Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sizing Up “Sexist” Ads

Cracked.com has relatively interesting lists and articles. While I can't help but be dubious of many of the more serious ones, the less serious ones can still irk me from time to time. Case in point, this list: http://www.cracked.com/article_17036_8-tv-ads-that-hate-women.html

It isn't like I've never seen lists or ads like this before, a quick YouTube search will come up with dozens of "misogynist" vintage ads. What I wonder about is what the point is of making lists like these.

Firstly, concentrating specifically on the eight ads chosen by Cracked, it seems absurd that an inanimate TV ad can maintain the mental state of hate

As for the ads themselves (specifically the old ads), while I won't try to deny that the producers of these ads didn't harbor some less than egalitarian sentiments toward women, the best approach is to look at the ads in one of two ways: They're outdated, so they serve as kitsch, or, they are an appropriate summation of their particular consumer zeitgeist – at least as examined by the company or researchers in question.

The kitsch part is easy. Speaking for myself, I've always had an affinity for these types of ads because they personify an era that I was not a part of, but that I've been able to marginally experience through the aid of Nick at Nite shows. False Nostalgia Syndrome, if you will. So, I enjoy them: the phony parochial nature of them all, the style, the transatlantic announcer voice. They're fun to watch because they're subdued, or if they're camp, they don't get near a flicker on the barometer of trash that most modern commercials easily hit.

When critiquing older ads, is the point to highlight how absurd the copy sounds when pitted against our more "enlightened" commercials of today (are there any?)

With new ads, what is the goal? What would complaining about a diamond commercial accomplish? Instead of complaining that the commercial portrays women as na├»ve little animals distracted by shiny stuff, why doesn't an endorser of "equality" complain about how the commercials generally show men proposing to women? Why not women proposing to men? What about couples who say, screw the expensive rings and let's instead go for something else – maybe ring tattoos? Diamonds might be forever, but so is ink, and there's no need for layaway plans with the latter.

A yogurt commercial might show two chatty women conversing about shoe shopping and noshing on sweets, but is it accurate to say this portrayal reveals a "hatred" of women? Should we instead assume that all women talk about at a spa is Shakespeare and Milton? Remember, the medium is television and the point of advertising is to move products, not show viewers how interesting some actors on a set can be.

Even though lists like these may be harmless fun, despite their flinging of derogatory labels like sexist, misogynist, etc, I have seen enough of them to ask: Why bother bringing them up?

Probably because it makes for cheap entertainment, much like most of television.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Consumption Dysfunction

Food stamp restrictions, new labels, restaurant and movie theater calorie display proposals – all of this, and more is part of what should be called “ChubGate” - the continued crackdown on any and all elements which appear to be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Recently, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has announced new front-of-package food labels aimed toward simplifying the information for health conscious consumers.1

Food packaging has changed in recent years- hilariously. Check any cereal aisle today, and you’ll find the most sugar-laden cereal emblazoned with the promising “Made with whole grains!” Yes, Cocoa Puffs may well indeed contain grains, but the claim is largely counterfeit – it’s still a chocolate cereal. But if individuals want to have a bowl for breakfast (which would actually contain fewer calories than a bowl of organic granola) they should be able to do so. Of course, General Mills can afford to make these changes to their packaging. What about the smaller food companies that can’t?

The alleged aim of the new food labels is to target “busy customers.” Are we to believe that customers who shop at grocery stores do it at such a rapid pace that they don’t have time to turn over a can and check calorie counts? I don’t mean to speak for all, but in my own experience, I often become irritated at the leisurely stroll many patrons take in grocery stores. You’d be hard pressed to see someone running across one –unless they’re playing tag, or running after a small child who has begun a quest for Dunkaroos (sorry, kid, but I think you can only get them online now.)

There is one solution, it would be much cheaper, though potentially rather tedious: Turn all food packages around so the labels appear on the front.

Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, Marion Nestle (ironic name if I have ever heard one,) regularly condemns some of the proposed changes to food labels (including the front-of-packaging labels) but then urges the FDA to heed her advice and condemn the proposals.2

Why try and get the FDA on your side? This is the same bloated government department that was responsible for, among other things, the 2004 Vioxx scandal. The FDA admitted that this drug was responsible for 27,785 deaths3 and that it made “lapses” in judgment.4 One death is a lapse in judgment. Over 25,000 is institutionalized recklessness and chagrin. And let us not forget that it takes about 10 years to get a drug through all the FDA’s loops. Instead of suing McDonalds, why not sue the FDA?

Of course, the linchpin of the debate is calories. When it comes to stigmatizing calories, soda particularly gets a bad rap. A 12 ounce can of Coke contains 140 calories; compare this to a 6.75 ounce box of Juicy Juice brand apple juice, which boasts 100 calories. Too many people presume that fruit juice and lemonade is vastly nutritionally superior to soda, when in actuality, calories and grams of sugar are pretty much the same. Similarly, too many people are of the belief that salad – even fast food salads, are “healthier” than burgers. There are 425 calories and 21.4 grams of fat in a McDonald’s chicken Caesar salad with croutons and dressing, compared to the 253 calories and 7.7 grams of fat in a hamburger.

But what about calorie labels at fast food restaurants, does it really work?

A 2009 study which looked at consumption rates in McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s located in poorer New York City neighborhoods found that people actually ordered more calories since the labeling law was established the year prior.5

No matter how hard bean sprout-munching anti-fat crusaders like MeMe Roth (of the National Action Against Obesity) fight for food bans, the government can’t change the delusions or the cravings of individuals. Personal responsibility should be the one game in town.

The government’s main barometer of health, the Body Mass Index (BMI) reveals that George Clooney is overweight, and Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger are obese.6 What results from getting government involved to somehow slow down the obesity crisis? Decades of contradictory information (milk is good- ignore the 1 in 10 Americans who are lactose intolerant, eggs are bad – no, now they’re good again), a lot of strong arming and nanny politics, an arbitrary and unhelpful food pyramid, and a one-size-fits-all standard of determining individual health.

With all this talk of changing labels, why not take a cue from the new cigarette package labels (showing pictures of diseased lungs and corpses)7 and put pictures of fatty livers and piano box caskets on packages of Twinkies and Girl Scout Cookies? Maybe that will make Meme Roth happy.



1. http://www.idfa.org/key-issues/details/5319/

2. http://www.foodpolitics.com/2009/10/industry-abandons-smart-choices/

3. http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/vioxx_estimates.html

4. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/02/politics/02fda.html

5. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/nyregion/06calories.html

6. http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2010/09/14/michelle-obama-and-the-food-police/

7. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-11-10/cigarette-packages-may-carry-images-of-corpses-lungs.html