Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gender Stereotypes in Commercials, Television & Film

Gender stereotypes are not as prevalent in television with adults; yet, children are still confined to the roles of their specific gender. Commercials, and other forms of media continue to show men, women, boys and girls portraying gender roles which are planting in the fetus by society at large. Children learn from a very early age how they should behave, dress, speak, and what toys to play with.

One must understand the term, gender, to grasp the concept of stereotyping among boys and girls. According to Margaret Mooney Marini, “Scholars now use the term sex to refer to biological based distinctions between the sexes and the term gender to refer to the social construction of differences between women and men” (Marini 95).

Basically, gender means what society believes are the functions of men and women. For example; women wear pink, while a heterosexual man is called soft, and subject to having his sexuality challenged. Certain actions are associated with the female gender, such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children. The male gender is thought to be the one who is interested in cars and competition.

This love of cars and competing against other boys is one type of gender based toy advertising. Most commercials are, either, aimed to sell to boys or girls, rarely both, (unless it is some type of board game). Many women, especially feminist, will say the girls get the short end of the diversity stick. Ayen Bakir and Kay M. Palan explain that, “One aspect that may play a significant role in how a child responds to a television advertisement is the degree to which the execution of the ad evokes his or her understanding of gender, that is, the degree to which the ad makes gender salient to the child” (Bakir, Palan 35).

Children respond to what they feel is important in maintaining the fact that they are a boy or a girl. If a girl, for example, associates a beautiful pink dollhouse with being a prerequisite for being who she is, a girl, than she wants that dollhouse, because she wants to be a normal part of her society. Sense a great deal of society, especially children, receive their gender identification from outside sources, such as television, it is a win win for the advertiser. They sell their product, and keep little girls from thinking outside the box. Thus, making the job of the copywriter an easy, albeit lazy, occupation.

The Barbie commercial below is an example of gender stereotyping. All of the girls are dressed in pretty, pastel colors, indicating the soft and sweetness of little girls. Most adults are wise enough to know that all little girls are not the saccharine images portrayed in this commercial. However, most commercial appear to indicate this to be so, leaving a confused bunch of soccer, and softball loving young girls. While, girls playing sports is much more common now than it used to be, some girls are still called tomboys if they play them. Being competitive is associated with the male gender.

The music on the commercial even evokes certain gentleness because children (they sound like girls, but one should not assume squeaky voices only belong to girls) are singing. Naturally, the dollhouse in which they are advertising is also made up of different light shades of pink, purple, and blue. They are also inside the house, which is also a common trait with girls. The characteristics of this commercial, definitely, do not belong to the advertising of little boy products.

This commercial for Monster Trucks displays a, decidedly different method for reaching its audience of boys. In accordance with gender stereotypes, this thirty second commercial is loud. Most boys, let us face it, are perceived as loud. Therefore, the narrator or voiceover person presents a deep, commanding voice. It is violent because, right from the beginning, a huge monster hand tears down a mountain of dirt.

The music in this commercial resembles one of a platoon marching with a drill Sergeant. This, of course, is exactly the point. Boys associate the military with manliness, because this is what society tells them males do. It evokes power for boys and men. The advertisement, even, uses the words big and powerful throughout.

However, just because boys are often seen as the powerful of the genders, it is not always a good thing. Lois J. Smith notes that, “It is easy to see the limitations for girls’ behaviors in existing television commercials, but the boys also have limitations. Ads do not portray them as nurturing or sharing. Commercial messages often show them as aggressive, physically active, and needing to win. What of the boy who could play a different role? Just as girls should not be limited to their homes, boys should be allowed to be kind and sharing” (Smith 15).

Confining one’s child to the activities specific to what society says male and female genders should do is doing a disservice to both sexes. When, as Jennifer J. Pike and Nancy A. Jennings say, “Commercials present gender stereotypes through overt factors, such as activities and language, as well as through more subtle features, such as voiceovers and production features” (1195), it is hard to do away with what a child believes he/she is capable of. The ramification of these images stays in the mind of girls and boys well into their adulthood. This explains why men always tend to want to be seen as the stronger sex, and women are eager to let them believe they are.

Most of society believes that women are the physically weaker sex, while men are the emotional weaker sex because of the way the sexes are tied to gender specifications. Yes, there is truth in the fact that most men are stronger; yet, some women can hold their own against a man. Perhaps, not with brute force, but with other forms of combat, such as martial arts, and other self-defense tactics. Yet, until recently, one would never believe this to be true.

This type of female empowerment usually reserved for adult women to play. Strong women are portrayed in films like The Matrix franchise and various movies staring Angelina Jolie. There are also movies showing men in a more sensitive light such as American Beauty with Kevin Spacey, and Revolutionary Road with Leonardo DiCaprio. These types of films show men and women representing characteristics which are opposite of what society says their gender should represent.

The scene below represents ashift towards changing the gender roles in which women and men are chained to. The first scene shows Angelina Jolie’s character of Mrs. Smith is seen kicking some serious behind in the movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Not only does she shoot at the bad guys, she is a bad guy, herself. Jolie plays an assassin who can drive a car just as a man is thought to be able to do. She can handle several firearms at once. She is fearlessly, fierce, and performing all of the action movies in which most men, including Brad Pitt, himself, is able to perform. These are the kind of roles she is famous for.

In contrast there are male parts which may remind people more of how society thinks women should be. Women are thought to be the more emotional of the two sexes, as far as gender functions in this society, particularly, American Society. Usually, men do not make a habit of showing their feelings and anguish. Yet, as shown below, in the movie Revolutionary Road, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays anguish to perfection.

In the movie, (a decent clip was difficult to find) he portrays a man confused about his options in life. Although, he has a good job, somehow he stills feels empty. So when his wife, portrayed by the magnificent, Kate Winslet, wants to move to Paris, he, uncharacteristically of a male, agrees to pack up all of their belongings and move. Most of the time the male gender would choose to be sensible in movies and television. Usually it is the woman, who is happens to be confined to the gender role of only being a wife and a mother, wants a change.

Although, in the end of the movie he decides because of a promotion, it was refreshing to see him, at least, think about another alternative of living. Yet, the movie reverts back to what a typical male, especially during the 1950s, would do. He got a promotion and changed his mind. However, when the wife finds out she is pregnant with their third child, in another reversal of gender roles, he is the one who wants to keep the baby. While, Winslet does not.

The movie, although tragic in the end, presents what is seen as gender specific, and the tragedy of those stereotypes. Women may not have necessarily wanted many children, because of America’s history of oppression of women, and gender stereotypes which have taught them it is wrong to not want babies. This movie is a perfect example of what this type of discourse can occur as a result of gender blindness. Because she felt trapped in motherhood she kills herself with a botched self-inflicted abortion.

While, this movie presents the worst thing which could happen because of gender biased, the reality for this kind of tragedy still exist. Yet, all is not gloom and doom for the outcome of America’s stereotypes and its affect on children, as well as adults.

There are some glimpses of hope for young men and women of the future to get past the hurdles of gender based advertisements and television shows. As Sarah Banet-Weiser says, “In the past decade the representation of girls on television has been influenced by the more general mainstreaming of feminist rhetoric, and Nickelodeon has led the way in terms of children’s television” (Banet-Weiser 125).

Many shows on Nickelodeon feature teenagers who are empowered, and have the same type of confidence and outspokenness, generally, associated with boys. Shows such as, I Carly, Hannah Montana (whether one likes it or not), and a few others of the same caliber express young women in a variety of ways.

The character of Carly, played by teen, Miranda Cosgrove, on I Carly has her own web show. She produces her own show with the help of another female teen character, Sam, who is portrayed by Jennette McCurdy. Sam’s character truly steps out of the boundaries of gender assumptions. She is tough and does not take anyone disrespecting her. McCurdy plays her with such tenacity one does not think about her being a female character pretending to be tough, she is tough on her own merit. Usually in the media the teenage boy is thought to be the aggressor. She blows this stereotype out of the water.

This montage of clips featuring McCurdy says it all.

Who would not want their little girl to be able to stand up for herself in this manner? She is not waiting on the typical male, according to stereotypical gender roles, to bail her out of any situation. Sam is her own hero. Even, if one is not a feminist this kind of chutzpa from a young girl or boy is to be admired. So, hats off to the kid. Society can only hope that one day we will get past such stereotypes in the near future.

The media has a way of making us believe what we are watching, listening too, and reading. It is up to the individual, and individual parents, to let their children understand that they do not ever have to be trapped by what this society tells them they should act, or be. Who knows if we will ever get there, but television stations like Nickelodeon will help the cause. One can see Jennette McCurdy as the next female action hero. And when she does become one it will not be an issue. What a day that will be.

Works Cited:
Baker, Aysen and Kay M. Paylan. “How are Children’s Attitudes Towards Ads and Brands Affected by Gender-Related Content in Advertising.” Journal of Advertising.
(Spring 2010) V39 1, p35.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Girls Rule!! Gender, Feminism and Nickelodeon.” Critical Studies in Media Communication. (June 2004) V21,N.2. Pp 119-139.

Mooney-Marini, Margaret. “Sex and Gender: What Do We Know.” Sociological Forum.
(Mar. 1990) V5,1. Pp 95-120.

Pike, Jennifer J. and Nancy A. Jennings. “The Effects on Commercials on Children’s Perceptions of Gender Appropriate Toy Use.” Sex Roles. (January 2005) V.52, No ½. Pp 83-91.

Smith, Lois J. “A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in Children’s Advertising.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. (Summer 1994), V.38 I 3, p323.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Usual Suspects" and Postmodernism

The Usual Suspects presents a perfect example of Postmodernism. There is not an easy conclusion. While, the audience and the detective finally figure out who the worst of the bad guys is, there are several other unscrupulous characters in the movie.

The movie begins with a group of thieves planning a heist. When they are caught by the police, flashbacks show different lewd actions by all of the characters. The one telling the story presents himself as a cripple, who is not the brightest bulb in the bunch. Therefore, the detective does not see him as a threat. He figures that the cripple man will squeal on the rest of the bunch.

Modernism might present a resolution, or insight, into the minds of these characters, and find something good in them to forgive. However, the brilliance of this movie lies in the fact that it does not. Jeff Jenson points out that the writer of the movie, "McQuarrie was dead set on painting his bad guys irredeemably bad. Hence, "no criminals with easily explained motivations, no commercially mandated redemption, and no camera tricks, either" (Jensen 50)

This description of Christopher McQuarrie's script speaks to the meaning of Postmodernism. In the same article for Rolling Stone Magazine, Jenson quotes McQuarrie as saying, "'I just didn't want to make a movie about those same friggin characters in the same f---cking way,'" (Jenson 50). By choosing to go outside the cookie-cutter ending and presenting these complicated, albeit doomed characters, with a more realistic view of the conscience of the criminal make the movie much more memorable.

McQuarrie sought to go an the opposite direction of predictability. Postmodernism also wishes to look beyond the obvious for problem solving in a text or film. Everything is not always so clear cut, in fact, most problems are not. In film, text, and music (although not as much in lyrics) writers lean toward resolution.
However, as Aaron Schutz says, "Postmodern writing generally seeks to complicate the ideas of simple unities and identities" (Schutz 218).

Many critics do not like this form of text because it makes no sense to them. But, does every problem, every mystery, have a solution? The challenge is to explore what might come after the ending of the story. This leaves one's imagination to go in any direction it wishes to go. There is freedom in this concept. One's logic does not have to end when the credits role.

The end of "The Usual Suspects" provides the audience to do just this. As the cripple finishes telling his story of pure fiction (or is it?) he leaves the precinct. When the detective figures out he is in fact Kaiser Soso, the villain of all villains, this is classic cinema. Schutz decribes this type of postmodernism as, "Stragegies [that are] thoroughly situated and contextualized; they are employed for particular purposes in particular contexts at particular times" (Shutz 218).

It all comes together for the detective and the audience when the cripple, as he exits the precinct, begins to walk perfectly, and lights a cigarette. The detective pieces all of the colorful stories he was told by him. Just as he was stunned, and dropped his coffee on the floor, so too was the audience. I would say this is Postmodernism at its very finest.

Works Cited

Jensen, Jeff. "The Trigger Movie; Christopher McQuarrie, Writer of 'The Usual Suspect," Goes 'The Way of the Gun." Rolling Stone. (Sept.22, 2000) pg. 50.

Schutz, Aaron. "Teaching Freedom? Postmodernism Perspectives." Review of Educational Research. V70, No.2 (Summer 2010). pg. 215-251.

Orientalism Presentation

My contribution to our group project had to with the finding quotes of Said and Foucault regarding the power struggles that the European culture wishes to have over the Middle Eastern culture. What I found during my research (which I did not express very well in the presentation) was that Said was, at one time, fond of Foucault's philosophy's, but then his opinion changed. It changed because, while Said was more interested in the human aspect of orientalism, Foucault spoke in more political term with less humanity towards the Middle Eastern people and culture. Said believed that Americans were more interested in how they want other cultures to be seen in the eyes of Europeans. Most of the time the people and culture was not presented in a positive light.
I also contributed to the brainstorming of ideas during our group get together in the Oviatt Library.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marxism & Advertising

Although it pains me to use this Public Service Announcement because of who it features, it reminds me of what I understand Marxism to represent. Bristol brings home the point of how the economically fortunate and the economically challenged have completely different realities when faced with the challenging situation of teenage pregnancy.

The teenage daughter of an elected well-to-do politician has the luxury of knowing her child will grow up in a privileged world, solely because of class status. She has the benefit of keeping up appearances. Her looks appear to be of a normal teenager who is able to stay youthful and attractive.

The viewer knows that she will not have the same level of stress as an everyday, low or middle income girl. This coincides with Marx's view that, "we are all situated his historically and socially, and our social and historical contexts "determine" or shape our lives" (Rivkin,Ryan 644). In other words, when one is poor the same opportunities will not be afforded to her.

As the image changes one can see the more realistic account of what she may go through. Her looks become more haggard and tired. The baby is not dressed as well. Her physical living space becomes more sparse. Marx might use this as an example of how the inequality of economic equity effects people in this situation. Marx said, "The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production" (Marx 653).

The material things, relating to this PSA, are the lack of things the baby and Bristol are surrounded by. And, naturally, one can take it to mean the serious financial burden that will be placed on the "regular" Bristol. Money is certainly material.

One baby will more than likely have a better chance in life by virtue of the family he/she is born into.

Works Cited
Marx, Karl. “Introduction: The German Ideology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 653-658.

Rivkin, Julie & Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Starting with Zero: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 642-646.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

portrait of school students (8-10) standing in thoughtful poses

Psychoanalysis - To Believe Or Not To Believe

Many adult behaviors are attributed to the psychoanalyzing of his/her childhood. What traumas in one's early existence caused him to be a such a jackass today? Is she neurotic mass of insecurity about men, because she had no father as a child? I am sure some of a person's personality, and life choices has to do with what he may have experienced in his younger life, but adults should, also, take responsibility for their own behaviors.

Although,someone may have had a rough childhood it does not give him a license to be a menace. Having said that, I do believe that proper therapy or psychoanalysis can help someone get over things in one's past that may be producing negative affects in a person's daily emotional life. Some traumas are so devastating, therapy is, really, the only way to deal with them.

So, I suppose psychoanalysis is a double-edge sword. The importance of digging through past experiences in order to cure oneself can be invaluable. However, harming others because of those issues is not acceptable, in my humble opinion.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What a Picture Says

Dreams, visions of the past, present, and future all wrapped into one incomplete piece of confusion. There are possibilities where belief refuses to breath, and rainbows where black and white appear to live. Restless clouds break the bond of smooth transitions, reeling in the reality of life's cruelness.

Angst is disguised by memorizing, grey clouds separating colorful yards of euphoria. Reality refuses to allow such kind visions of an absolute mess. The twilight hours pore sand into the open cuts of anxiousness. Sleep tight through the unknown world, deep relaxation, and wake with the sweet knowledge you will see the light again.

Poetry Picture & Formalism

The reading I have done on Formalism leads me to believe that the theory has a lot to do with poetry, and which the images they conjure up for the reader. Viewing this picture, instantly, brought me to an unscientific form of writing, which some call poetry or verse writing. If one were to read the verse, they might see this painting in their imagination. This piece of art stirred my thoughts.

In defining poetry, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan state, “In the analysis of poetry, the Formalist focus was on the qualities of poetic language that distinguish it from ordinary, practical language, the distinction between the literary and the non-literary being more pronounced in this genre” (4). While, there is no strange word, the concept could be considered of the cosmic world. Rivkin and Ryan also point out that, “American New Criticism - was anti-scientific and interested in the nonrational dimension of art” (5). Dreams have the tendency to be quite irrational.

Perception of the painting is also a part of Formalism. Viktor Shklovsy states, “If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic” (15). The painting brought many perceptions. Beautiful colors, images of rainbow lace, broken up by clouds of doom presented the image, or perception, of happiness on the outside of depression and gloom.

The colors, however, can be perceived as a sign of the hope of better days to come. The sporadic use of lace, clouds, and blue skies carry visions how sometimes one has no order to what he/she dreams. They are all mixed up. Formalist, Shklovsy says, “art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things as they are perceived and not as they are known“(16). One really does not know what was in the artist mind when they drew it, and this is the beauty of it. The audience can decide what it means to her.

This picture meant creating a poem, or verse, whatever one wants to call it. So, it may be kind of formalism in reverse, but I think it still counts.

Work Cited
Rivkin, Julie & Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Formalism.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 4-6

Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 14-21.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Structuralism and Advertising

Structuralism, in my limited understanding of the term, refers to linguistic signs and interpretation. One word or phrase has the ability to conjure up a certain image or images. This image can be diverse to different individuals. I thought of the Budweiser commercial where everyone expresses the phrase, “What’s up” in many unique sounds.

Obviously, the phrases, in a literal sense, means, “How are you?” However, in modern culture these words represent urbanization or certain coolness. Speaking it the way the people do in the commercial means one is up with the slang of the times. The visual aspect only confirms the humor such slang can signify. Thus, making the image itself a signifier.

The commercial is linguistic sign, and as Ferdinand de Saussure states that, “unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound image,” (61). The concept is humor and unity because many types of people are associated with the new animated usage of the term. The sign is “What’s Up,” and the signifier is communication and keeping drinking beer with family and friends.

Using structuralism in a beer commercial brainwashes a television watching society into immediately visualizing and hearing the phrase as silly and crazy as the people in it. This, I have to say, is a brilliant marketing strategy because the advertisement is funny. One could very well associate the phrase with the image. Thus, bringing to mind Budweiser Beer.
Who would have thought a thirty-second spot on television could compare to structuralism?
The phrase existed long before the commercial. Yet, because “language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system” (70), this is not hard to fathom. The concept of “What’s up” still means the same thing, but the visual and phonetic sound varies now because of the ad.

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Work Cited
De Saussure, Ferdinand. “Course in General Linguistics.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 59-72.