Category Archives: commercials

My Un-Resolution

I don’t make resolutions, at least not New Year’s ones.  I firmly believe that we retain the right to change our lives any day of the year.

That said, I always seem to be a bit more reflective around the first of the year, original, right?  I think about the things I know I should be doing but for one reason or the other never manage to do.  Take this blog for instance: I know I have it, I know I should write in it more often, and yet I can’t quite get a handle on it.  One of the things that keeps me from blogging is this nagging voice at the back of my head tauntingly jeering “you have nothing to say.”  Much to my chagrin, I usually let it get the best of me.  But not this time.  That little mean voice can go straight to hell, or wherever mean voices go.

So I’ve un-resolved to blog at least once every week.  I may not always have insightful, witty (I will always be witty) things to say, but I have promised myself I’m going to write anyway.  My partner claims that it makes one a better writer, I think that’s something good writers tell bad writers to be nice, but what do I know?  With all that said, the first blog of the new year:

Mtv’s Buckwild

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Buckwild is the latest in a long line of Mtv reality television.  It premiered the first week of January and according to Mtv’s website, “Buckwild is an authentic comedic series following an outrageous group of childhood friends from the rural foothills of West Virginia who love to dodge grown-up responsibilities and always live life with the carefree motto, “whatever happens, happens.”  To be clear, I have not yet seen this show and my opinions are based solely off of Mtv’s commercials, their history, and broader trends within reality programming.  The first time I saw a commercial for Buckwild I thought, “so it’s The Real World: Appalachia.”  The commercials stress the rural dynamic almost to the point of caricature.  The show’s participants are shown using the bed of a pick-up truck as a swimming pool, wrestling in mud, and speaking in almost unintelligible accents (indeed I’ve been told the show actually provides subtitles for some of its participants).  The argument could be made that teenagers/young twenty-somethings across the country are engaging in things like mud wrestling, pick-up truck swimming and such activities are not specific to, or reflective of, rural West Virginians.  My issue is not that Mtv is documenting the “authentic” experiences of this group of friends, but rather that it seeks to do so in a way that will serve to perpetuate classism and Othering.

Again, these are just the insights I’ve gleaned from the commercials, but it certainly does not feel as though Mtv is trying to present these people and their communities as relatable, quite the opposite, I’m afraid.  In one thirty second commercial Mtv has managed to reify almost every stereotype Americans have about rural Appalachia and its inhabitants.  Mainly, that they are regressive, unintelligent, poor, and almost alien in speech and mannerisms.

There is the chance that I am completely wrong and Mtv’s Buckwild will prove an insightful and progressive allegory about overcoming stereotypes and classism.  Though I highly doubt it, I guess I’ll have to watch.

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South Beach Diet Bars and Street Harassment

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new South Beach Diet Bar commercial, so allow me to explain it:

We see a thin, white woman walking down past a construction site where a construction worker calls to her “you’re lookin healthy”, she gives him a confused/pleasant look and continues on.  We follow this woman past an outdoor cafe’ where another white woman and her black friend sit talking and as she passes the black woman calls out “you go healthy. she look good” the woman again looks a little confused but happy.  She proceeds to the door of said cafe where a gentleman in a suit holds open the door and says “After you, healthy”.  The commercial then inserts some weird tagline about people being able to tell you’re healthy or some crap.

So here’s my problem: This commercial trivializes street harassment.

I’m sure there are those of you out there who will say “But Liz, it’s only a commercial. Get off your feminist soapbox and chill out”.  Well to you I say: no, I will.

Street harassment is unacceptable, period.  Substitute the word “healthy” with the any of the following: “honey”, “sugar”, “baby”, “hottie”, etcetc and the commercial becomes completely revolting and sexist.  The idea at play is that the woman has used South Beach Diet Bars to lose weight and should be grateful for the positive attention she is receiving, regardless of where it comes from.  It also makes light of street harassment.  You expect the construction worker to call the woman some rude name (see the above list) because it is widely accepted that most women have been in that situation.  It needs no explanation because it is a cultural fixture.  It invalidates the very real hurt caused by street harassment, and makes a joke out of it.  It panders to the false notion that we, Americans, have moved beyond sexism and can now joke about things that were once perceived to be “chauvinistic” and “sexist” because we are so enlightened.  (For more on the idea of being beyond sexism read Susan J. Douglas’ Enlightened Sexism).  It also reinforces the notion that the hyper-visible female body is open to public commentary, from anyone, at any time.  It tells us that the female body becomes public domain once it enters any space outside of the home.

I am aware that this is “just a commercial” but that doesn’t make it less real, or give it less influence over our cultural perception.  According to the A.C. Nielsen Co, the average American spends 153 hours a month glued to the television, which is around 5 hours a day.  With commercials comprising a solid amount of that 5hours, dismissing this (or any) ad as “just a commercial” only ads to the media illiteracy that currently dominates our culture.

And seriously South Beach, sending the message that “strangers will cat call you if you eat our diet bars” was the best marketing strategy you could come up with?

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