Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ad Dumb

Amanda Marcotte unpacks an ad for Chrysler's shitty vehicles:

The assumption is that men resent having to be responsible people who get shit done, and women relish it. In a way, it's that different from the 50s, when the assumption was that women are completely fulfilled by wiping asses and men and only men needed to have a public life with meaningful work to feel fulfilled. In fact, it's basically the same message. The one thing that's improved dramatically is the notion that women are too stupid to tie their shoes without a man's guidance, but the underlying message that women aren't really people continues to dominate much of advertising.
I don't think this ad partakes of the assumption that women relish being responsible for the tiresome necessities of life; it supplies no direct information about that unless through a couple of removes of strained inference, and if we're going to start trading in strained inferences, we might as well just accept Godwin's Law and declare modern civilization a failure that died in the ovens of Treblinka.

[Clearing throat] The ad doesn't say much about what women want from life apart from a list of annoying-to-men particulars cribbed from stereotypes. Not long after the ad appeared, a self-labeled "spoof" appeared taking women's side:

Much of this is puzzling in its excess of abjection -- "I will watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop twice;" "I will elect male politicians who will make decisions about my body" -- but it's not obvious what makes it a spoof. It's a straightforward rejoinder, thankfully without any insipid equation of muscle cars with human liberation. Arguably, a retort in kind to a statement that was a self-parodying whine must count as a kind of spoof, but I think we should expect better of spoofs.

All sides are basically right -- the man, the woman, Amanda Marcotte, that Godwin guy. The thing Marcotte has very right is that the ad does nothing to make anyone think women are people; at the same time, it must be said it does little more to suggest that men are people. Advertising is a rather weak form when  it comes to representing the fullness of the human persons it marshals.

Even the aforementioned maker of shitty cars has done nothing more objectionable than to pander to some of men's self-pitying vanities and then offering a shitty car as compensation. This is awful in its way, but converting mindless doxa to product demand is what advertising exists to do, and while I am roughly as sympathetic as the next tee-vee viewer to shuttering all the advertising and marketing agencies by this time tomorrow, I recognize it's a free society, mostly, and that free societies can be counted on to produce that which antagonizes, insults, and manipulates us. It's what reminds us we're alive when nothing else manages.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Yes, we're alive and it is so tiring.

Tiring that ads are still trading in worn out stereotypes, and that a vast swath of the population cannot, or is too lazy to think beyond them. Yes, men and women still do these things to each other, maybe to a lesser degree than in the past, but ads like these do nothing more than perpetuate stilted thinking. Please, let's find some common ground to build on rather than widen the Grand Canyon-sized gap, but also admit and accept that there are some fundamental differences between men and women that we need to try to understand and maybe even appreciate rather than ridicule and shrug off.