arms, hurt either or both legs, cracked a rib, gotten a concussion, been knocked out, or even, depending on the surface and how hard/fast and at what angle she fell, could have died.

But dead cheerleaders are funny. Because they should have just eaten a Snickers.

Okay. That's all I've got. But seriously - let's start evaluating the mindless advertising we're inundated with a little more closely. I don't think we should be negative about everything. But there are some things that are incredibly difficult to overlook, and we shouldn't be trying to.

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