By: Maxine Macias
Power is the ability or right to control people or things. According to Practices of Looking, images can cause us to conjure up certain emotions. Also, we have a sense of power over images in the way we choose to perceive them. Like the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” We are constantly looking at images, and subconsciously it affects the way we view the world. While we may not immediately process any subliminal messages, it eventually impacts our expectations of the real world.
Hegemony is similar to power and is the influence or control of a group of people. While power has the right, hegemony is more of a subtle way of manipulating people. What government is to power, media is to hegemony. While media tries to portray real life, it also in turns influences culture and people’s views. Pop culture especially seems to capture most people nowadays rather than actual important news because of spectacle. We have become obsessed with the glamour that celebrities depict because it’s impressive and out of the ordinary. Entertainment and pleasure have become not only our preferences but also our priorities somehow. People focus on trying to become something their not because of this envy of glamour. Money, power, sex is depicted constantly in the media, especially hip-hop and rap culture. One is conceived as being successful if they have all three. It influences not only people’s viewpoints but their buying behaviors as well. Often celebrity endorsements cause certain markets to buy that product based solely because of the person who was promoting it.
Speaking of celebrities, brings us to the topic of sexism and the consumer. Sexism is attitudes or behaviors that create stereotypes of social roles based on sex and a consumer is a person who buys goods. It’s important to look at these two as things that go hand in hand in media. Since about the 40’s or 50’s have been creating these social roles that are expected of each sex. Women in the 50’s were expected to be the perfect housewife, and were often a target for advertisements. Ads for home products tended to have a woman, or more specifically, a housewife. Often, they would show how a product would either make life easier for the woman or something that the woman “is capable” of using. Women were depicted as being incapable of what a man could do. The men held the power, and the women’s job was simply to comply.
However, as the men went off to war in World War II, ads began to try to entice women into joining the workforce in order to replace the men. Two of them were both of “Rosie the River,” who was different than the other ads portraying women. These ads portray Rosie as woman who built planes for the war. She is not in a skirt, smiling happily at home, she is dressed in a uniform that covered her body and was rather masculine suggesting that women have as much ability as men. It was powerful for women in an era that was used to seeing the same old thing. The other “Rosie the Riveter” ad was simply a woman flexing her arm with a tough facial expression that suggested women are strong and powerful.
While social roles are slowly beginning to shift, there are still social pressures and double standards placed on women based on appearance. A certain standard of beauty seems to be the only one media wants to show its viewers. Women are expected to be skinny or overly sexualized. These images create this unrealistic unattainable beauty in order to create more desire of products for women. What many don’t realize however is that it’s all false. The models seen are covered in makeup and as if that wasn’t enough, are also photoshopped. Because a lot of companies were going under fire for overly using Photoshop, as of recently companies, such as Dove and American Eagle Outfitters are beginning to do ad campaigns based on natural beauty encouraging women to love themselves and their bodies.
Sex is a tool that ad makers often use to market their products. Women aren’t the only victims as men are beginning to be more sexualized, as seen in a clothing ad such as Hollister’s. “Sex sells” is an old saying that still lives on. The reason why sex sells is this desire that people feel they would get from buying certain products. This idea of desire comes from the gaze. The gaze is looking or staring something with eagerness or desire. According to “Practices of Looking,” “In much psychoanalytic film criticism, the gaze is not the act of looking itself but the viewing relationship characteristic of a particular set of social circumstances.” The gaze is also a marketing technique in which the subject of an ad stares directly at the viewer as a way to entice them.
The gaze also refers to the way a viewer is not white empathetic of the subject. For example, in Leppard’s Doubletake, while the viewer was intrigued by the Native American people and perhaps sympathized for them she lacked empathy. She did not have a true understanding of their culture based on the photo. The reason why the pedagogy or the art, science, or teaching of ways of looking is important is to correlate the meaning of the image to the meaning of the world around us. An image means a lot more than what it shows you in plain sight, often times the representation of an image can be deceiving or have more depth. In Practices of Looking, an argument often brought up because of representation is the source of whether images reflect the world or do individuals create their own meaning to the image.
1) Doubletake: The diary of a relationship with an image. Lucy R. Lippard. Third Text Vol. 5, Iss. 16-17, 1991.
2) History.com Staff. “Rosie the Riveter.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter>.
3) Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/>.
4) Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.