09 April 2010

Privlege and Prejudice Move Product

I was in a discussion at Thus Spake Zuska about an ad that originally I took as (relatively) politically neutral (not that anything really can be, of course!). As I watched the ad a few times, however, I started noticing aesthetic elements that were interesting to me, and I described them:
What struck me (especially since I've been watching a lot of old musicals lately, full of racist cliches) is how the white couple talked to their appliances. They use the same tone of voice as the heroes and heroines of classic Hollywood musicals use when addressing their black servants....For anyone interested in a few more thoughts on some interesting choices in the ad (things many of you have probably already noticed) ... the woman's dress (especially the full cut of the skirt), pearl necklace and hairstyle strongly evoke the 1940s and 1950s, and although the man is not wearing the sport coat that is usually featured in films from that era, his classic cardigan is something that Fred Astaire might wear (say in "The Band Wagon").
The replies were hilarious, with several people basically telling me to shut up and go read fashion magazines. Even better was the fact that most of the responses criticizing my analysis were very much in line with the kind of comments I hear from freshmen when I introduce an analysis with which they disagree in my lectures. For some people the idea of responding to what is literally one the screen is impossible; they'd rather respond to an alternative version of the media that exists only in their own heads. And responding in one's own name with one's own reading is regarded as "stream-of-conscious" analysis, overly subjective, etc. etc. Tell me, if I don't respond with my own reading, whose reading should I offer? In whose name should I speak, if not my own? And when is any reading anything other than subjective???

But the point of this post: others replied by arguing that the ad isn't racist because it could have been produced with black actors playing the couple. Yes ... and no.

I can imagine the ad's creators making the ad with a black couple. I don't believe they set out to make a "racist ad." However, that would only happen if, say, focus-group data indicated that such casting would appeal to consumers. Because ...

...ads are never created to actually give us new ideas about the world; rather, they present the world as it is already understood by the majority of the population. By doing that, advertisers are able to sell the maximum amount of product.

Even ads that appear to be "edgy" or "transgressive" usually are not; they are simply subtly concealing their complicity in giving the world an image of itself that conforms to patriarchal/capitalist norms. Any image that fundamentally contradicts the way we are programmed to understand and relate to the world will not sell product. And since the patriarchal world is racist, sexist, classist, sizist, ableist, imperialist etc., the vast, vast majority of ads participate in a racist, sexist, sizist, ableist, classist, imperialist discourse.

The people who indignantly posted that the ad wasn't racist/sexist are ignoring the fact that every ad has to participate (to a greater or lesser extent) in this racist/sexist/etc/etc discourse that is absolutely part of everyone's pattern of thinking in our patriarchal world.

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