Everything means something, especially in the media. There’s always a larger message than the one seemingly being transmitted, and it’s worth turning up the volume for the thirty seconds it takes for that message to deliver. Commercials are an excellent place to begin understanding the anthropological world around us for one main reason: they tell us how we live and why, how or when that way of living should change.
Like this one:
Who knew that a turkey sandwich could be so loaded?
This clip suggests several things, all of which place men and women in socially perfected roles.
The man featured here is implicitly the father and husband of the woman and children around the table. He carves a turkey at the head of the table, his wife and kids gazing adoringly at him. Cut to reality, and he is instead making a turkey sandwich. While chaos ensues around him, all he seems to care about is the aforementioned sandwich, ignoring his pudding-face children and distraught wife, lost in the bliss that is Oscar Meyer carving board meat.
The implications of this for men are twofold. 1) That a man’s only place in family structures is defined by nonexistence, captivated by extraneous, unimportant things, uninvolved or otherwise just plain lazy and 2) that this is not only the norm but the ideal for men, despite real evidence to the contrary. Men are often portrayed by the media as challenged in one way or another, almost child-like. The clip below is a commercial for headache medication in which the man is confused by the power of the technology he wields, and ends up messing up the project altogether, ultimately giving his wife an Excedrin-worthy headache. This is only one example of the many, many cases in which commercials make men come off as idiots.
The portrayal of the woman in the Oscar Meyer commercial is (as usual) even more disheartening. She is left, due to her partner’s inaction, to juggle child care, cleanliness, and whoever she is talking to on the phone, not to mention her own nourishment that is not-so-curiously absent from the segment. (Women are rarely featured eating in commercials unless in controlled, miniscule portions) Worse, in the opening segment she features long, bouncy, hair, a string of pearls and a clingy purple sweater, while in ‘reality’ she has her hair tied back and is clothed in a pale, less captivating top. The man’s apparel, it’s potentially worth noting, has not changed. The fantasy of man-carving-turkey-and-everything-is-swell, it seems, relies on the appearance not only of the woman but the children too, lumping them all together in an attempt to demonstrate what the ‘perfect family moment’ looks like.
Women in the sphere of domesticity, so cliche. But it is not the placement of man and woman in their respective roles that is troubling, but rather the marked contrast between them. It is not necessarily what this woman is given (it’s perfectly wonderful to have kids, no matter how noisy and disgusting they are) but what she is denied, i.e. a very succulent turkey sandwich and the freedom, if only for a moment, that accompanies it. Why is the man the only person worthy of that moment in this commercial? The point could still come across if both of them had a taste ( so to speak).
This is precisely what I mean when I say everything has meaning: that meaning may not surface through what is seen but rather what isn’t seen. What is visible and invisible, however, is relevant for men and women and how they are instructed to interact with each other. This particular commercial is an extension of larger trends in the advertisement world; men as simple and distracted, women as frenzied nags, and the need to escape or transcend the pain of knowing that the turkey sandwich in your hand is, in fact, just a sandwich.