I am finally ready to start blogging again–I needed to give myself [and everyone else!] a break after the daily Israel posts. [I think when I am posting from India–I leave Feb. 27th–I won’t post QUITE as long, and I think I have even figured out how to do paragraphs. That, along with the pictures, wasn’t working from my iPad.] Anyway, what prompts today’s post is the Super Bowl: not the game itself [it’s over, the Patriots lost, and I don’t want to hear any more about it], but the “game-within-a-game”–that is, the commercials, and one commerical in particular. It was a car commercial, the one for the Kia Optima, and it was all about dreams.
If you remember this one, it opened with a couple in bed, being visited by the sandman. He first sprinkles sand over the woman, and she embarks on a saccharine-sweet, pastel-shaded dream of rainbows, lush hills, and a hero on a white horse, carrying her away. Then, the sandman goes around to the man’s side of the bed, trips on a slipper, and dumps a whole load of sleep-sand on the unsuspecting guy. What happens? Well, it is an amped-up version of every guy’s dream, apparently: driving a super-fast car, in front of a super-hot supermodel, with an audience of adoring, bikini-clad super-fans. And wait, there’s more! Emboldened by all this speed, power and sex-appeal, he busts right out of his own dream, into the dream of his partner, knocks the Fabio-wanna-be off his horse, catches the girl, and carries her off in his fancy little car. Everybody wins!
Really? That’s the best an advertising firm can come up with? It’s a dream, right, so all possibilities are open, anything that can be imagined can be shown on the screen–and that’s the best they can do? Some tired re-hash of an imagined gender ideal where the men are all strong, in control, and powerful, and the women are all helpless, soft, in need of rescue? Give me a break.
Now I know it is just a commercial [but keep in mind, a commercial on the most-most watched tv program of the year], and I know that they are trying to sell cars, not make a profound statement on gender roles. But, in my mind, this is no excuse–they are making a statement, whether they want to or not. We all know how powerful advertising is, the way that it works both consciously and subconsciously to affect our self-understanding, world view and relationships; and how, in that way, it both reflects and shapes cultural norms. In light of that power, I think it is a serious problem when companies perpetuate norms in which little girls [and big ones!] are told that their best dream is being carried off by a hero, instead of being encourage to dream dreams in which they themselves are the heroes. And it is a problem when companies perpetuate norms that encourage little boys [and big ones!] to desire the blind adoration of masses of good-looking women [who have fashion their image for just such an end], and the intoxication of controlling power that comes with it. It just further entrenches the gender stereotypes of women as weak and passive, following whatever man happens to come into their lives; and men as strong and powerful, needing to take control in theirs relationships and “win the girl.” These attitudes have been with us for so long, to everyone’s detriment, and it is discouraging to think that here in 2012 they are alive and well as ever.
This binary view of human beings–either you are a woman and you are like this, or you are a man and you are like this–is toxic to everyone, especially, I should point out, anyone who doesn’t fall into perfect categories of heteronormativity. What is a gay man or a lesbian supposed to think about this “dream”? I guess they just don’t count. You can say I am making a mountain out of a molehill, and maybe I am; but when the sandman visits me, I am going to ask for a dream in which advertisers dare to be really bold, and use their skills to imaginae for us a better world, a world with more variety, more creativity, more originality, and more possibilities for all people. That’s a commercial I would love to watch.