A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Super Bowl advertising. In the piece, I noted that the NFL's powers-that-be had determined that a company that promoted extramarital affairs could not appear in any football-related promotional materials.
After looking through ten years worth of Super Bowl commercials and doing a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that larger numbers of female fans translated into a greater sensitivity about misogynist ads. Noting the increasingly female-oriented slant of the Super Bowl's advertising, I anticipated the day when "Bud Bowl" might be replaced by the "Swiffer Bowl."
In retrospect, this wasn't the cleverest comment that I could have made, a fact that was driven home by the shellacking that I subsequently received from many of my readers. Among the 178 comments that followed, a significant number criticized me for my incredible insensitivity and willingness to indulge the most offensive stereotypes of anti-feminist crimethink. While it was never my intention to suggest a return to the days of June Cleaver and Donna Reed, it seems that this is how many people perceived my comment; for this, I am sincerely sorry.
I was struck, however, by the fact that only one reader seemed to pick up on my rather brutal point about male-oriented advertising: "when seeking the coveted football fan demographic, tastefulness runs a distant second to raw idiocy and a willingness to pander to the lowest common denominator." It seems strange, in retrospect, that an offhand comment about Swiffers should result in a firestorm of accusations, while an unvarnished, outspoken generalization about male-oriented advertising only inspired a single complaint.
I wonder if this isn't, on some level, related to a basic sexism on the part of both advertisers and viewers. Looking at beer commercials, which are purportedly aimed at men, one repeatedly sees chubby, buffoonish males indulging in idiotic behavior. A notable example is the current Foster's ad campaign, which flashes the tagline "Be Premium, like a Man" after showing its spokesmen make fools out of themselves in various situations. Other ads feature men indulging in gluttony, anger, sloth, and a host of other deadly sins.
The commercial take on women, meanwhile, seems to be that they are intelligent, clean, attractive, and moderately shrewish. While I don't want to tear open an old wound, it's notable that women are generally featured on commercials for cleaning products, laundry detergents, and so forth. Moreover, between "Dr. Mom" and the clean freak persona, it seems that women are often portrayed as being little more than caretakers to the children (and man-children) in their lives.
As I noted before, Super Bowl advertising has come a long way. Instead of assuming that the target audience is a bunch of sex-crazed, beer-addled, lowbrow morons, advertisers now seem to perceive their male viewers as asexual, beer-addled, lowbrow morons. In fact, one could easily argue that Go Daddy is the only advertiser to maintain a strong sexual content in its ads. The irony is that Go Daddy's services have absolutely nothing to do with sex and are equally useful to both men and women.
While the superhuman portrayal of females is preferable to the subhuman presentation of males, advertisers -- and the viewing public -- seem to miss the point that basic humanity is probably the best option of all. Men do not have to be psychologically needy to be cleanly; neither do women have to be rude oafs to like beer. If gender equality is a sincere goal, then maybe it's time for advertisements that perceive both men and women as more than the sum of their worst stereotypes.
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