Yesterday we were over to Pandagon reading about the sexist Superbowl commercials—which by the way are pretty sexist, even by advertising standards—and at first we just chalked the whole thing up to the need for people who create thirty second spots to rely on cultural stereotypes to do their work for them since exposition really isn’t an option. That and the fact that ads aren’t great literature to begin with, so the bar is already pretty low when it comes to aspects of quality, propriety and good taste.
Then we heard a commentator from Salon on the evening news talk about the anger against women in the spots and how that was something new and to her at least, surprising and more than a little unsettling.
So we went back and looked at the ads again and, sure enough, there it was. The Dodge commercial is the most blatant, right down to the slogan “Man’s Last Stand,” against women apparently. But the Flo TV ads were openly aggressive as well, blaming women for the loss of men’s spines. Additionally the Dockers ads implied it was time for men to put their pants back on, literally by donning a pair of Dockers, but metaphorically by reasserting their dominance over women.
Apologists point to the fact that commercials are not meant to be taken seriously, must fight for the viewer’s attention in an environment saturated with distractions and therefore often attempt to provoke and shock and it’s all in good fun anyway so lighten up.
All that is true, but there’s something different about these ads. First of all, there were so many of them. Was there some sort of meeting amongst the different agencies somewhere at which it was decided that the theme for this Superbowl would be misogyny? We doubt it. Yet, commercials don’t sell products anymore, they sell lifestyles, and as such advertising tries to latch onto the cultural zeitgeist and use it to ride to the customer’s pocket book.
And what about the argument that commercials are just harmless fun? Well, yeah, we suppose there is still a mild chuckle in the Flo TV ad that threw a bra over the guy’s shoulder in the shopping mall, the classic fish out of water stereotype. But when you take the whole ad on balance, you don’t have to peel very much humor away before you find anger. Believe us, we know about hiding anger under humor.
Amanda Marcorte, who wrote the post over at Pandagon sees this as just more of the same anti-woman blather put out by men who are intimidated. She writes, “In general, the theme of this year is that that masculinity is barely surviving a vagified assault, and the modern man needs a bunch of products in order to revolt and/or survive the hellish matriarchy…”
We agree, but we think it’s even bigger than that. Take a step back for a moment and look at the general interplay between groups in our culture. When it becomes acceptable to call the President of the United States a traitor—and not just down at the corner bar, but on national TV and in main stream media outlets—and then be invited back to those same outlets to do it again; when it becomes acceptable to carry guns to a political rally; when arguments are carried through volume, threat and intimidation rather than deliberation; when racists, homophobes and religious extremists are given the same deference as the dwindling voices of inclusion, those who don’t see sexual preference as a trump card for every other human characteristic and skill, and of course people who actually know something of what they are talking about, it shouldn’t surprise us that the nature of the discourse shifts from a debate to a power grab.
And that means that not just women, but every other vulnerable group in our society gets a bull's eye painted on their collective backs. Immigrant? Expect only obstacles. Gay? Soon to be illegal. Child? See yesterday’s post. Minority? Welcome to the 1950’s.
The general coarsening of our discourse follows a coarsening of our attitudes. Perhaps this is an unavoidable result of a country at war as some studies suggest, and we’ve been at war off and on (mostly on) for almost 70 years now. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the fear our politicians have fed us because that is so much easier to do than actually lead. Perhaps it’s economic in nature, after all, policies that pit one group against another for limited resources generally don’t tend to promote cooperation and altruism. Perhaps it’s all three, or something else all together.
We don’t have answers. There may very well be no answers to begin with, only ways to mitigate the level of destruction we do to ourselves, our planet and out future. We do know that a democracy is like holding water in your hand, the tighter you try to squeeze it, the more it slips away.