Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Other Type of SMS

OK, So the other day I posted about advertising, and mentioned this article about women in advertising as being a springboard for the post. I realise now that this gave the impression that I was writing a response, or tackling the same issues as she was. In all honesty, the post was not designed as a response to Alex's - I try to leave commentary on 'women's issues' to her because she says the same things I would, only better - but more of a cataloguing of interesting things I have noticed about adverts, with a couple of trite and not particularly well thought through paragraphs about sexuality on the TV screen tacked on the end.

This one, however is a response, and does address the same issues, hopefully in a bit more depth. Well, similar issues, anyway. I know less about a narrow image of beauty in print ads, so I'm going to talk about presentation and objectification of women on television instead, because as we all know, I do watch a lot of television.

Before we begin, however, I'd like to quickly some up with a useful catch-all term that I can use instead of continually reusing phrases like 'objectifying women', 'sexist behaviour', 'characters who exhibit chauvinistic attitudes', 'promoting an unrealistic expectation of beauty' and suchlike. Let's just lump all of these (and many others) under the phrase Sexist Misogynistic Shit, or SMS for short. The categorising of what makes material SMS follows the old rule about pornography - it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

So, those three prologues out the way, let's talk about SMS in advertising. Why does it happen? Well, as I intimated earlier, it works. This is not really something that we can argue with, and thus in a discussion based on pure efficiency, SMS is clearly a tool that should be used as often as possible. So, that's settled why it is used - advertising is the ultimate capitalist idea - it's sole purpose is to sell things, and if SMS works, then it will be used. Those of us who oppose it therefore, must look to legislation and guidelines such as those mentioned in GT's post to curb the use of such tactics, rather than reason. If the legislation passes, fantastic, we no longer have adverts that contain SMS. Job done.

Except that it isn't. Because yes, we've treated the symptom, but we haven't even touched the cause. While it can be argued that removing these adverts from TV will avoid young women being exposed to them and thus allow them to develop a more positive self-concept, and young men not to be pushed towards objectification of women, SMS still surrounds us. So the legislation that has been mentioned is amazing, but it can only be a first step.

An example of SMS surrounding us can be seen in movies. The award-winning movies, the great movies, those tend not to be SMS, but they're only a small number. Off the top of my head I'm sure we can all think of several movie adverts that we have seen just in the last few days for movies that will make millions at the box-office that are based on SMS (The most recent example I can think of is the trailer currently running on UK TV for 'Extract'). The same ideas apply here, although in perhaps a less directly commercial way. The easiest way for a bad movie to make lots of money is for it to contain an attractive women disrobing (see 'Wild Things'). The second easiest way is to fill it with ridiculously attractive women becoming more attractive and snagging attractive men who are attracted to them because of their sheer attractiveness.

So, can we apply this guidelines and legislation further to all types of media? And if we can, should we? Is there a way that as well as discouraging SMS, we can also promote positive content? Is it possible to change a culture so that SMS is not the easiest way to higher profits and greater returns from the box office?

It seems a bit of a cop-out to end with so many questions, but unfortunately I don't have any answers. Let's hope someone does


Sesquepadalia said...

Have you heard of something called the Bechedel test?

It is shocking how few films ever pass it. And while I'd never make it a mandatory requirement for all films, it would be really great to see people making films where women are portrayed as something other than "the love interest" and, ffs, where there's more than one woman...
There have actually been studies which show that absolute equality is percieved as inequality? When 50% of people in a room are women, an observer will think there are more women than men.
But I digress...

I think that is the worst though - when there just aren't any women in an otherwise brilliant film. Or when the women exist only to get stuffed into a fridge (
or they are utterly one dimensional arm candy/ feme fatal / other tired cliche.
There are hardly any real women at all in films. Aaaand now I'm quoting my own PhD... stop me now...