Subliminal Messaging For The Not-So-Subtle Win

Existential crisis of the week- most of my blog posts are pretty cynical. Does this make me cynical too? Perhaps. I’ll have you know, however, that my nickname at the office is “Giggles.” I’ve been told that true cynics don’t laugh as much as I do. But maybe cynics are just really skilled at masking their cynicism. Thoughts?

Let’s get back on track here.

I was at the gym the other day and after my 30 minutes on the elliptical machine were up I noticed that I was overcome with a Hulk-ish desire to punch something or someone. Normally I blame such outbursts on society’s suppression of female physical aggression (if girls were allowed to fight each other in high school, for example, they might not suffer from so much psychological trauma later in life) but this time it was something simpler. Commercials. They seem a lot less devious than they really are. To illustrate this I’ll provide you with some pretty popular commercial clips and then point out something about them that indicates something more troubling- sexism, racism, classism, capitalism, and so on.

Still a cynical post. But this time I have visuals. Which i consider to be a win.

(Because obviously curly hair is physically unacceptable and unappealing and only leads to frustration, depression, and a grainy, gritty existence. This commercial and others like it are also deeply imbued with cultural supremacist undertones. Curly hair is in opposition with Western standards of beauty and must be “fixed.” My Black Studies professor called this the “straightening” [or rejection] of non-Western cultures.)

(A true feminist examines the ways in which women and men have been categorized in society. This commercial suggests that men are, essentially, pretty dumb. And that all they want to do is eat pie. I am a woman and I love pie. I also love yogurt. CAN I NOT HAVE BOTH?)

(This is just straight up terrifying and is also laced with racialized undertones, not to mention the fact that it portrays violence between kids and/or in general as some sort of “fun” that happens or should happen on a regular basis. Thankfully, according to YouTube at least, it was banned. Am I the only one who finds the fact that this commercial was aired in the first place incredibly disturbing?)

(So this commercial essentially says that 1) all women do/should do is cook, clean, and take care of their asshole children and that 2) they can’t even do that right. It also objectifies the male body and provides the viewer with the notion that a helpful, courteous and dedicated man is essentially a fantasy. Furthermore it assumes that for a woman the perfect existence involves a less sticky, uncomplicated version of housewifery, not higher education, law, medicine, banking, or literally any other profession in existence. There is nothing wrong with choosing to be a housewife. There is, however, something wrong with the media implying that it is the only suitable place for a woman or even a man.)

(This one is obviously misogynistic. But that’s not even what I want to talk about. The commercial happens to illustrate how social norms confine men to certain gender categories and questions their masculinity if they dare stray from the conformist path. Why deny a man the right to enjoy a good smoothie? Or accompany his bros to the bathroom? The media illustrates men as the meat-and-potatoes gender and leaves them no room to wave their anti-normative freak flag.)

I’ll stop now, but I hope I’ve made my point somewhat successfully. Everything that happens in the media is deliberate; the types of people in each clip, the message they deliver, and how they deliver it are all done with a particular motivation in mind. Commercials aim to deliver a specific message that is very much geared toward exploiting the stereotypical mind. Don’t brush commercials aside- they’re often an accurate reflection of the social issues encircling our reality.