Well, not really....a critical (and hopefully witty and humorous) view of gender,
race, and pop culture.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Wonder Bulge

From Airection, the makers of the Blow Jock, comes The Wonder Bulge.

Listen up, men. The women have the WonderBra, so it's about time that a product was developed to accentuate our manliness. With the easy to use pump, you can go from the average, "nothing special about me" man to the talk of the workplace.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Once Upon a Time, In a Kingdom Far, Far Away…

The film Gia is based on the real life story of Gia Carangi, who is considered to be America’s first supermodel. After fighting a heroin addiction, Gia learns she has contracted AIDS, and dies at the age of 26, bringing her fashion career to an end. The story is told with a fairy tale-like form to it, with Gia’s voiceover occasionally reading lines from a fairy tale. While the film Gia shares similarities to a fairy tale, there are many more dissimilarities between a fairy tale and the film. And because of Gia’s beautiful image, we are able to ignore (or at least the film makers want us to ignore) all of her flaws, especially the heroin addiction. The even go as far as sending out messages to women and girls that many of Gia’s faults are acceptable or able to be ignored, as long as you have the good looks to cover those flaws up.

One major similarity between Gia and a fairy tale is how Gia starts off as a loud-mouthed punk from Philadelphia, working as a cashier in the family restaurant, yet manages to get to the top of the modeling world. She is able to overcome her initial low level status to eventually become known as the most beautiful woman in the world. And how does she get to the top? She doesn’t have a fancy new invention or a successful business style. She gets to the top by using her looks. Her beauty, her image. If not for her beauty, it is likely that Gia wouldn’t be known as more than “the cashier in that restaurant down the block”. Instead, everybody flocks to her for her beauty, because society has made beautiful, thin women the ideal body image. Every photographer and advertiser wanted her image on their product, not because of how far she has came or the adversity she overcame to get to where she is, but because of her image. Abra Fortune Chernik mentions that while looking at her anorexic self, she realized her image was “held up by culture as the physical ideal because she was starving, self-obsessed and powerless, a woman called beautiful because she threatened no one except herself” (Chernik 132). Society up holds the thin, “beautiful” as ideal because they are viewed as too small to be threatening or powerful.

However, it doesn’t matter that all it took for Gia to gain her fame was her beauty because, like a fairy tale, beauty is what brings happiness. And apparently for Gia, this idea of happiness as a result of beauty started at a young age. In one of the beginning scenes, Gia as a young girl is playing with her mom, when they laugh about being pretty: “Do I be the prettiest, prettiest girl? You do. You do be the prettiest. You do.” As a result of this happiness, Gia reaches a sort of happily ever after, even after her addiction to heroin as a coping mechanism. She is able to ignore her addiction, and if given the chance, would do it all over again. Despite Gia’s death as a results of AIDS, the story still has a happy ending because of Gia’s beauty. As stated by Gia as we see her walking away from her death bed as her perfect, beautiful, pre-AIDS self, “…If I stop today, it was still worth it. Even the terrible mistakes that I have made...It was worth it for having been allowed to walk where I've walked…”(Gia).

While her life follows the fairy tale pattern, her story doesn’t always seem to fit the mold. For example, unlike in the common childhood fairy tale where the princess lives “happily ever after” with her Prince Charming, the story of Gia ends with her dying from AIDS that she acquired from her drug use. Aside from Snow White’s poison apple, I can’t think of many other instances of drug use in fairy tales, let alone drug usage which causes death from a terrible disease such as AIDS. Also contrasting the typical fairy tale, Gia is not shown as the nice princess who everybody gets along with and wants to be around because of her personality. Instead, Gia is a knife carrying, drug using junkie who is wanted because of her beautiful image. Despite the fact that Gia’s life may seem extremely different at times from a fairy tale, nevertheless her life plays out like one. It doesn’t matter if you live happily ever after because you married Prince Charming or because once upon a time you were beautiful, you still get to live happily ever after.

In the story of Gia Carangi, being successful and finding your “happily ever after” is not the type of happily ever after you would find in a fairy tale. It’s not about finding your “prince (or princess) charming”. Success and happily ever after are not about finding happiness or your meaning in life. In Gia, success and happily ever after are achieved only once two conditions are met: beauty and wealth. Without a beautiful image, which, of course, leads to wealth, how can one call themselves successful or say they’ve found their happily ever after? According to the filmmakers of Gia, it’s impossible without beauty and wealth.

So what messages is this “fairy tale” sending to women and girls? Well, for one, it’s sending the message that beauty is all it takes to be happy and successful. As discussed previously, Gia rose from a cashier in a family restaurant to the top of the modeling business not by her smarts or hard work, but merely by her beauty. As said by Jean Kilbourne in reference to girls, “…what is most important about them is their perfume, their clothing, their bodies, their beauty” (Kilbourne 260). As long as you have a good looking image, you will be successful in life and achieve happiness, as did Gia.

Another message Gia is sending is that a woman is meant to keep quiet and let her looks do the talking. Evidently whatever a woman says is totally irrelevant to the situation, and a woman is better off just letting their beauty and good looks talk for her. As Gia is told during an interview, “Talking at all is not really required in this profession, or even encouraged. Anything you might have to say, you say through the camera-the image. And hopefully the product. What comes out of your mouth is totally irrelevant.” (Gia). It’s not about what a woman has to say that sells a product, but her image. So instead of being outspoken, Gia played their game by doing a nude photo shoot with her makeup assistant Linda. Because Gia let her image, not her mouth, do the talking, she was propelled to the top of the modeling business as one of the few models at the time willing to expose themselves on camera.

Unfortunately this is a common trend in today’s society. Women are taught from early childhood that girls are supposed to be quiet and let their image do the talking, and this often carries over into adult hood. As said by Jean Kilbourne, “…one of the consequences of this socialization is that girls grow into women afraid to speak up for themselves or to use their voices to protect themselves from a variety of dangers” (Kilbourne 264).

And because it’s hard to go through life knowing that your word means nothing to others because you’re a woman, along with all the other difficulties that come with relying on your beauty to get you through life, Gia shouts out to girls and women everywhere that it is acceptable to rely on drugs to take the edge off and ease the pain of beauty and all that life throws at you. After Gia’s own “prince charming”, Linda, left her, Gia turned to drugs to keep her going. And this drug use was shown as acceptable simply because Gia was beautiful. And this worked for her, until her “fairy tale” came crashing to a halt. After going through the painful process of detox, Gia continued to feel sick. She later brought herself into the hospital for further evaluation, where it was discovered she had contracted AIDS from her IV drug use. She soon after died as a result of AIDS, bringing her “perfect fairy tale” life to an end.

To look at Gia as a fairy tale reveals the many similarities and dissimilarities the move possesses to a fairy tale. Although Gia attains what she considers a happily ever after by getting to the top of the modeling world, she does it through her drug use, and more importantly, her beauty. Without her beauty, Gia would never have had her “fairy tale” experience, and she would still be that loud mouthed rebel cashier working in the family restaurant.

Works Cited

Chernik, Abra Fortune. “The Body Politic.” Female Beauty: 130-134.

Gia. 1998. DVD. HBO Home Video.

Kilbourne, Jean. “’The More You Subtract, the More You Add’: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Can’t Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. N.p.: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 258-267.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sexual Images in Advertising

Sex in Advertising

Rollover or Click Picture to Enlarge Image!
Advertisers objectify both men and women as both subtle and overtly sexual images for the sole purpose of selling their products, devaluing and dehumanizing both in the process.

Women, and men as well, are placed in advertisements, not to display the functionality of the product being marketed, but more likely for the purpose of attracting readers to the advertisement. This is especially evident in the advertisement above for Old Spice. Now, a young woman wearing next to nothing fly-fishing in a river does not scream “Buy Old Spice!!” to me, so why is the main part of the advertisement the woman? To attract the attention of men. This kind of advertising was pioneered by Esquire magazine, which for the first time presented images “to be consumed on their own, creating a distance in production of meaning between textual and visual contents” (Breazeale 235). Advertisers figure that if they can draw your attention to their ad by providing a sexual image (which has nothing to do with what they are selling), men will associate the product with the image, making them more likely to purchase the product if they see it in stores. By doing so, advertisers are demeaning both men and women. For males, advertisers are making the statement that men are not intelligent enough to differentiate between a good product and a product that they associate with sexual imagery. As for women, images of females are placed in advertisements merely for their beauty, intended to be the objects of male lust and attraction.

Sexualized images are not always blatantly obvious, but are often subtly placed. Take, for example, the advertisement in the middle of the collage for a new 8 blade razor. Wait, what’s that? It’s not for a razor, but for beer? Who knew. The intended main attraction of this ad is without a doubt the man who is shaving and pulling a glass of beer with his razor. On the mans chest and going onto his arm is a string of circles, detailing what each blade can do, such as incision, serration, mulching, exfoliating, and waxing. It is obvious that these descriptions are fake and are meant to attract the male consumer by employing masculine concepts to the product, such as using the term “mulching” to relate the razor to a lawn mower. As stated by Kirkham and Weller, “the names of the male products…incorporate more rough, tough, and vigorous qualities, in an attempt to validate the products within a range of masculinities acceptable to the type of purchaser (male and female) the firm wishes to attract” (272). This advertisement also takes it a step further, using the terms “exfoliating” and “waxing”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these terms are not being used to state the function of the product, but to poke fun at female products. But then again, when you finally get past the sexual imagery and insinuating text in this ad, you find out that the company is advertising beer, not razors. The ad states: “Smooth, like no other”.

Haha. Very witty.

Works Cited

Breazeale, Kenon. “In Spite of Women.” Signs 20.1 (1994): 1-22. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 230-243.

Kirkham, Pat, and Alex Weller. “Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study.” The Gendered Object. Mahchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1996. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 268-273.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Collage All About Me!

Well, maybe not me, but a depiction of what the media portrays men as.

My Collage!

Rollover or Click to Enlarge Image!

Enjoy! I'm going to go make myself a protein shake, grill up a big slab of steak, and perform the weekly tune-up of my cars engine.

Oh, and can't forget to apply half a can of AXE before heading out...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

“What Should We Do to Become Glamorous”-Island Princess Barbie

Before I entered this class, I had never really thought about how gender is everywhere. As a boy, I always just accepted that it was the "normal" thing to receive gifts such as GI Joes, fully loaded with a heavy 'laser' cannon, fire storm blaster, 3 pulse missiles, flame blaster, flame projectile, power cutter saw, blaster, and a bazillion other weapons that are essential if I wanted to free the world from evil. Now, after spending a few weeks learning about gender, I realize that I have been subject to genderization my whole life. When I was given this assignment to study genderization in toys, I figured it would be interesting to write about the different toys from my childhood that I now realize have been genderized…that's until I received notice that I'm not writing about toys for myself, but for a 7 year old named Stephanie who enjoys playing Nintendo, drawing pictures on her Etch A Sketch and Lite Brite, and playing with dolls, or more specifically, Barbie dolls. Now things are getting interesting…not only do I have to write about toys meant for the opposite sex, I apparently have to analyze what messages they send, how they teach gender, what they symbolize, and how they relate to adulthood. In short, I actually have to think about toys instead of just assuming that boys play with toys that kill things and girls play with toys that clean and make food. So how do I plan to do this? Well, I could just sit here at my computer and click around Amazon.com for some ideas, never leaving sight of the Jets game and not have to venture into "girl world", or I could suck it up and go to Toys "R" Us and get a more hands on look at the toys. Decisions, decisions… As tempting as the first method was, and even though I expected to walk into "girl world" and be surrounded by more pink then I could ever imagine, along with doll dresses of every shape and color (with an emphasis on glamour, like, oh my god!), cleaning toys, and more baby dolls (dressed in pink, of course) than one could ever dream of playing with, I chose the latter.

When I arrived, I hesitantly headed directly for girl world, and what I found didn't surprise me, it frightened me. There were more shades of pink than I ever knew existed. Surprisingly, not every Barbie I came across had blonde hair as I had expected, but a good majority did. As I was strolling down Barbie Lane, I noticed one that had one of those "Try me, I sing!" stickers on it. Being unable to restrain my inner child, I of course had to push the button so it made noise. What I heard next, however, was so…perfect…for this assignment, that I instantly took note of it. As stated by Island Princess Barbie, "What Should We Do to Become Glamorous???". Wow. Only 2 minutes into my adventure, and I already have the perfect title for my post.

A few steps further down Barbie Lane, I discovered my next victim---MyScene Juicy Bling: Kennedy. Oh good lord did this thing frighten me. Fully decked out with more makeup on her face then a Vegas showgirl, diamond "bling", necklace and bracelet "that we can share!", cell phone (so she's never out of touch with glam world), and a large, pink, flower in her hair, "Juicy Bling Kennedy" gave me a lot to work with. After I got over my initial shock, I got down to business. First question I asked myself: what message is this toy sending? Well, just look at her! Diamond "bling", cell phone, more jewelry than a Tiffany's catalogue. It is obvious from just one look at this product that having money, and lots of it, is required to be beautiful. And it doesn't stop there. Girls also apparently need makeup (evidently lots and lots of makeup), accessories, and hair that takes two days to do (not to mention the large, pink, hair flower thing). Based on this description, it's obvious that this doll isn't aimed at the younger part of the population, but at the older children who have probably already begun using makeup, right? Guess again. The recommended age for this product: 6-10 years old. Apparently Mattel thinks it's a good idea for 6-10 year olds to begin becoming "glam" and slapping on the makeup 6 inches thick. This is especially frightening, because, as stated by Susan Jane Gilman, "…dolls often give children their first lessons in what society considers valuable-and beautiful" (74). Now, I'm no parent, but if my daughter tried to go to school looking like that, there would be an immediate father-daughter talk.

When I went to put this makeup slathered, "blinged" out doll back on the shelf, I came across the next target of my fury. Make that targets. It was the Barbie I Can Be… collection. This wonderful little array of Barbie dolls (and don't forget the accessories) shows kids that even Barbie goes out and gets a job, so you should too! This is fantastic, Ms. Gilman will finally get her wish and have a Barbie doll that teaches value by showing kids that girls, not just boys, have a spot in the workforce. Finally a Barbie with…value! Wait, what's that? I'm wrong? Oh, silly me…how could I get so excited without even looking at what Barbie can be? Let's see…Barbie can be a cake baker, a baby doctor, or a baby photographer. Whoa, did I get ahead of myself on this one! Yes, I am correct that this collection shows girls the value of getting a job, but that's about where the value in this assortment of dolls ends. It's true Barbie now has a job, but look at the jobs she has…a baker and two jobs that involve babies. Barbie is finally working outside of the townhouse, but apparently, since she's a girl, she has to be working with either kids or cooking food. If this doesn't teach the point that a woman is meant to be domestic, I don't now what else does. This Barbie collection clearly shows that even though a girl can have a job, she should not abandon her role as a care giver to children or as head chef of the family. As James Lull states, "…the most potent effect of mass media is how they subtly influence their audiences social roles and routine personal activities" (62). Even though a girl may not want to work with children or cooking, Barbie sends the message that girls should grow up to fulfill their genderized roles as caretakers or preparers of food.

Ok, I'm out of this place. 2 pages of notes, 3 Barbies, and 4 pounds of Halloween candy later (don't ask…), I decided to head home (since Toys "R" Us was closing and about to kick me out) for my last piece of research. Just in case Stephanie has a brother, I checked the Toys "R" Us website to find a gender neutral game that the both of them can play. After browsing though the site, I finally found a gender neutral toy: Connect 4. To find this game, I had to click on the special category for "both" sexes. This really irked me…why are toys broken down by sex on the website? Sure more girls than boys play with Barbies, and I'm sure more boys than girls play with GI Joes, but does that mean that no boys play with Barbie (even when "play" means ripping the heads off), and does this mean that no girls play with GI Joes (I hear Ken can be a wimp sometimes)? I'm sure some do. And just as a side note, why does Toys "R" Us recommend Connect 4 for ages 7-12? I know I personally still enjoy a game of connect 4, yet according to Toys "R" Us I'm too old to enjoy it. We'll talk about ageism another time.

So, what have I learned from this journey through Barbie World? Well, apparently to be successful, one must be "glam": wear lots of jewelry and have more money than you need. Also, toy manufacturers begin marketing toys to girls at a young age that teach that a woman's role in life always involves taking care of children and cooking, regardless of if she's at home or at work. Unfortunately, because these ideas are being thrown at children at such a young age, it tends to stick with them through adulthood. Henley and Freeman argue that women, and I would argue boys and girls as well, that "…visual status reminders permeate her environment. As she moves through the day, she absorbs many variations of the same status theme, whether or not she is aware or it" (84).

Well my friends, that's all for today!

Feel free to leave comments, though donations and baked goods are also acceptable forms of praise…


Connect 4. Photograph. Toys “R” Us. 2007. 2 Oct. 2007 http://trus.imageg.net/‌graphics/‌product_images/‌pTRU1-2788727reg.gif.

Gilman, Susan Jane. “klaus barbie, and other dolls i’d like to see.” Learning Gender: 72-75.
Henley, Nancy, and Jo Freeman. “The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior.” Learning Gender 5th ser.: 84-93.

Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach (1995). Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 61-66.