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Sunday, October 2, 2011

>>Ocular Deception: Television’s Hypocrisy<< [Unit I]

The current generation of adolescents and young adults grew up with easy access to what is known as “the idiot box”. At a young age, children are not usually educated about the problems brought forth by the subtle messages within movies, commercials, and cartoons. Most would not understand the concept of gender categorizations and stereotypes even if they knew it existed. So, as they sit in front of the screen watching the seemingly innocent shows like Scooby Doo, Dexter’s Lab, and The Power Puff Girls, they subconsciously analyze the show’s characters based on the roles they play. They would look at Dee-Dee prancing around in her tutu like a ballet dancer, Freddy splitting up the gang to go with the girls, and how “girl power” always triumphs over giant monsters or mythical creatures. While the children sit with blank stares on their faces and cheerios to munch on as they watch their favorite shows, their own brains process the distinction between the two sexes as seen on TV. They grow older, unaware of the endless game of pretend they began to play as a toddler, forcing upon them the impossible quest of becoming the protagonist of everyone’s media-encompassed lives. “In reality, gender is a practice in which all people engage; it is something we perform over and over in our daily lives. In this sense, gender is something we ‘do’ rather than ‘have.’ Through a process of gender socialization, we are taught and learn the appropriate thinking and behaviors associated with being a boy or girl in this culture” (1). Now, it seems as if most males aspire to be like Jonny Bravo, and every female to be like Wonder Woman. Of course, the newest products advertised on TV and the movies aired on the big screen do not help reverse this process at all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnGnl-UElVA (A man’s man?)

When one examines the televised ads for products, more than enough evidence is found that coincides with the following statements: “Men are foregrounded in commercials”, “Women are sexy props or prizes for men’s successful sports performances or consumption choices”, and “Whites are foregrounded in commercials”. (2) Almost all commercials aired on television go by these “rules” in an attempt to grab the attention of those who do not know any better. Here are some specific examples:

1. Nerf dart gun ads. The first video clip shown in the commercial is a large group of white male teenagers with one African American male to the far left, who immediately runs off screen as the rest of the group runs forward. There are no females in the entirety of the ad, which is based off the assumption that only boys play with guns (which is a lie). The guns themselves are given names that resemble standard military weaponry, such as the ECS-50, and some men even wear ammunition vests with darts in them. At the end, a group of roughly 50 males scream “It’s Nerf or nothing”, with only five men of color, all of which are in the background.

2. A commercial promoting clean energy using wave power. The entire ad is nothing more than a 10-year-old girl in a bikini playing in the waves while the camera follows her wet, bony, exposed body as if she were a prostitute. The provocative nature of the video does not help their cause. In fact, it makes them seem more like pedophiles.

3. A Dominos Pizza commercial. The hook for consumers? A white man with a fancy accent and an expensive coat praising the pizza in front of him while two white, young, thin, and seductive women holding puppies stand on either side of him trying to look sexy. None of that has anything to do with pizza, so the only reason any of that is included is for eye candy, pure and simple.

4. The Nutrisystem diet plan. While a white male speaks in the background about how great the deal is. The images, however, only show white women in their 20’s at the latest as they tell viewers that it is a necessity to look good before you walk in public. The one before and after comparison that was shown was the most shocking part of the commercial. The image on the left, known as “before”, showed an attractive woman in her 30’s with no weight problems and showing off her strong-looking thighs and well-kept curly hair. The “changed” woman posing on the right was nothing more than skin and bones with long, straight hair and a sloppy, fake, orange tan, claiming to have lost 50 pounds. If the image on the left was what people considered to be unattractive, then every single young woman in the University of Denver would be considered obese, and everyone who is anorexic and dying from starvation would be idolized for their “health”. Some thoughts about this ridiculous notion that being a stick is a goal to strive for are well-said by Nomy Lamm: “The most widespread mentality regarding body image at this point is something along the lines: Women look in the mirror and think, ‘I’m fat,’ but really they’re not. Really they’re thin” (3) “One of my friends read her book and said that the first half of it is all about fat oppression and talks about how hard it is to be fat in our society, but then it says: So use my great new diet plan! This kind of thing totally plays on our emotions so that we think, Wow, this person really understands me. They know where I’m coming from, so they must know what is best for me” (3).

5. A Big Time Rush concert semi-ad. The only people in the video are white. At one point, the camera moves to the crowd they are playing in front of. In the nearly literal sea of whites, there is not one single person of color to be found. What kind of message this implies should not be discussed here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC5aGCOT6bs (Sexist car commercial)

While there are thousands more commercials on television that use the theme of white males being dominant, the movies that are released are just as ludicrously choosy when it comes down to who plays the lead role.

One movie in particular that has plenty of sexist portrayals of women is the movie titled Stripes. The two main characters join the army to get away from their own lives as New York garbage. During their time in the army, they meet two attractive young women who are on duty as Military Police. However, instead of enforcing anything, they are portrayed as passive and constantly looking for a jerk to get in bed with. Later on in the movie, the same two women find the two main characters fighting with each other, and once again do not use any authority. Instead, they let them off with a warning. This quickly becomes a recurring theme for these two young ladies. However, the most scandalous part of the movie, more so than the scene where the main characters and their women partners have intercourse in a superior officer’s house, is when the whole platoon goes to a strip club to watch nude women mud wrestle. As is the case in an earlier scene, when the commander is spying on the nude women in the shower as they touch themselves, there is no censoring at all. “In this way, bodies are like cultural artifacts; culture becomes embodied and is literally inscribed or represented through the body at the same time that the objectification of women’s bodies (seeing the body as an object and separate from its context) is supported by the media and entertainment industries. Note that these norms about the body rely on the notion of the healthy and/or abled body” (4). There is enough nudity and genital flashing to classify this movie as a porno rather than a feature film, even if it is rated R.

In short, TV shows and ads act as a center for gender stereotyping on both sides of the spectrum. Because of the way women are portrayed, it is often forgotten that the color of a woman’s hair, or the type of shoes she wears, or even the brand of anti-perspirant she applies does not make her more beautiful than any other woman in the world. It is just because of how modern day culture portrays “beauty” that people feel that they cannot live a normal life without being heavily underweight. So long as white men greatly outnumber all other groups while watching the idiot box, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

(1) Learning Gender in a Diverse Society

(2) Center of Attention: The Gender of Sports Media by Michael A. Messner

(3) It’s a Big Fat Revolution by Nomy Lamm

(4) Inscribing Gender on the Body by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee


  1. I would like to bring up a question to ponder. When a character for a show or other form of entertainment are they generally a natural character that you could meet in the real world? I would like to argue that many of the shows like Johnny Bravo and The Power Puff Girls are simple over characterization that allows us not to wonder what they are thinking or how they'd react. Also, if children are always exposed to these things how were they being conditioned before the television? Could we really blame the media for genderization when previous generations are clearly less accepting of feminist ideals and those of different sexualities?

  2. I feel bad that I laughed pretty hard at the sexist car commercial, especially since it was made to be serious. Granted, I do know a lot of women who are horrible drivers and get lost daily, but I do know a lot of guys that don't know how to change a tire, given they were in the situation the commercial was hinting at.

    Regarding children's television, people have always told me how funny they think it is that Disney movies and other childhood shows have all this superior humor for adults that goes right over the kids' heads. I've never thought that much about the other things in those shows though. All of the girls are very feminized (with maybe the exception of baby Nala in the Lion King) and the men are overly masculine. Men, even boys, are portrayed as buff, wealthy, or smart. The girls rarely stray from pretty and pink. It is no wonder people feel guilty for being "different," our whole childhood is filled with the "right" way to act according to our gender.

  3. You brought up good examples of sexist and gender-stereotypical ads/shows. It makes me wonder who writes these scripts? Are these people trying to be sexist and trying to make kids conform to these social norms, or are they just creating characters they think the most average person could relate to? My guess is the latter, but then again, are there any kids on your block you would call normal?

    I wish I could say these gender-stereotypical shows are awful and kids shouldn't watch them. But to be honest, when I was a kid I was obsessed with Powerpuff girls and Barbie movies. I was also completely unaware of these stereotypes and expectations, and I was a tomboy at heart. These shows are very stereotypical, but we can't forget about good old Kim Possible and her incredible fighting skills.

  4. I really enjoyed how you talked about the gender socialization just in television, because I believe that ideas of gender are in abundance here. This being said, I was taught by my parents at a very young age to recognize the false images and messages I was seeing on television. (But, I was one of those kids who really never watched a lot of television, so maybe I’m in the minority here.) Still, I am going to have to agree with Madeline’s comment on this one. I think I was too young and naïve to feel the pressure to be skinny, pretty, and have a hot man. I really think I was unaware at such a young age of these pressures.

    I personally think we are more affected by media in our teen years (13-19) when we are the most insecure, self-aware, and self-conscious. This is why I really enjoyed reading the second half of your article with the numbered examples of commercials and the messages they portrayed. I agree that the pictures of women on television make me feel pressured to be skinny and pretty like them. I wish I didn’t feel this way and that I still possessed the naivety and ignorance that I had when I was a little kid. Yet, the reality is we are bombarded at teenagers and young adults by messages on how we are “supposed” to look, act, and feel. So, are we supposed to get used to it and learn to ignore it? Or, have we reached to point where we need to do something about it?

  5. @Ethan Wright: It is because of the shows exaggerated gender roles that children get the implication that it is cool. For example, did you ever have a time as a child where you saw something on TV and decided, "Hey, that guy is cool and funny! I can imitate that by playing pretend, and maybe someone will think I am cool and funny too", or any simplification of the thought? I know that it happened to me a lot as a child, and because of trying to be like a certain character on TV to get more attention, I ended up inheriting certain traits I am not too proud of, like a lot of pride and an absolute hatred to fail at anything whatsoever. Also, before the media and televised gender roles, the main HQ for the process of what I think of as "brainwashing" came from the church. Women were taught by the church (which also controlled the government) that they were less than men, were beaten when they did not obey the will of their "masters", bled in order to keep a delicate pale complexion while going through dozens of births, and traded as property to family members when the husband passed away or whatnot. Before people began to actually think of the possibilities of scientific explanations to be more factual than the biblical figures, anyone who questioned them in any way were either killed or kept under house arrest. All in all, it was a crime to be a free woman. The concept that men were more competitive than women was the basis for the earliest civilizations, and it ended up leading to the mess we find ourselves in today.

  6. @Madeline Wogstad: The reason that these shows have gender stereotypes in them is because that is what people thought was supposed to be true of girls and boys. For the past 6,000 years, women were labeled as being emotional, quiet, fragile, passive, seductive, and most of all beautiful. On the other hand, boys were thought to be competitive, strong, fearless, heroic, talented, and reckless. You want to know why women were thought to be seductive? It was because men found themselves unable to control their urge to rape everything in sight. That overwhelming feeling of lust was then blamed on the ones they felt attracted to: the women. "Of course!" they exclaimed, "It isn't OUR fault for these feelings. The women are MAKING us have these feelings!" Living back in those days, before women had rights to even speak to men without being spoken to first, was probably the worst time for women to be alive. The weirdest part is the fact that the women thought it was true as much as the men did.

  7. @Natalie Casey: I agree with all of your comments that you made in your response. However, I think that because of being conditioned as a child, the factor that we are uncomfortable with ourselves is increased. In ancient times, to my understanding, teen boys were taught the ways of being a man by being physical, such as the Spartans being taken from their mothers and raised in a barracks killing slaves from the lands they conquered, and teen women were conditioned to be maids around the house and to give birth to children and raise them. The adults had so much of a hold on their kids that the kids had no reason to feel uncomfortable, because their parents had their lives on a leash. Today, all the main characters of shows are good looking by today's standards. If you want a couple hundred thousand examples, watch some Japanese anime. Or Google the word "anime" and you will see what I mean.

    As for your question at the end...I think the only way we can push past this idea that men always can solve their problems by fighting, like in Popeye, or that girls are supposed to be beautiful by doing each other's hair or getting a spa treatment (the commercial beauty that people tie directly to popularity status) is not to ignore it, but instead to acknowledge that guys are just girls with a growth on their hip. In order to completely remove gender roles from society, we have to make it a fact in every aspect that women and men of all shapes, sizes, and colors are all the same. We are grey blobs in a coloring book and a baby has scribbled on every page differently. If that can be accomplished, then equality is possible.

  8. I liked that you brought up children's television in your blog because I think its important to note what gender stereotypes children are exposed to at such a young age and the impact it has. Not only are they shown gender stereotypes but also how much weighs on their physical appearance. All the princess are beautiful and skinny and all the evil characters are warty, discolored, and deformed.
    You also had some great examples of gender stereotypes in ads as well. It has always amazed me how much sexiness is used in commercials for products that have nothing to do with sex.

  9. It's unfortunate that television is such a big socializing factor on children's development and inscription of gender roles. Advertisers stand to benefit from perpetuating the status quo, and even exaggerating its roles. When I have kids, I think I'll just make them read.

  10. I think that this article brings up a really important point. It's amazing how much TV and commercialism actually affect our lives consciously and unconsciously. This is definitely one of the reasons why so much sexism exists in our society. It's unreal that women are still okay with being so objectified in the media today. This much objectification and sexism is so detrimental to third wave feminism. It is something greatly overlooked, but so crucial to today's feminist fight.

  11. I have to say that we may notice these things, maybe the target audience doesn't. I never thought that because I was a girl that I couldn't be as smart as Dexter and I grew up loving these cartoons. I never really saw the inequality between the genders and races because I never saw the characters in that way. I just saw them as characters. Deedee was an annoying sister. Velma was the smart one out of the Scooby Doo gang. While I understand your point and I do agree it would be nice to see some equality in today's commercials, I think that a lot of the things we think might be a bad influence arn't nearly as bad as we think they are.

  12. @Elise: While the capability of characters have equalized over the last couple decades (like Velma being smart, and the show Ugly Betty speaks for itself) the point is not about capability, and more or less about the mannerisms. The idea for this article is that Jonny Bravo may not actually get a girlfriend, but the kids who watch the shows think "Oh, I like him, he's silly and cool. Maybe if I start being like him, other people will think I am cool too, and I will have lots of friends!" Little kids don't look at gender in a sexual way like teens do, but they can get the wrong idea about the differences between genders. Another amazing example is that on children's TV shows, even today, if a boy likes a girl, they assume that there is a huge difference between the two sexes, and try to act like someone they are not in order to gain her attention. The girl sees the boy as weird, and ignores him. This is a common theme on TV. It also delivers the wrong message: girls are different than boys in a big way, and the boy needs to impress the girl. Similarly, from the girl's point of view, they have to try to be a close to the guy they have a crush on as much as possible in order to gain HIS attention, and try to act like someone they are not to do it, because they themselves believe that they are inadequate to the opposite gender. I actually spoke with someone on WoW the other day who claimed exactly what I am saying here. She thinks that the boy she likes actually has a crush on her best friend, which is causing some jealousy and envy and whatever, so she is trying to be like "the girls on TV" and act super cute and somewhat seductive. However, I know as well as anyone that acting in a way that is unfamiliar to the person is not going to create a long lasting relationship, like each gender wants. But I don't want to go off topic too much, so to just sum it up: the boys and girls on TV are distinctly different. Sometimes there is one tomboy in the cast, or one gentle guy, but the majority of the characters are either pretty and pink girls or reckless and lovesick boys. I can see where you are coming from, but everyone's experience differs, as far as I can tell.

  13. elise I totally with you when say that we understand things when the target audience does not. Kids don't see the underlying message in the shows they are watching. Even some adults won't see the message. The media is definitely a major contributor to how people are thinking about the world and their life. They think its normal to lose tons of weight and have mainly white men in the commercials. Our society is conditioned beyond belief to think these things. Though I grew up watching Scooby Doo and I never thought it was that bad. If we start talking about things MTV shows then thats a whole other story.