Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why I Mute TV Commercials

This month, The Savvy Reader Book Club, is reading Debora L. Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. Today is the first in a series of posts I will write throughout the month inspired by this book.

One of the first points Spar, who is roughly the same age as me, makes in Wonder Women is how the perfume commercials we grew up with in the 70’s shaped the visions of our future adult life. She writes:
They stuck somehow in the public consciousness, or at least in the minds of schoolgirls like me, who simply presumed that life in the grown-up world would be just like the ad for Charlie. We'd have careers to skip to, kids to adore us, and men waiting to douse us with perfume the moment we waltzed through the door. Money and great shoes only sweetened the package.
This wasn't of course, the life that our mothers were living. In 1970, only 43 percent of women worked outside the home. In upper-middle-class white families like my own, the number was slightly higher, hovering by 1974 at around 46 percent. Most of these women worked in "traditional" fields such as teaching or nursing, and they rarely wore stilettos to the job. Yet somehow, girls growing up in that era believed - thought, presumed, knew - that they would be different. That instead of replicating their mothers' suburban idylls of parent-teacher conferences and three-tiered Jell-I molds, they-we-would go the way of Charlie, enjoying children and jobs, our husbands' money and our own. And through it all, we would be smiling and singing, gracefully enjoying the combined pleasures of life. (Pg. 16)
I was astonished. I can't believe my entire life's vision had evolved from a commercial. I vividly remember watching the following Enjoli ad on TV and thinking this is the life I am going to have. I even told my friends quoting the famous line: "I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. And never forget you're a man. Cause I'm a woman.
This wasn't the first time entire generations of women were influenced by advertisements.  In Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, Betty writes how middle-class white women in the 50's and 60's abandoned their careers so they could buy the latest carpet sweeper and cleaning cleanser. A lifestyle perpetuated by magazine editors who restricted the topics and advertisements portrayed in their magazines. Friedman had studied women’s magazines for decades and found the editorial decisions were made by men who enforced “occupation housewife.” Articles and advertisements only portrayed women as housewives. They didn’t want them to have any other ambitions than to be housewives.

Which brings me to The Reading Group Guides discussion questions for Wonder Women.  The very first question asks:
Do contemporary print and electronic publications (advertising, magazines, blogs) persist in creating impossible ideals of beauty, success, and motherhood in the name of commerce, or has this approach been tempered somewhat through the use of more realistic images and languages?
Umm... I  have to say yes.   Even ads like the following Special K commercial which urges women to shut down the fat talk leaves me feeling embarrassed about my weight:

Fortunately, I don't watch a lot of TV and when I do I either fast forward through the commercials or mute them.
What do you think:
Do contemporary print and electronic publications (advertising, magazines, blogs) persist in creating impossible ideals of beauty, success, and motherhood in the name of commerce, or has this approach been tempered somewhat through the use of more realistic images and languages? Can you site examples?


  1. One of the truest things I've read regarding financial management is that if you don't have plans for your money, someone else does. That's all it's about, selling something. It's why I subscribe to 0 magazines. Because between all of the content there are countless ads introducing me to things I would've never wanted or though I needed because I would've never known it existed.

  2. Wow!!! This is super interesting! I wonder what parts of my life have been over influenced by ads...

  3. i love shannon's comment about 'if you don't have plans for your money, someone else does.' that's so funny and true. i also mute commercials, try to do all my shopping online so i'm not browsing aisles tempted by useless items, try not to go shopping in the traditional sense.

  4. I see them ALL THE TIME and I hate them. I should mute the commercials too, instead of just yelling at them ;)

    Last night, I think I saw a jewelry commercial that I thought was *exceptionally* stupid and PiC reminded me that I'd probably never see a jewelry commercial that I didn't think was stupid or that would appeal to me. It's true, but my point stands ;)

  5. There's a documentary on netflix I watched recently called missrepresenttion that talks a lot about this and how those commercials and messages are still very much prevalent today.

  6. I absolutely love Shannon's comment! How true that is! I don't watch tv so I don't see the commercials, but it's not like there aren't ads all over the internet as well. I'd be lying if I said I'd never been influenced by them.

  7. I do all my viewing on Netflix or dvd, so I just don't see commercials much anymore. But every once in a while I am in the room when someone else is watching tv and the commercials make me crazy. Not only do they perpetuate the idea that skinny is healthy, they promote the idea that buying something new will make your life better. Usually it won't; you'll just have less money and more useless crap.

    Beyond commercials, so much of the actual entertainment is still so damaging. Sure, women are represented as presidents and soldiers and such but they are still thin and gorgeous. I love shows that have real looking people, and not just as the comic relief.

    And I totally remember the perfume commercials you mentioned. I've got the Enjoli jingle stuck in my head now.

  8. This is an interesting topic. I read a book about marketing once and they said that some of the companies actually hire psychologists to determine what the vulnerable points are for each type demographic and then they tailor their campaign to those specific points. So if they are marketing to 5 year old girls, they will show 8 year old girls playing with the toys to make them more appealing. I think it's disgusting and I think you're onto a good thing with muting commercials. #SITSSharefest

  9. Hi! Visiting from our SITS Tribe.

    I am not a big tv fan either but realize there are tons of unrealistic images that are being portrayed through the media of what beauty should be.

    Many women can easily be affected by these images because they are glorified and regular people are beginning to adapt this "image" that they see in commercials, on tv or on movies, when in reality that stuff is just not real.

  10. I watch commercials, but I'm biased since I'm in marketing. But that's the reason I watch them, to dissect them. I find the more harmful culprits to be women's magazines, I don't know how anyone can get through one of those and not feel bad about something and be ready to spend money on some self-improving item. It's sad but marketers do play on psychology to sell products, it works like a charm!

    I remember that Enjoli jingle so clearly!

    Loved this post! Stopping by from your SITS tribe!

  11. It really is interesting to contemplate how commericials, for better or worse, impact the rhetoric and ideals of society much more than we think they do.

  12. Shannon,
    While reading reading Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women's Magazines by Jennifer Nelson, I realized the sole purpose of magazines including the articles is to sell us stuff. It has been hard for me to pick up a magazine ever since.

  13. Susannah,
    Probably more than you can imagine...

  14. Catherine,

    'if you don't have plans for your money, someone else does.'

    This is a good one. I think I will post it on Facebook tonight.

  15. Revanche,
    I bet you are right all jewelry commercials are stupid. Now that I think about it I've heard a couple of doozies lately. DH sometimes keeps the TV on and I do hear them. Plus, I hear them on the radio too, so no one can completely keep from ever seeing or hearing a commercial. Unless they live in the woods and don't have a radio, TV or computer.

  16. Stefanie,
    I still haven't watched that documentary. I've even written about it. I think I have to make it a priority. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. Michelle,
    After writing this and reading the comments, I realized I am subjected to ads more than I realized.

  18. Miss Robin,
    So true - much of out entertainment including movies and TV does not have real looking people. I'm going to watch for it now that you've mentioned it and put together a list.

  19. Adrian,
    That doesn't surprise me and it is disgusting.

  20. Shashee,
    So true. Thanks for the comment and yea for our new SITS tribe.

  21. Kemya,
    I stopped reading magazines too. I noticed even Oprah's magazine now seems to be one big commercial.

    It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on marketing using images of real people. Even the women from the Dove ad's are photoshopped. Can it be done?

  22. Rachel,
    I like how you point out for better or worse. I am sure there are also commercials that have impacted our society in a positive way - the crying Indian commercial about littering comes to mind.

    Thanks for the comment.

  23. I think that commercials, television, and magazines are the bane of growing girls. Rarely is there a girl who can keep up with the ideals set forth via Photoshop. I stopped reading magazines ages ago when I realized that they were perpetuating ideas about marriage that were never going to happen. Image if I thought that my marriage was less than acceptable because it didn't look like what Cosmo says it should be like???

  24. We've stopped watching commercials as well due to the ability to fast forward. Of course, we make time to watch them on the Super Bowl, so I'm not sure what that says about us.

    When we do have to watch them, for whatever reason, it's really become noise in the background for me. It has the opposite effect on the kids though. I wonder what they take away from commercials like these.