Tags: capitalism, commodification, consumption/consumerism, food/agriculture, economic sociology, marketing/brands, theory, weber, alienation, assembly line, farming, fordism, mass production, McDonalidzation, rationalization, simulacra, slow food, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Using Pixar-esque animation and Willie Nelson’s twang, this Chipotle commercial examines the development of our food production system. The commercial-story begins with images of pigs in an open pasture, which are then subjected to larger and more mechanized farming practices that lead to a highly industrialized food production system. It then shows a farmer (who evokes images of Middle America) as he slowly realizes the toxic effects, both on body and planet, of rationally commodifying agriculture and livestock. Set to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” (heartbreakingly sung by Willie Nelson), the main lyrics reference going “back to the start” and a return to earlier farming practices. Within the linear segment, we learn that the said farmer’s consciousness-raising leads to cage-free farming, thereby allowing him, his family, and their farm animals to lead a more socially conscious–and seemingly happy–existence. This clip can bring to life theories of consumption, aiding sociologists-in-training in conceptualizing concepts including Weber’s theories on rationalization, George Ritzer’s theories on McDonaldization, and Jean Baudrillard’s musings on simulacra. It can be useful to spark conversations on the social and environmental impacts of consumption behaviors and the potential impacts of industrial farming practices for human health. Finally, Chipotle’s commercial provides an opportunity to examine the complexities–and sometimes contradictions–of advertising. After a discussion on whether they are prompted (as educated consumers) to frequent Chipotle now that they’ve seen the commercial, the viewer might consider some little known facts and inconsistencies of the fast-food chain. For example, the McDonald’s Corporation was at one time a major investor in Chipotle, though now divested from the Mexican grill. In January 2011, the fast-food chain was in the Minnesota headlines when several locations were hiring undocumented workers, therefore coming to the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Once discovered, Chipotle fired the employees, ranging from 350 to 700 people. This begs the question, while ethical treatment is being maintained for farm animals, is ethical treatment being maintained for actual human employees?
Submitted By: Beverly M. Pratt
Tags: commodification, consumption/consumerism, bodies, emotion/desire, food/agriculture, gender, health/medicine, marketing/brands, media, eating disorders, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This commercial for LAY'S® potato chips can be used to illustrate the common practice among advertisers to represent women's consumption of junk food as a (commodified) act of romantic love, intimacy, or sexual pleasure. In this particular spot, shot entirely in slow motion with Al Green crooning his classic "I'm So In Love With You" in the background, anticipation builds as the woman prepares to encounter her salty prince, err...snack. As she opens the bag, a flirtatious smile spreads wide across her face. She performs all the ritualistic feminine acts of falling in love (bites at her lip, bats her lashes, averts her eyes), adhering to a familiar cultural narrative of a school girl falling in love: she's playful, coy, and unmistakably giddy. Across the bottom of the screen the following words appear: "one taste and you're in love." Feminists have well-documented the ways in which women are persistently depicted as being tormented by an obsessive relationship with food (e.g., Bordo 1998). Recently, scholars have pointed to the ways in which chocolate has been marketed to women, equating chocolate to delightful yet sinful indulgence, sex, and a pseudo form of female empowerment. In the article "Women and Food Chains: The Gendered Politics of Food," Allen and Sachs (2007) place this marketing strategy in a socio-health context, stating that "dieting, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and obesity—all on the rise—mark the confused messages that women should have perfect (thin) bodies at the same time that they are encouraged to over consume and indulge in junk food. Advertising and media play an enormous role in perpetuating women's obsession with thinness" (2). As these commercials about junk food suggest, advertising and the media also play a role in perpetuating the message that, for women, the junk food eating experience is similar to that of sex, love, and intimacy, all of which perpetuate a complex and often unhealthy relationship with food. In another version of this commercial, Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" plays in the background.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: aging/life course, bodies, consumption/consumerism, discourse/language, gender, marketing/brands, media, race/ethnicity, social construction, comedy, feminism, reflexivity, representation, self-objectification, sexism, sexual objectification, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: It is not uncommon to read about Photoshop mishaps these days, and there is even a website devoted to posting pictures of bodies that have been butchered by the software, where the overzealous rearrangement of pixels has inadvertently created an oversized hand or a clavicle that appears to fold up like an accordion. Ralph Lauren's infamous picture of model Filippa Hamilton-Palmstierna was heavily retouched, leaving her torso smaller than her head, and as Rachel Maddow points out (here), in all probability, this is not a combination that exists in nature--_at least outside the insect world" (Jean Kilbourne is also critical of the Hamilton-Palmstierna photo in her documentary, Killing Us Softly 4). The often humorous attention paid to Photoshop mishaps threatens to overshadow the very troubling practice of distorting photographed bodies in popular media, and then peddling those distorted images to the public as real. In this post's featured clip, filmmaker Jesse Rosten creates what appears to be just another commercial for a product that promises youth and beauty in a bottle, but after seeing that the product is named Fotoshop, it's easy to deduce that Rosten's pitch is pure satire aimed at lambasting the similarly named software. Witty zingers abound in the clip (e.g., "Just one application of Fotoshop can give you results so dramatic they're almost unrealistic" and "Brighten eyes, whiten teeth, even adjust your race!"), and it offers a nice foundation for beginning a conversation about Photoshop's impact on the standards men and women are coming to have for their bodies and how Photoshop's ubiquity might be tied up with reflexivity, which denotes the growing awareness people have of their bodies. I find it useful to ask students to articulate what all the fuss is about? What's the harm?
The Sociological Cinema has explored the widespread use of Photoshop as a social problem in other videos, but perhaps none is more effective than the Dove Evolution commercial from 2006. Note too that this clip joins a number of other clips on The Sociological Cinema, which deploys satire as a means of critiquing the values promoted in commercials (here and here).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
_Tags: consumption/consumerism, discourse/language, gender, inequality, knowledge, marketing/brands, media, social construction, feminism, glass ceiling, glass escalator, media literacy, representation, role specialization, sexism, stereotypes, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: We all work in an economy marked by occupational sex segregation. That is, men and women typically work in different occupations. American Men, for instance, are overrepresented as auto mechanics and airline pilots, while American women are overrepresented as preschool teachers and nurses. But why is occupational sex segregation a problem? When I bring this issue up in class, my students often counter rather quickly that segregation is merely the result of a gendered role specialization and doesn't inherently denote inequality. However, the fact is that men segregate into higher paid professions than women. Also, while women often report experiencing a glass ceiling, which refers to an invisible barrier to promotion, men who take positions in fields dominated by women report just the opposite. They face a glass escalator, or pressure to move up in their chosen professions (Williams 1992). In short, occupational sex segregation is a bad deal for women. It is less about role specialization and more about men retaining power and resources for the benefit of men. But why is occupational sex segregation so recalcitrant? Check out the commercial above from Best Buy, which aired during Super Bowl 46, and note the natural affinity it depicts between men (read, male logic) and technological innovation. In rapid succession, the viewer encounters distinguished, white men holding their high tech inventions. "I created text messaging," says SMS innovator, Neil Papworth. Only at the end of the thirty-second spot do women appear, and they are Best Buy's relatively low status sales representatives. Elsewhere on this site (here), I have argued that the symbolic domain of high tech is almost the exclusive provenance of men, and while men are overrepresented in ads that pitch items like smart phones and iPads, women are overrepresented in ads that pitch “domestic” technologies, or those that pertain to, say, cooking and other household chores (see here, here, and here). Insofar as the Best Buy ad succeeds, the approximately 100 million people who tune into the Super Bowl, will be persuaded that Best Buy is good place to buy a smart phone, but they are also left with an impression of the world they inhabit. "Why does occupational sex segregation persist?" my students ask. An important part of the answer is that advertisements reinforce the fiction of immutable differences between men and women, and by extension, they suggest that men and women naturally gravitate toward different occupations. The Best Buy commercial can be a useful reminder that advertising is a medium that excels at constructing the reality it claims to merely reflect. What is "natural" is itself a social construction.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: children/youth, consumption/consumerism, gender, marketing/brands, commercial, feminism, sexism, toys, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video examines and challenges gender stereotypes used in LEGO advertising. It was created in response to LEGO's release of a stereotypical gendered line of toys aimed at girls, and 10+ years of boy-geared advertising that led to LEGO losing their girl audience in the first place. The video's creators, SPARK, promotes grassroots mobilization around issues of female sexualization, and started a petition to ask LEGO to commit to better gender equity in its marketing practices and toy creation. The video documents changes in LEGO's advertising, explains the basic premise of the LEGO petition (which is highly critical of gendered advertising like that seen in the graphic here), seeks to give voice to some of the young girls LEGO missed in their targeted marketing, and discusses where SPARK and PBG (a partner organization, Powered by Girl) want to see LEGO go in the future. Viewers may be encouraged to reflect on how LEGO's use of gender advertising changed over time and what might explain these changes? Why does the video's creator see gender stereotyping as a problem in advertising? How can this be considered a social problem, and how do its creators promote change in addressing the problem? This can also be paired with other examples of gender in television in commercials (e.g. see here and here).
Submitted By: Bailey Shoemaker Richards, Sparksummit.com
Tags: capitalism, children/youth, consumption/consumerism, corporations, marketing/brands, media, psychology/social psychology, advertising, false needs, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This excerpt is from the documentary The Corporation (based on the book by Joel Bakan), which examines the role of corporations in our lives today. This brief clip moves between commentary from Barbara Linn (professor of Psychiatry at Harvard's Baker Children's Center) and Lucy Hughes (a marketing executive at Initative Media), a Co-creator of "The Nag Factor." The Nag Factor is a scientific study of how children nag their parents to to "help corporations to help children nag for their products more effectively." Hughes notes the study found that "20% to 40% of purchases would not have occurred unless the child had nagged their parents" and emphasizes the use of psychologists and media technology to better advertise to children. Professor Linn is highly critical of the industry that spends $12 billion/year to market to children, and argues "comparing the marketing of yesteryear to the marketing of today is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb." Viewers may be asked if it is ethical to market to children? While Professor Linn argues against it, the marketing executive says she doesn't know, emphasizing that it is her job to sell products. What is the role of marketing and advertising in society today and has it gone too far? How is it related to capitalism (e.g. the Marxian concept of false needs) and the corporation? At 7:40, the clip ends with the story of two college students who became "corporate sponsors" to pay for their college tuition. See other educational uses of the documentary here and see also this NYT video on advertising on college campuses.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
_Tags: gender, marketing/brands, commercial, gender socialization, heteronormativity, media literacy, representation, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This 30-second commercial is an excellent illustration of West and Zimmerman's (1987) "doing gender" and how media reproduces traditional gender roles in contemporary society. The advertisement features a montage of different women cleaning up various messes around the house, helping their children in the kitchen, and doing the grocery shopping. The very masculine man on the paper towel package sings "lean on me," showing that society ascribes these qualities to a man, while the woman is supposed to depend on men and “lean” on them for support (this also reflects a heteronormative relationship, in which a couple is depicted as a heterosexual male and female). The commercial concludes with the woman buying the paper towel with the “strong” man on the package. Viewers can reflect on how such commercials promote traditional gender socialization within pop culture, how it promotes gender inequality, and how this particular depiction of masculinity and femininity might reflect unequal power within a relationship. Using commercials in this manner offers several benefits, including a quick assessment of student understanding of key concepts (see here and here for other examples of gender in commercials).
Submitted By: Deborah Kim and Michon Tart
Tags: bodies, children/youth, consumption/consumerism, discourse/language, gender, inequality, marketing/brands, media, political economy, sex/sexuality, social construction, violence, feminism, media literacy, representation, self-objectification, sexism, sexual objectification, stereotypes, symbolic annihilation, 06 to 10 mins, 61+ mins
Length: 90:00, 8:52
Access: no online access, Vimeo preview
Summary: Jennifer Siebel Newsom directs this documentary, and following in the steps of the Killing Us Softly films, it draws attention to the very problematic ways women and girls are represented in contemporary media. To tell the story, Newsom weaves together a number of interviews from an array of experts and activists, including Erika Falk, Jennifer Pozner, Jean Kilbourne, Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Cory Booker, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem. The dominant themes of Miss Representation can be described as the consequences of living in a world where one is virtually swimming in representations which consistently emphasize an unattainable beauty standard for women, and in a separate vein, encourage routine violence against women. In this environment, women increasingly self-objectify, they suffer from increased levels of anxiety and depression, a lack of political efficacy, and men increasingly perpetrate violence against women. Despite similarities, Newsom takes her film further than Jean Kilbourne's documentary, Killing Us Softly 4, by exploring more of the political economy behind these harmful representations. Specifically, she explores the large scale entrance of American women into the paid labor force during World War II as a watershed event (see also The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter). In Newsom's retelling of this story, once men returned to from fighting abroad, the media played a central role in encouraging women to surrender their high-paying jobs back to men in order to become domestic consumers in the brave new post-war economy. Today the marketing of corporations are regulated even less by Congress, and their ads continue to target women; they objectify them as part of a strategy aimed at creating ever more insatiable consumers.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: commodification, consumption/consumerism, corporations, education, marketing/brands, advertising, college students, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This NYT video starts by showing us UNC's inaugural party for incoming freshmen at Target (an American big-box store) where "campus ambassadors" promote corporate brands to their fellow students. At another 50 campuses, American Eagle student representatives help freshmen move into their dorms on their first ever day at college, an iconic and memorable moment to link to corporate branding. As one marketing exec says, "its all about marketing through students as opposed to marketing to students." But what does this mean for university education today? The university, meant to represent intellectual integrity through the pursuit of truth and dissemination of knowledge, is becoming increasingly compromised as budgetary cuts encourage greater reliance on the private sector. The students themselves benefit by gaining work experience, compensation in money and products, and networking (e.g. meeting marketing executives), but are they being manipulated by corporations in the process? Student "ambassadors" in the video report that "when you know companies are not there just to get your money, they're actually willing to help you as an individual in whatever way possible, it makes you respect them a lot more," and that it "feels like what you're doing actually matters." Are these corporations really "willing to help in any way possible" or will they do this only insofar as they have something to gain? A UNC representative notes that they have little control over the commercialization of their campus, and a student advocate for social justice notes that this is "commercialization and materialism at its finest." The video reflects a growing body of research (e.g. The Corporate Campus) documenting the rise of commercialization on college campuses, which offers many excellent readings that can be paired with it. Viewers may be encouraged to reflect on the role of corporations and corporate advertising in society today. How have corporations drawn upon social relationships of trust and legitimacy to further their agenda? How might a Marxian perspective help us understand these processes and what is at stake? Should corporate advertising be banned in certain spaces?
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: children/youth, gender, marketing/brands, media, advertising, ironic sexism, media literacy, representation, retro sexism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: If you haven't stopped to familiarize yourself with retro sexism, take the opportunity to do it now because it is confusing your students. It will come as no surprise to readers of this site that sexism is alive and well in advertising, even if the specific form it took a few decades ago has changed significantly. Exhibit A: this new My Tide commercial features a comically anxious mother delivering her testimony directly to the consumer. The mother is visibly uncomfortable that her daughter wears hoodies, cargo shorts, has dispensed with "the whole pink thing," and keeps building car garages for her dinosaurs. This commercial is an excellent example of sexism, but not the sexism of your parent's generation. Think of it is a sexism seen through a glass darkly—retro sexism. Retro sexist media can be defined as media that mimics or glorifies sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency notes that there is characteristically "a wink and a nod" approach in this sort of advertising, where the advertiser attempts to bring the viewer in on the silliness of it all. Thus the viewer watches the My Tide mother stifle her discomfort and effectively mimic those mothers of yesteryear who had trouble coloring outside the prescribed gender lines. Some will undoubtedly fail to see the hint of self-mockery in this ad and seize on it as an example of run-of-the-mill sexism. Others will note the irony and proclaim that the commercial is actually quite progressive. My own view is that this ad is not straightforward sexism and neither does it amount to the kind of satire that offers a fundamental critique of sexism (unlike this commercial). Its primary ambition is to sell soap, and like a joke with no punchline, it is merely impersonating satire in order to build a rapport with the consumer. Somewhere along the way it succeeds in smuggling in an old-fashioned sexism. Make no mistake, policing the boundaries of femininity and masculinity is not nearly as old-fashioned as this ad pretends. For example, The Sociological Cinema has posted a clip about the controversy surrounding photos of a mother painting her sons nails with pink nail polish (here), and we have posted on the use of the phrase "no homo," as a means of policing masculinity (here and here). Here at last is an example of how femininity gets policed as well.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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