The Problems With Advertising Images
Advertising images is a method of advertising that is extremely popular in today’s society. Everywhere we go whether it is New York City or a freeway that takes us from the Northeast to Florida we will somehow see an advertising image. Since we are so accustom to seeing these images everyday whatever these images are about seem irrelevant to us most days. But I think it is extremely important for people to stop and think about what these advertising images are trying to show us, if people would do this more often I think they would be in for quite a shock. Before I attended this class I was one of those people who would simply walk past advertising images like it was just another piece of dust on the sidewalk. But now that I see these images for what they are I am completely in awe of how these images made it up on the sides of buildings and on the billboards on highways. It is true but sad that most of these advertising images tend to have some form of sexism, racism, and/or a power hierarchy in them. The main purpose of these images is to simply gain exposure one way or another; whether it is a billboard or a commercial, if it is controversial the company behind it will become known. I believe that there are several unintended meanings behind a lot of advertising images whether it is a meaning of sexism, racism, or a power hierarchy is what I will be discussing.
Many advertising images now days have unintended meanings of racism. In Stuart Hall’s, “Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices,” he discusses many advertisements that have to do with racism. He brings up one advertisement that ran for the Sunday Times Magazine in 1988 on Ben Johnson, an Olympic runner. The advertisement is essentially a group of black males running the 100-meter dash in the Olympics with Ben Johnson in the lead. Then at the bottom of the advertisement it reads, “Heroes and Villains.” Already you can think of multiple meanings for this ad. Hall continues after discussing the explicit meaning being the race itself by saying, “there is the more connotative or thematic meaning – the drug story. And within that, there is the sub-theme of ‘race’ and ‘difference.’ Already, this tells us something important about how ‘myth’ works. The image is a very powerful one, as visual images often are. But its meaning is highly ambiguous. It can carry more than one meaning” (Hall 228). This advertising image is a perfect example of an image that has an unintended meaning. Of course the main meanings are the drug scandal during that period in time. But I could take it a little deeper and ask why does the picture only depict black runners? Why aren’t there any white runners involved in this advertisement? Are they saying that the only runners who might be taking these drugs are black runners? There are several meanings that can be given to this one ad, these are many unintended meanings for this ad and many more like it.
Racism is not the only unintended meaning for advertisements; sexism is a big problem in these ads as well. This is a huge issue in today’s advertisement world specifically. Many ads completely take advantage of woman and men. But woman are taken advantage of in a horrible way in advertisements. Berger would simply say, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (Berger 47). This is his way of basically saying that women usually have no power in advertisements. This is something we see everyday with major outlets in clothing advertisements like Calvin Klein, Prada, Hollister, and many more. This is essentially the after effect of the type of advertisements world we live in, a patriarchal one. Patriarchy essentially means, “a family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men” (Webster). Most of the advertisements are controlled by this patriarchal way of thinking. That men are always in charge of the women, and women simply let this happen. This is not only a horrible meaning, but it is completely destroying the minds of the young generation in today’s era. Girls are simply accepting this as the “norm” of todays world and for the men, they are getting this image of a man that is clearly not the right one. “Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples” (Hooks, Will to Change 27). All of a sudden men think it is unacceptable to cry or even have feelings for anything. Men all of a sudden have to become this unintended image that these advertisements are showing them. Kimmel says it well in her article, “Misframing Men,” she states, “The consequences of this misframing are especially important for young men, searching for ways to be men – grown-up, adult, responsible, and reliable – in an increasingly complex and equal world…young mean I interviewed seemed so clueless is precisely because of the increasing power of media images in constructing their ideas of what it means to be a man” (Kimmel). This is something that is a huge problem and in my mind it has to be dealt with.
These advertising images give power hierarchies to certain genders and ultimately have to be stopped. As seen above, each advertisement gives power hierarchies to a certain group. Whether it was a white group or the male group, it is something along with racism and sexism in advertisements that needs to be stopped. There can be an alternative to this. These companies can figure out a way to make people laugh or make them come buy there product without completely destroying the image of a woman or man. The main goal for advertisements is to simply gain exposure, so this is possible without using these horrible images. We saw a commercial in class about Special K, even though it ended with a slogan that still was intending to let woman know that they need to loose weight. I found that commercial to be a step in the right direction, the women in that commercial were not abnormally skinny or beautiful, and they seemed normal. The commercial was showing these women eat, which is something that is rare in of itself. So yes, it ended up being the same as many commercials, but it was definitely a step in the right direction; this is something that needs to come up more in today’s era.
Advertising images is something that will never go away, it is a thriving business tool for many companies. Deep down they know that their advertisements are wrong and sexist and sometimes racist. But their main goal is to simply sell a product; they do not care about what the “implicit” meanings are. If an advertisement of a women surrounded by four men that are half naked gets them good sales they are going to stick to it no matter what people say. So in order for this to start on its decrease it is going to have to start with the consumers, we are going to have to really focus on what we are supporting when we buy a product, some of these companies are racist and proud and we don’t even know it. This is something that I am going to be more aware of now when it comes to shopping for anything, whether it is new clothes or food. I will take the first step into changing these advertising images into something that is acceptable and fair for everyone to view and not be ashamed of.
Berger, John. “Chapter 3.” Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting, 1973. 45-64. Print.
Hooks, Bell. “Understanding Patriarchy.” The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Atria, 2004. 20-33. Print.
Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. Print.
Kimmel, Michael S. Misframing Men: The Politics of Contemporary Masculinities. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2010. Print.
“Patriarchy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.
Blog Post #2
Imagery & Culture
March 11, 2014