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The first media class I ever took was in grade 12; before this class I had never thought twice about the constant sexual exploitation of women.  I had never really noticed how often a woman is seen topless in movies, or how of the music videos on MTV might as well be shot in a strip club.  I had not noticed the inequality of exposure because this was the depiction of women I was used to.  After taking this class my eyes began to open to the vast realm of advertisements and media and I started to become media literate.  This semester I had two classes which touched on very similar topics: Advertising and Society and Women and the Media.   Though my senses were keen before, I find watching TV is now more than ever a grueling process for me.  Instead of spending my time zoning out and escaping to a television program, I find myself critiquing shows, advertisements and making fun of how ridiculous they are.  I find that television often infuriates me and most often I just end up turning it off.

 

The Eros project and the sexual liberation theory are two very important chapters in History.  I think that sexual freedom is invaluable and that we are lucky to live in a society that is beginning to become a lot more open to various sexual practices.  I do not follow any religion, and so I do not have any standards as to what sex should be, except fun and satisfying to the individual and their partner(s).  I have no problems when it comes to homosexuality, transexuality or any other combination of identities, if you’re happy and not causing anyone harm, them I’m happy too.  I find the queer theory to be very interesting and more likely to be true than people being born into their gender roles and expectations.  I am glad that I do not live in a sexually repressive country where I could be mutilated to ensure no sexual gratification, or where I could be convicted for expressing myself.

 

All of this may come as a surprise to you, the reader, as I have generally come off as quite conservative with my posts thus far.  Let me be clear in how I feel… Liberating sex and having it evolve over the past century to be something fun, kinky, natural and creative is a great thing; I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Where I have a problem with where this sexual revolution has gone, is that men have typically been the captain of the ship.  They have ensured that the female body has been exposed as much, and as often as possible.  When watching TV, reading a magazine, watching a movie, a music video, listening to music, women are a million times more likely to be shown as naked, demeaned, scantily clad, sexualized, put in suggestive situations etc…  So if men have been the ones to push this sexual revolution, why can they ‘put out’ too?  It is so seldom that you see a man in a movie that is stripped naked and meant to be seducing, strictly for the pleasure of the female viewer.  But if we reverse the roles, we wouldn’t have to look any further than the average action movie, teen comedy, or slasher film to see copious amounts of breasts, and often times much more.   As I said in an earlier post, it doesn’t seem like a sexual revolution to me at all… it seems like a male sexual gratification system that is getting more and more extreme.   Yeah, Sex is everywhere… FEMALE sexuality.  I get exhausted by the constant messages trying to worm their way into our brains.  “Psst… Look at me – look at my perfect boobs, look at my tight ass… This is what you wish you looked like… this is what every man wants.”  And it’s true too, we all want it in some way or another, but we’ll never be able to attain it, because it’s not real.  The sad reality is that as technology advances the whole image of a woman will become further and further from reality.

Annnnd… Back to Capitalism!

Capitalism inflects and infects all other institutions, it is a process of massification.  Capitalism is antagonistic  to tradition because tradition slows down the process of change.   It also changes kinship systems and communal obligations.  As Dr. Strangelove said in class, this century has been about giving us things, and taking things away.   For example, a single parent in the past would have been rooted in an extended kinship network; finding things like emotional and material support.  Today, people mainly rely on things like welfare for support.

Also mentioned by Dr. Strangelove, a quote that I thought had a little ‘je ne sais pas’ to it: “A raising tide raises all boats – but capitalism doesn’t.’  Because of capitalism the gap between the richest and poorest continues to expand.  To create the modern consumer, we’ve disembedded ourselves unevenly across the globe and inequality continues to grow.   When one can remove themselves from the thought of how the entire system works, that’s when capitalism can thrive.

Capitalism can also act to spread mass ideologies or trends.   After the cultural revolution of the 1960’s capitalism commodified sex in order to make money off of it, and thus erotic codes were globalized.  Advertisers were getting creative with erotic advertising all around the world, however the “progress of the erotic sell was always uneven . . . everywhere, the female body was much more likely to be sexualized than the male.  You could find plenty of cleavage, lots of shapely legs and pouty mouths, increasingly a man’s bare chest, occasionally naked female breasts, but rarely the vulva, and never and erection.” (Rutherford, 194)  As this trend progressed, Europe was much more avant-garde with this erotic advertising than North America; this can still be seen today.  In European ads bare breasts and in a few cases full frontal female nudity could be seen; it wasn’t until the 1990’s when the erotic sell became more prevalent within North American Television.

Capitalism has mass produced this erotic obsession within advertising.  Capitalism is the father of many things.  But how can capitalism reign when we know that it exploits human beings, causes inequality, pain, suffering and death?  According to Michel Foucoult, we are the most disciplined of all people in history, we give ourselves up to be good workers and good citizens in society, it is what helps the system to thrive.    We are bred and born to internalize these systems so the hegemony takes over and we don’t even think to questions some things.  As Dr. Strangelove reminded us, though advertising can be shocking it has been rightfully accused of being conservative.  Corporations do not support cultural revolutions and change because this makes their jobs a lot harder.  Advertising is a conservative force, but also progressive and pop culture is progressive but never revolutionary.  Pop culture loosely represents concerns and ideals of the generation but corporations and conglomerates do not want revolution because a general status quo keeps capitalism strong.

Children and Advertising

A Few weeks ago we watched a documentary on children and advertising.  Freud says that almost every action we make can be linked back to our sex drive.  I’m not a professional or anything… but I feel that ads are just getting to be too much these days.  If we were to listen to the countless and consuming sexual ads out there, it would be obvious that our main priority in life should be to be sexy or desirable to another, to look good, to be young,  to be having sex, or sucking on a big, GIANT, succulent… Burger King Seven-Incher – after all, it’ll blow your mind away.

Anyway… This particular documentary was aimed at showing how these ads affected adolescent children.   As many people know, children are highly impressionable, and most of them just want to fit in, or be popular.   To many young girls these days, being popular also equates with looking hot, being sexy.  When it comes to fashion, boy’s fashion hasn’t changed too much; however, thongs, spaghetti straps and skimpy clothing has become prevalent within girl’s fashion.

The documentary asserted that girls who looked at more objectifying material were more likely to have lower self esteem, eating disorders, or depression.  Guys were encouraged to be players as they got older – girls as ornaments, or objects hanging around.  This is image can totally be seen in almost any music video you watch on MTV.  Having half naked women dancing suggestively is fairly typical to rap videos; however female music artists most often do not cover up any more than the video hoes prevalent in rap videos.  This type of imagery does not help guys to overcome this stereotypical expectation, and many have a hard time putting themselves out there as who they really are because of these expectations.

The documentary brought up the eroticization of childhood and how it was problematic for the amount of sexual violence and abuse seen in society.   We have girls dressed like women, and women dressed like girls in sexual positions.   One woman asks, ‘Why are we blurring the line between children and women?’

I got to thinking about the music that I used to listen to when I was a preteen, and about the music videos I used to watch.  I remember my Mom not letting me buy certain CDs, because of the content of the lyrics.  I was ten years old and all I wanted was an Eminem CD.  I thought it was totally lame that she wouldn’t allow it, but now I can see where she was coming from.  Though I still have a love for his first four albums, had I not of grown up on him I’m sure I found find his content thoroughly nauseating.  Knowing what I know today about the world’s inequality, injustices, sexism and violence, I would have likely steered clear of him like I do most popular music.  After class that day, I also watched some videos for songs I used to love… and I honestly didn’t remember there being so much blatant sexual content.  The women were doing then, what they are doing now… getting nearly naked and dancing slutty!  Though watching these videos as an adolescent did not turn me into a video hoe, perhaps the reinforcement of  the importance of being hot in videos and advertisements had an effect.  My friends and I definitely dressed and acted older than we were in many respects.  I think this was a confusing time for many girls I knew, because I can recall many instances of  girls thinking it was cool to look or come off as slutty – whether they acted on it or not.  Thinking back now, it’s crazy to think of all the things we said and did while we were still basically children.  To be honest, I think the music, advertisements and videos really did have some effect on who I thought I wanted to be at the time.

Trauma is SEXY

While reading the section on McLuhan in A World Made Sexy, it seems that he links themes of sex and violence within advertising in his book The Mechanical Bride. These two themes are also prevalent in Freudian theory, and are often intrinsically linked when it comes to fashion ads. Reading this, I couldn’t help but remember a discussion we had in class after watching a short documentary. I can’t recall the name of the film, however I remember it had a feminist twist to it. Though I didn’t take everything that was stated in the film to heart, I personally thought some valid arguments were made. I was shocked at the amount of girls who thought that critiquing the use of female sexuality in advertising was silly. They saw nothing wrong with it. In the case of a Dolce and Gobbana ad which insinuates either a gang bang, or a gang rape, as all of the men have a look of aggression on their face – some girls thought that there was nothing wrong with this ad, and that it may be what the girl wants. This is totally true; but how about the 245,483 other violently sexual ads out there; how about the ad that depicts a dead woman in the back of a car about to be buried… is that what she wanted?

 

Though we can’t take everything we see seriously, advertisements mirror aspects of society that we ourselves have created. Violence against women is a serious issue today, yesterday and has been in any other time in history. I hardly think that using violence and rape as a novelty to sell high fashion is a logical idea. At the point in the class conversation, where girls themselves were belittling the issue of sexual violence in advertising, I made a comment of my own. In my opinion, this subject should be treated with sensitivity and images of rape and murder should not be made into large banners just for fashion’s sake. I reminded the class of a man by the name of Ted Bundy who admitted himself that he realized his own fetish for torture, rape and murder through images just like these; and torture scenes of scantily clad women in slasher films. He wasn’t just born a serial rapist and killer, his obsession grew until he could no longer contain himself, and he went and raped, tortured and killed over 30 young women. Freud says that we should not repress our own sexual desires; however this statement should be altered when our own sexual desires are dependent on sadism and sociopathic behaviour. It is extremely sad to me, that private advertising agencies and corporations spend more time enticing sexual violence than acting against it.

Advertising

Advertising has become one of the most prevalent industries in the world, especially in America.  We learned in class that 50% of all advertising expenditure comes from America – this is equivalent to about 350 billion dollars a year in advertising expenditure.  The system outspends all other systems in the productions of meaning and this in turn, buys an enormous amount of influence worldwide.   As Dr. Strangelove mentioned, advertising is the most financed and centralized tool for meaning making through capitalism.  The only historical comparison to this type of institution was the Catholic Church.  However, where they differ is that the Church did not reach the same scale as advertising does, and not everyone participated.

Advertising allows for the domination of cultural production by corporations.  They do this through the use of symbolism and under the reign of capitalism.  Advertising makes meanings by the social influence of corporations.  The ads try to sell us something, and attempt to persuade us into believing that this ‘something’, is what we need.  They use symbolism to extend meaning, and the idea that the things they produce are meaningful.   The omnipotent presence of media and advertising helps to produce people who are consumers as part of their identity.

In order to make this system work, the much of the public must accept a certain hegemonic view of society.  The masses must accept some general ideas about ‘what makes the world turn’.  Capitalism uses hegemony to its benefit and actively works to marginalize other options, or eliminate alternatives.   So what is pop culture?  Capitalism at its best; it helps to create shared patters of belief and behaviour to make actions predictable, and to marginalize other world views.  This only helps to generate a want, a need for new things; for all that advertising tries to sell.   All the while, corporations are making things to break; in today’s age many of the things we buy are meant to be disposable so that we can constantly be consuming.  Capitalism is using advertising to constantly reproduce and remanufacture the consumer.  Our social world didn’t happen by chance, it was created; thus meaning systems are so very important in advertising; the reality of mass behaviour and the necessity of reinforcing that behaviour on a regular basis explains why so much money is spent on advertising.

Ads are often meant to capture ideals, and insert loaded meanings which attempt to make an argument about the ideal society.  Since much of the world is controlled by men, and certainly most of the powerful positions within the industry of media are dominated by males, a lot of advertising utilizes the female body to sell products.   Here are some examples from Dr. Strangelove:

 

  • The utilization of masturbation as a theme in advertising – especially high end fashion magazines.

o   Ex. A ring from Dior.  It was made for the other ring finger, likely to represent a woman indulging in herself, spending money on herself.   The hand in the advertisement was conveniently positioned to suggest the woman could be about to pleasure herself.

 

  • Women are often in a state of undress – showing that they are always ready and willing to have sex – always in a state to please the male eye.

o   Even Cosmo Girl, a magazine for preteens has begun to sexualize young girls… (How CREEPY… an invitation for pedophilic sex offenders?….Hmm…)

 

  • Most media texts are heavily encoded with misogynistic assumptions

o   According to Judith Fetterly, due to male owned and male operated institutions, women are taught to think as men, to identify with a male point of view and to accept as normal and legitimate a male system of values.

 

  • Manipulating women the way we can manipulate technology

o   This is seen through a male gaze

o   Ex. The advertisement for Che, a men’s magazine: A beautiful young woman is scantily clad, lying suggestively on a bed with a seductive look in her eye.  She is clearly ready for some action.  Good thing she has a video game controller attached to her so that someone can control every move she makes.  The caption for the ad read “Keep on dreaming of a better world.”

 

  • Women are often shown as infantile

o   Ex. Clothing that is meant to allude  to the innocent and light clothing of young girls

o   Hairless and childlike smooth skin, on a grown woman

 

  • Sublimation in advertising techniques

o   The woman becomes the product

o   A desire for the beautiful woman transforms in to the desire for the product as a substitute.

 

 

“If advertising makes women feel in any way comfortable about their appearance, we’ve failed.”

This quote from a show based around advertising begs the question… What effect does a lifetime exposure to this system do to a human being?  Though we know that the magic bullet theory is no longer accepted, and that the idea of an active audience is generally established…. Surely this ideology will produce more negative outcomes than positive.

 

Sexual Liberation or Sexist Exploitation?

After reading two back-to-back entries in A World Made Sexy, it came to my attention that this Eros project seems to be more focused on liberating public opinion on exposing the FEMALE body, and not the human body.  It seems that this project has been mainly focused on the male gaze, and equal opportunity has not been allotted to females.  Let’s look at two examples: Playboy, and Barbie.  It seems that no matter whom the target audience, the obsession is constantly with the perfect, young female and her ‘attributes’.

Playboy was clearly a gendered magazine, meant for the viewing pleasure of heterosexual men.  As was stated in the book, Hugh Hefner was a pioneer for the Eros project through his success in reducing the stigma of women in the nude, and creating a revolutionary magazine which sold a lifestyle of class, indulgence and luxury.  Over time the magazine included many more aspects than just sexualized women; it included sophisticated articles, humour, advice, and other areas of interest.  However, to most the main lure of the magazine was still its erotic essence and glossy centerfold of a beautiful, young (in some cases barely legal) woman who was bearing her goods.   Playboy, as stated in the book, was a masturbatory tool for many.   The women and life style showcased in this magazine acted to nourish the fantasies of many men, and the magazine itself was used to liberate and diminish the taboo of sex – while making money off of it at the same time.   Being a magazine that symbolized the start of a major sexual revolution, was there anything of equal status made for women?  It seems not.

The next entry in this chapter was focused on the emergence of Barbie; a toy whose original design was based on a German sex doll made for men.  Though Barbie was created for young girls, it is obvious by her appearance in modern day Sex Museums, where she is engaged in highly eroticized play and fetishism, that the doll’s features are far from innocent.   Just like the women featured in Playboy, Barbie was “streamlined.  She boasted the style of the classical body: elongated, an extended neck, a tiny waist, extremely long and slim legs, arched feet, no pores . . . jutting breasts . . . [and a] well rounded buttocks.” (Rutherford, 114)  How were there such similarities between women in an erotic men’s magazine, and a young girl’s play toy?   Because of the controversy of such a developed doll for children, Barbie’s sexuality was masked by selling the idea that the toy would encourage good grooming.   The doll did help young girls explore their adolescent sexuality through acting out sexual encounters between a developed Barbie and her boyfriend Ken, or any other combinations of friends.   But how is it that men could explore their sexuality by looking and fantasizing about beautiful young women, while young girls were given the opportunity to explore their sexuality by fantasizing sexual encounters using a replica of these young, beautiful sexualized women.    Playboy sold fantasies of a luxurious life, rich with perfect women; Barbie sold toys by creating desire within girls to basically be just like the girls in Playboy.  Barbie’s commercials “were obviously designed to awaken desire in the hearts and minds of viewers, to make girls fantasize about growing up sexy.” (Rutherford, 120)   Barbie raised more complaints than praise for her influence on young girls.  “She was blamed, for example, for encouraging a deep-seated anxiety about body image: ‘Barbie’s basic problem – her bland homogeneity of feature and anatomy – reinforces the American epidemic of unnecessary facelifts, tummy tucks, breast reduction surgery, breast augmentation surgery, as well as anorexia, bulimia, and diet fanaticism. . . Feminists worried that playing Barbies trained girls to exhibit their bodies, not their brains.  Her posture showed us that being sexual meant being immobile . . . it meant: walk on your toes, bust out, limbs rigid.”  (Rutherford 120)   These expectations that Barbie set for young girls, were virtually exactly what many young men fantasized the perfect female body to be.  It seems that Barbie was really “no less than an agent of hegemony” (Rutherford, 121) – a replica of the male gaze and male desire.

It just seems all too common – whether you’re looking back fifty or sixty years, or looking to the present.  Sex sells – but it’s selling female sexuality, and not human sexuality.  Men have been celebrating sex through the existence of beautiful, young scantily clad women; and females have been exploring their own sexuality by trying to imitate the sexual allure of these exact women.  Whether you’re looking at a heterosexual sex-based magazine aimed at females such as Cosmopolitan, which features more seductive half naked women than men; or a gender neutral teen comedy movie which is rich with sexual innuendo and many young topless women… It is clear that this sexual revolution has capitalized on and commodified naked young women.  It has, in my opinion largely helped men to liberate their sexual fantasies through pop culture, porn culture and the like – while hindering heterosexual females with a lack of equal opportunity and an emphasis on becoming the sexy women that men want.

Can a Culture make you Ill?

Punch the clock and assume the position and never ask for any more.

Live and die going through their motions and never knowing what the fuck for.

Turn the dollar;

Dig the hole deeper;

Regret as you get another year older.

A foot in the grave;

A cog in a wheel;

Bred to be slaves to their ideals.

Here among the lifeless;

The worthless;

The hopeless…

Keep me too tired to think, keep me to fucked to care, but tomorrows another day;

That’s what the hopeless say.

–Another Day, by Cursed


Culture is a way of life shared by a group of people; this includes shared views, practices, and values.  When I think of culture in the United States, these are the first things I think of:  fast food; fat people; unrealistic ‘perfect’ people; plastic; manufactured landscapes; crookedness; capitalism; nationalism; pop culture; shitty music; awful movies; an obsession with breasts; the male gaze; dishonesty; and exploitation.  I know that this description does not encompass the entirety of the United States as there are plenty of good artists, musicians and interesting people.  However, when I think of the culture that has begun to take over much of the world, those things are what define it to me.  In my opinion, Western Culture is a cancer-like disease that won’t stop spreading until it either kills, or is killed off.

So, can culture really make you ill?

Well, if the constant perfection created by plastic surgery, silicone, airbrushing, digital editing, money and private fitness instructors isn’t enough to make us want to jump out the nearest window, an eating disorder brought on by this obsession ought to do the trick.   Ignoring the eating disorder, even if a person wanted to eat, what would they choose?  A genetically modified, pesticide bearing piece of broccoli?  A crippled hormone induced chicken that couldn’t even stand on its own two feet before being slaughtered on an assembly line?  Maybe one could just go to a local fast food joint and join the obesity epidemic.   It is obvious that many aspects of this lustful, money driven culture in which we live are designed to make us feel so inadequate that we are literally sick for something.

Other times, we feel generous as opposed to gluttonous and greedy; often the West is nice enough to spread this capitalist disease.  Many of us, some more than others, feel that the quantity of our material objects outweigh the quality of life of others.  Capitalist Western culture is continuously deteriorating the quality of life of others.  For example: The people and children who are employed in sweat shops who work long grueling hours to make pennies because of free trade and not fair trade; The natural world also feels the wrath of capitalism as environmental policies are virtually non-existent;  Animals are treated as objects and not living beings and so their pain and suffering is trivial; and the people who are in the upper hand in this situation are working more to buy more and have less time for what is really important in life.

The media is constantly blabbing in our ears and entrancing our eyes… and often eventually succeeds in seducing our minds  The media offers a form of entertainment which is an escape from reality – one which is often grim and tedious – but do the media act as more than that?  Many would say yes.  The media can act as agenda setting tools to keep a status quo; to ensure the continuance of capitalism and the bourgeois class.  This means it can keep women in their place as either sexualized mistresses, or domestic housewives; it can keep people from different races segregated based on fear and misunderstanding, it can misguide political thoughts, world issues… and can do this because of the convergence of ideas between huge media conglomerates.  The mass media often increases bias, and decreases diversity and information among journalism.   We are living in an age of mass propaganda; in an age of toxic pop culture, hypnotizing entertainment, dizzying production and noxious ‘nourriture’; it seems that this culture can and is making people mentally ill and physically sick.   The loudspeakers are shouting out messages of stupidity and television screens are airing images of emptiness; the compilation of it all is enough to make me barf.

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