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“Master of the Universe”

15 Jun

I receive emails from Daily Candy and in the latest one was a feature of “Fifteen Gifts For Dad”. The first of the series I thought made telling commentary on how subconscious gender conceptions are still upheld by tradition.

Here’s the description:

“Master of the Universe

For Mom, it’s flowers. For Dad, it’s a desktop carnivorous plant set ($25). Everything but the water is included. And after a few weeks of care, seven killers (Venus flytraps, Cobra Lilies) emerge.”

So here we see some associations. Women like flowers, men like killers. Flowers are often delivered cut, or dead. Inactive, ornamental.

Carnivorous plants are alive, active, practical, violent. I say violent because the term “killer” connotes a certain amount of intention and human quality. To say it’s a carnivorous plant is, to my mind, not problematic in that it eats non-vegetation. To say it is a killer implies intention.

Additionally, the ad refers to the gift as for the desktop; implying that the father a. works and b. works at a desk job. Not that this is an ad for a mother’s gift but the “flowers for mom” are not “desk flowers for mom”. And the first google search for “mother’s day gifts” shows no  work-related gifts and very few activity related gifts (the exception being for yoga).

What’s more, the dad gift is on a website called “Think Geek” and at top there is a banner with a headless (white) man with forearm tattoos, hands in pockets (to suggest laid back comfort) and a button up shirt and tie. So here we see associations between whiteness and Geekdom as well as gender and class. None of the gadgets below the banner are ornamental, all serve some purpose or make some action.

It’s not to say that because of just this ad or ads like it that we have constraining gender roles but that they play a part (as do many other factors) in maintaining and reinforcing our ideas about proper gender roles.

And so as little boys are still mostly taught to be active and little girls still mostly taught to be ornamental there remains this conception of men that I suppose is best worded in the title of the email I was sent:

Master of the Universe”


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Alternative Images

16 May

So in all my criticism of media and society, the response to much of my ranting ends up being: then what is a “good” image? And/or “how can an image be entertaining if it doesn’t reference or mock “the way things are”?

So for a long time I’ve been really watchful for images that I think are “better” than the blatantly racist, gender reinforcing, ageist, (etc.) media we see all the time, mostly just to convince my friends that “better” images can exist (though I’m doubtful about actual “good” images…after all, they’re being used to sell something).

On the subway in New York City, during the winter, Halls put up what I thought was a brilliant, witty and less socially repugnant advertisement campaign to market it’s lozenges. The models included a South Asian man and one female model with different hair cuts as different women. There was also a white man in one. The models, were not wearing particularly “beauty”-enhancing makeup. Instead, they are all made to look sick and war-torn from their ailments.

I loved these ads because they captured in a look how I feel when I’m sick.

They also utilized a person of color in a non-stereotypical way. Nothing in the depiction of the South Asian man is on display in a way that separates him from the other models. There are none of the cultural cues that American media often utilize in depicting a South Asian man (such as a turban, a long beard, a desert background, a taxi, etc.). In fact, there are no cultural cues of any sort in any of the photos.

Also, the women in these ads are depicted, in my opinion, in far less sexualized, objectifying ways than women are normally depicted. They are not disembodied (like so many lipstick ads that just show lips), they are not “scantily clad” in “cleavage” revealing shirts or leg revealing skirts. And the illness make up strikes me as particularly rare to see on women when I’m so used to the heavy make up and photo-shopped faces of “flawless” women.

It seems that the ads are set in the 1960’s-1970’s and the captions feature “knightly” encouragements. I can see no reason to set them in another time period and the combination of this theme with the captions makes for a bizarre set of ads that are obnoxiously kitschy. And yet, I adore them.

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