Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by L).

Cultural Hegemony and Gossip Girl   

For my last blog I decided to write about the television show Gossip Girl. I had never seen an episode before this assignment and thought that I should select something that I was at least partially unbiased about.  Cultural hegemony is the theme that I will be analyzing this show through.  Cultural hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of the society — the beliefs, explanations, and perceptions, values, and mores  — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid  dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class. This definition could be an actual description of Gossip Girl and all of its “values”. The beliefs of the show are directly expressed to the characters on the show and they are then marketed to us when we watch it.

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The series is about the lives of privileged young adults on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. In the two episodes that I watched, there were only two characters who are not white and they are quite literally the secondary minions of one of the main white characters. In professor Tolmie’s fifth class she focused on what is being marketed to us through film and media. A few of the subcategories were able-bodiedness, heterosexuality, whiteness, material wealth, youth, marriage, and female virginity.  Six out of the seven categories discussed are directly applicable to the show and its main characters (Tolmie ,2014). The main nine characters with speaking roles are all white, able-bodied, young, with the parents not looking a day over 35, straight, and wealthy.

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The focus on the importance of wealth and status in the show builds the false belief that it’s the most important thing and that is clearly transferred into our everyday values. There is a lower class family on the show who are considered “poor” compared to the other socialites (yet they are still able to afford to go to one of the most prestigious and expensive private schools in New York) and their lack of inclusion with the elite students causes tension in the episodes and is the basis of introducing the characters. From the very beginning of the first episode the characters are introduced and categorized into the “haves” and “have not” category.  This instantly sets the tone of who is worthy and leads people to believe that they need to be privileged to be praiseworthy.

I feel like it has been clearly expressed that there is a high correlation between our priorities and views and what we watch. “An imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect” is the definition of the word utopia, one of our words to know from the third lecture (Tolmie, 2014). The word utopia is what all of the characters and societies on the show strive for, which is clearly the most dominant thought and transfers into everyday life. Real people are always striving to make more, be more, and own more and I think that it can be related to unrealistic situations shown on shows like Gossip Girl.

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 References

Tolmie, Professor. “Fifth Class Slides.” Ontario, Kingston. 4 Feb. 2014. Lecture.

 Tolmie, Professor. “Third Class Slides.” Ontario, Kingston. 4 Feb. 2014. Lecture.

-xoxo L

 

Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by M).

The Boondocks: Exposing Stereotypes

The Boondocks is an American adult animated sitcom that airs on the Cartoon Network’s late night programming. The show begins with the Freemans, a black family that moved from the South Side of Chicago, Illinois to the serene and generally white suburb of Woodcrest. The combination of diverse culture, lifestyle and social class all contribute to the satirical culture clash that presents unique perspectives on race, gender and popular culture. These unique perspectives create the comedy and conflict in this series.Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.00.22 AM

According to reviewers, the hilarity behind The Boondocks lies in the magnification of racial stereotyping, especially concerning the three main characters—eight-year-old Riley Freeman, his brother, ten-year-old Huey Freeman and their grandfather and legal guardian, Robert Jebediah Freeman.
Riley is an impressionable and enthusiastic follower of African-American popular culture. He idealizes ‘gangsta rap’, and desires to emulate rappers like ‘gangstalicious’. Much of Riley’s role in The Boondocks is to oppose his leftist brother, Huey. Huey plays the logical but misunderstood voice-of-reason. His objection to social inequalities always result in ridicule by those around him, who confuse his intelligence for ‘uppity ignorance’. Huey is morally opposed to the African-American popular culture with which his younger brother Riley is so infatuated. Huey believes that this type of culture contributes to racial inequality. Despite the cynicism from those around him, Huey works to put an end to racialized oppression through social movements and lobbying groups. Their grandfather, Robert Freeman is an advocate for the long-gone values of the African-American culture. Like, Huey, Robert resents the turn in popular African-American culture, but still perpetuates doubt when it comes to total equality with ‘the white man’. His pessimism stems from a historical lampooning from white people. Ultimately, it is the comedic dynamic between these three characters that give credence to the notion of legitimate racial inequality. My blog will not only examine this racial inequality, but also will take a closer look at the gender and popular culture stereotypes in The Boondocks Season two, Episode twenty-eight, “The Story of Gangstalicious”. I will ultimately conclude that The Boondocks is a mostly accurate, albeit slightly exaggerated reflection of various prejudices held towards racial and gendered groups.Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.05.41 AM

In this episode of The Boondocks, it is revealed that Gangstalicious is gay. This is to the disbelief of Riley, who refuses to accept this about his long admired icon. Riley sees homosexuality as so impermissible that he goes to length of rationalizing Gangstalicious’s homosexuality as a mere figment of Riley’s own imagination, despite the fact that the title of his new song is “Homies over Hoes”. Following the release of Gangstalicious’s new song, he appears on a talk show and reveals that fashion, along with “personal grooming, hygiene, facials, seaweed wraps” are hobbies he enjoys. While it is important to remember the satirical nature of The Boondocks, it is also important to question the origin of these stereotypes: why is it that being gay is so frequently associated with typically feminine characteristics? Further, why are these activities considered feminine in the first place? Perhaps because we live in a heteronormative society that has assigned expected behaviors to men and women, such that we are able to categorize others and ourselves. Through this, individuals are able to derive comfort in knowing that they belong to a recognized group. This is where Riley’s brother Huey comes in. Huey destabilizes the ubiquitous notion that the gender binary is inherent, and not simply a construction of societal norms. He does this by challenging Riley’s perception of masculinity. Throughout the episode Riley assumes ostensibly effeminate qualities, like crop tops and purses. He does this because Gangstalicious (who Riley still believed was heterosexual) promoted it as the fashion. Putting aside the blatant homophobia in associating female apparel to gay men, this scene highlights the media’s role in deciding popular culture. It relates to the arbitrary social constructions that shape current culture and the way in which people present themselves as a result of the latest fads. As discussed in lecture, certain hegemonic cultures force minority figures to assimilate, which erodes differences between peoples. This is precisely Huey’s argument, that these subjective social constructs shape popular culture, which in turn shape people’s perception of masculinity and femininity.

The episode discusses rap culture and suggests that in no way has it been influenced by gay culture. This touches on two aspects of the course, race and gender. Because in The Boondocks, rap culture is inextricably tied with black culture, it is in effect saying that black culture and gay culture are polar opposites. There are frequent scenes where the traditional grandfather, Robert is astounded by his grandson’s choice of clothes. Fearing the possibility that he’s gay, Robert tries to push stereotypically ‘masculine’ activities on his grandson. However, Riley refuses to play football or chase girls, he substitutes these activities with sewing and pedicures. As discussed in class, gender socialization is a process by which individuals learn the accepted norms and values of their society, and how they fit within them. This manifests itself in this episode by the way in which Robert attempts to steer Riley towards more stereotypically ‘masculine’ activities. In an effort to console Robert, a ‘whitewashed’ neighbour, whose complexion is more white than the other black characters on the show lists the benefits of having a gay grandson: gay men are cleaner, better cooks, and get in less trouble with the law. The neighbor’s whitish complexion is important because it conveys that this white man has to be the voice-of-reason to black man, the grandfather. All this works to highlight the taboo in society that being gay is a bad thing. Throughout this episode, Gangstalicious made his best attempt to conceal his secret, however, once everybody found out, his career was essentially over. At the end, a narrator came on and asked, “Will hip-hop ever accept a gay rapper?” This question is still incredibly important today, as there are no gay rappers in hip-hip. There seems to be a stigma in rap culture towards homosexuality; people are ostracized with rap lyrics like ‘no homo’. Similarly to the recent professional NBA player, Jason Collins coming out about his sexuality, the rap industry needs someone to pioneer the fight against homophobia in rap. If nothing else, The Boondocks makes this very clear.
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It is evident that while The Boondocks appears to be a severely discriminatory show, it is a show that needs to exist. With humor, The Boondocks exposes cultural hegemonic influences, as well as stereotypes that too frequently go unquestioned in our society.

– M entry

Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by S).

 When You Wish Upon a Star It Makes a Difference Who You Are

            Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White and many other Disney princesses have had a powerful influence on informing the dreams of children for generations. What appear to be fun-filled stories of adventure and romance in fact are highly manipulative messages stemming from hegemonic influences of the dominance of one social group over another strategically incorporated into the Disney princess mythology (Aulette and Wittner 10). Disney princesses were used to teach girls their place within hierarchies including race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and social class in their families and in western society; in happy heterosexual marriages, living in a stable class system with successful heroes who have wealth and power (Pearson 9). Receiving considerable criticism for perpetuating hegemonic masculinity, culturally exalted in male toughness and competition and the subordination of women there was much anticipation over the release of Frozen, Disney’s new film of 2013 (Aulette and Wittner 10).

            Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Snow Queen (Lemire). Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee released in November of 2013, Frozen tells a story of the power of sisterly love and embracing your true nature. A wild adventure occurs when Anna (Kristen Bell) enlists the orienteering skills of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) in a race to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) and release the kingdom of Arendelle from the deep freeze that Elsa’s powers have trapped it in. Through intersectional analysis of hegemonic influences in Frozen revealed in gender socialization, race, beauty and ableism this animated movie has subverted contentions of typical Disney princesses depicting strong female characters while holding onto some old baggage maximizing merchandising potential.

            Images of Disney heroes and heroines are dictated by hegemonic influences that exalt masculinity characterized by power, aggressiveness, strength and competition and emphasize femininity through the media version of womanhood (Aulette and Wittner 10). The relevance of this is the impact these characters have on the gender socialization of girls and boys as they learn their place in social systems (Pearson 3). Unlike traditional Disney films where the handsome prince rescues the princess and breaks the curse with true loves kiss, Frozen celebrates the power of familial love between sisters. Anna displays agency when she sets out alone to rescue her sister employing Kristoff as her mountain guide. Portraying a girl in an assertive role empowered by her own courage and ingenuity reflects a change to existing patterns and social practices (Aulette and Wittner 11). Devaluing women, portraying them in roles depicting subordination to men, where male strength or ingenuity is required to fix a problem perpetuates the social dominance of men (Tolmie Week 3 Lecture). In this way Disney begins to shift away from perceptions of established gender roles internalized by processes of gender socialization (Ibid). A definite step forward from the myriad of damsel in distress females of previous Disney films.

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             By creating a story with an unmistakable focus on the power of love and commitment between sisters the dominance of heterosexual romance in previous movies receives a gentle nudge. Addressing the superficiality and risk of instant betrothals from love-at-first-sight, reminiscent of previous Disney scenes, both Elsa and Kristoff reprimand Anna for accepting the engagement of a complete stranger. Alas, heterosexual love does rear it’s head throughout the movie because let’s be honest, romance sells and Disney’s not quite ready to totally change their recipe of success.

             Characters portrayed in Disney movies uphold the silence of race through promulgating whiteness. The lack of racial representation in Frozen cannot be completely explained by its geographical setting in Scandinavia. The presence of trolls, anthropomorphic snowmen and sentient reindeer negate arguments of adhering to cultural realism. There were in fact many opportunities for racial variance to be reflected in crowd scenes but they were not. Images of whiteness within Disney films reflects a complicity to perpetuate racial categories of hierarchy and superiority and a willingness to participate in creating disturbed forms of racial authority of the “west and the rest”  (Kothari 11). Even when Disney portrays such multicultural princesses as Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan and Tiana their features have been Anglicized away from true cultural representations retaining the silence of race and shaping notions of race within the minds of children (Ibrahim and Tolmie Week 8 Lecture).

             Images of beautiful, able-bodied princesses and heroes including characters in Frozen are the product of how society views individuals with disabilities (Pearson 67). The physical representation of slim fair skinned heroines with doe-shaped eyes, long, lustrous hair, ruby red lips, hyperbolized waists with tall, muscular and handsome Prince Charming’s illustrate western societies adherence to the social model of disability (Ibid). In week six readings Pearson states that disabled individuals can be “…feared, distrusted, pitied, overprotected, and patronized” (Ibid 66). Imagine Ariel in a wheelchair or Pocahontas on crutches, would that change their appeal? Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo has created illustrations of Disney’s princesses with missing limbs, seated in wheelchairs or leaning on crutches to highlight the prevalence of ablesim in pop culture (Murray). At best Disney takes a weak step in Frozen revealing a sleeping Anna with messy hair, mouth open and drool on her chin.

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             Disney takes a few steps out of the past with Frozen. It even passes the Bechdel test; there are two females who engage in more than one conversation with each other that’s not about men (Sarkeesian). Is it perfect, does it completely break down barriers of hegemony? No, it doesn’t. It addresses some issues under the umbrella of gender socialization but falls short in race, beauty and ableism. Once past issues of intersectional analysis (and some eye rolling and cringing) I found myself totally immersed in the magic of Disney and rooting for the heroine! (not the hero!)
– S Entry.

Sources Used
– Aulette, Judy Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds: Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
An Agenda for Thinking about ‘Race’ in Development (Kothari) Link on Week 7.
– Eitzen D. Stanley, Maxine Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith. Gender, Race, and Popular Culture GNDS 125: Custom Edition for Queen’s University. Toronto: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014. Print.
Frozen. Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Disney, 2013. Film.
– Lemire, Christy. “Frozen: Reviews.” Rogerebert [27 November 2013]: Online.
– Murray, Rheana. “Experts Applaud Artist’s Disabled Disney Princess Series.” New York Daily News [27 January 2014]: Online.
– Sarkeesian, Anita. “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
– Tolmie, Jane. “Lecture #.” GNDS 125. Bioscience Auditorium. January – March 2014. Lecture.    
Pictures
– Disney’s Frozen Official Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbQm5doF_Uc
– Image 1: http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20131103205459/disney/images/6/66/Frozen_castposter.jpg
– Image 2:
http://images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/33600000/Disney-Princess-2013-official-line-up-disney-princess-33628221-1368-620.jpg
– Image 3:
http://media1.giphy.com/media/8GOYcHhgqwDkI/200_s.gif

Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by R).

The damages of Cultural Appropriation 

In this blog, I chose to discuss the controversy of Selena Gomez and her choice of clothing in her new “Come and Get it” music video. Following in the footsteps of Gwen Stafani and Madonna, she is not the first to hyper sexualize the Indian dance, wear a bindi and appropriate forms of Indian clothing. Rajan Zed, the president of Universal Society of Hinduism said, “[The bindi] is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed. Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religions.”

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When an Indian woman wears a bindi, she is not just wearing a ‘beautiful face gem” but she is showing her religion and culture. It is who she is. When Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is like throwing that value back in the faces of Indian women, saying their cultural symbol has now been picked up as a westernized beauty symbol and there is nothing they can do about it. This is a perfect example of the culture appropriation that Professor Tolmie spoke about in her lecture. Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This is exactly what Gomez is doing in her controversial music video and following performances. She is replacing the original culture with her copy created by the dominant culture. She stripped it of all symbolic value and merely used it as a tool to appear more sexualized. People of these hegemonic cultures automatically assume they have the power and the right to do these types of things and make a profit off the components of South Asian culture. It is actually quite ridiculous; especially when Gomez defended herself saying the song is “tribal.” What does tribal even mean? Are these Indian women part of a tribe? She obviously does not understand the culture in which she has stolen and pretty much butchered for her music video. Not only is Selena wearing the Indian clothing in her music video and the bindi on live performances, she is also wearing the bindi out on her regular day-to-day routines as a fashion statement. I am not sure if she is trying to start a new trend, or if she is purposefully trying to offend people, but either way, I do not think it should be acceptable to wear an important and culturally significant symbol as a fashion statement. 

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One of the main oppressing factors in this issue though is the concept of white privilege. In lecture, we were provided with a link to the article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” written by Peggy MacIntosh. She states that, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” White people have this privilege. They think they are not being racist or socially insensitive because they are not ‘being mean.’ I am sure Selena Gomez justifies what she is doing because she is not trying to offend these women, yet that is so ignorant. What she does not understand is her white privilege. For years and years, many women have been ridiculed and harassed for wearing a bindi, for supporting their culture. Yet, as soon as Selena Gomez wears a bindi, it is immediately a fashion statement and is considered beautiful. She used the fact that it is a famous and important symbol and she made a profit from it. An online blogger made a really good point about this fashion icon as well. She stated that, “On [Selena Gomez], it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls.” As soon as a famous icon wears a bindi, people immediately look at them with more appreciation. Comparing this to when an Indian girl wears it as something meaningful and special to their culture and upbringing. Hegemonic culture is the norm for our society. We assume that the leading culture can dominate and oppress other minority groups with no questions asked. Many articles online spoke of how great it is that Gomez is expanding societies view of beauty and that she is only appreciating the Indian culture by wearing their clothes and having a bindi on her forehead. What these people do not understand is that there is a very thin line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. This fad is not appreciating their culture. It is completely appropriating it.

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-R-

Works Cited

AceShowBiz. ACESHOWBIZ.com, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00060488.html&gt;.

Tolmie, Jane. “Cultural Appropration.” Queens University. Biosci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 3 Mar. 2014. Lecture.

– – -. “Gender Studies 125: Class 2.” Queens University. BioSci Complex, Kingston, Ontario. 14 Jan. 2014. Lecture.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html&gt;.

Week 12; April 4th-18th Blog Entry #4 (Done by J).

“Stupid Girls”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR4yQFZK9YMImage

To resist or display resistance is to hold one’s ground and go against the norm. In theory, it is the perfect outlet to express one’s beliefs and break down societal boundaries. However, in reality, going against commonly held ideas on topical issues such as gender roles and representation is often paired with adverse response. For instance, music is an effective tool to tell stories, share perspectives, and voice opinions. Many music videos today focus on breaking free from perpetuating feminine stereotypes. This controversial topic brings rise to criticism, especially surrounding the fine line between whether artists are reinforcing or destroying negative stereotypes. Pink’s video “Stupid Girls” is one of many that resist common conventions on what society considers womanly by attacking superficial pop-culture role models. This approach both disrupts stereotypes through the emphasized femininity of women while highlighting women’s agency and choice.

Pink’s music video “Stupid Girls” is intended to bring rise to a problem many young women face: the pressure to waste time, money, and energy trying to fulfill society’s definition of ideal and beautiful. This comedic video begins with a young girl deciding whether to follow the devil on her should and conform to society’s expectations for women, or trust the angel and resist by being true to herself. The plot then changes to various clips of Pink making reference to Paris Hilton’s sex tape, Mary-Kate Olsen’s shopping sprees, Lindsay Lohan’s car crashes, and various other foolish Hollywood moments (Vineyard). Pink also upholds superficial women stereotypes by spray tanning herself orange, and buying a pet accessory in an attempt to “stay younger longer” as indicated on the cage. All meanwhile, Pink periodically features her true self in the video and her struggles with attempting to change herself to fit the molds society has created for her. She gives up her body to plastic surgery for unnecessary modifications and runs on the treadmill to achieve the “ideal” body. However, Pink subtly implies her disapproval of each of these typecasts through her “Die Hipster Scum” t-shirt, and more obviously at the end of the video when the young girl ultimately choses to not be a “stupid girl” by going against the norm and picking football over dolls.

Each of the previously described stereotypes fit into the term of emphasized femininity. As described by Professor Tolmie, emphasized femininity is an exaggerated form of femininity where women must conform to the needs of men. Auletter and Wittner also define it based on film, where women are displayed as young, thin, conventionally beautiful, and heterosexual (10). This term is often viewed in a negative light as it typecasts and discriminates against women. While it is valid that the stereotypes Pink presents are inappropriate and “emphasize femininity”, Pink uses them to emphasize the need to see past, eliminate, and resist conforming to conventional standards. The images illustrate her view about the utter stupidity of Hollywood trends, which mustn’t be followed. Pink also severely lacks intersectionality in her video, however I think that was the intention. She showcases the idea that society inappropriately sees the ideal as a young, white, able, upper class women.

“Stupid Girls” also particularly focuses on women’s agency and choice. Professor Tolmie and Auletter and Wittner define agency as the act of seeking change by riding existing notions and implementing new social practices (11). While it is true that women have agency and free choice, people often find themselves pressured to act and look a certain way by society. There are unwritten guidelines that many feel they must follow in order to fit in. The question is, why do women feel so inclined to modify their bodies? Who are women changing for, themselves or others? In Pink’s music video “Stupid Girls” she emphasizes the need to change the women’s stunted development of their agency that causes them to conform to societal stereotypes instead of choosing their own path. Pink exhibits this idea by showing the obvious lack of agency in the “stupid girls”, compared to the young next generation girl who successfully declines the “stupid girls”. She uses her agency by choosing football over dolls, emphasizing the idea that girls should not feel inclined to pursue any path that they don’t want merely in fear of stepping outside hegemonic norms.

It is crucial that the flaws of this song and music video are also mentioned. For instance, Pink does not present many alternatives to being a “stupid girl”. She simply shows what stupidity looks like and demands that young women stay away from it. The only alternatives she presents to being a “stupid girl”are a female president or an outcast who prefers football but remains envious of other females. This narrow scope doesn’t give women many realistic or attainable options. Being a female president or football player continues to be rare, and thus, unreasonable. Pink also places all the responsibility on women for why they are depicted as they are. She doesn’t consider external reasoning or historical past; rather she attributes female celebrities and their flaws as the instigator for female stupidity. Considering each analyzed flaw, I understand the ways this could potentially limit female agency. However, I believe Pink made his song and music video in a relatable way for young women by comparing it to current celebrities and their faulty behaviour. With this, I believe Pink’s message is that young women do not need to repeat these same mistakes to be seen as desirable in society’s eyes. Rather, young girls must create their own path, make their own mistakes, but be true to themselves.

Overall, Pink’s video “Stupid Girls” is a form for resistance as it goes against the norm and emphasizes the need to dismantle commonly held stereotypes about women as they are negatively influencing adolescents. As mentioned, this music video is not perfect; it features many controversial and questionable moments. However, I think the larger message within the song and music video highlights the importance of women’s agency in the present day society where emphasized femininity and stereotypes prevail.

 

Works Cited 

Auletter, Judy Root, and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2012. Print.

Tolmie, Jane. “Lecture 2.” Queen’s University. Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. 21 January 2014. Lecture.

Tolmie, Jane. “Twilight & 50 Shades of Grey.” Queen’s University. Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. 4 February 2014. Lecture.

Vineyard, Jennifer. “Pink’s ‘Stupid’ New Video Features Fake Breasts, Fake 50 Cent.” MTV. Viacom International Inc. Jan. 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. 

Week 11; March 24th-31st Blog Entry #3 (Done by M).

Axe: Preserving Stereotypes

            Over the years, Axe has made a name for itself through hyper sexualized commercials that feature women swarming men because of their distinctive Axe scent.
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            This new Axe commercial, titled Make Love, Not War attempts to diverge from that tired and misogynistic premise; in doing so, itdepicts some of America’s biggest foreign political threats, like the nuclear weapons crisis in Iran, as well as the communist threat in North Korea. However, things are not as they appear when the commercial takes a twist and displays the ostensible leaders of Iran and North Korea performing a gesture of love for their respective partners; hence again the title, Make Love, Not War. This blog will examine the abundances of gendered and radicalized messaging to ultimately conclude that the social constructions that make women subordinate to men, and the ‘whiteness’ that is essentially a prerequisite to heroism, run rampant in this Axe commercial.

            At the outset, it is obvious that Axe has not entirely changed its sexualized marketing scheme as evident by the not-so-subtle sexual undertone in the commercial title Make Love, Not War. Axe insinuates that making love is the antonym to war, and love can be achieved presumably with the simple application of Axe body spray. This implication is even more obvious in the first scene; a seeming male aggressor in an army tank turns a corner to find a classically beautiful woman staring down the tank’s barrel. Despite disastrous battlegrounds, the woman’s makeup is perfectly intact, and her six-inch vibrant red heels are without tarnish. In a typical Axe commercial, it would not be uncommon to see women undoing their tops and relentlessly pouncing on the male subject. However in this commercial, the females are given slightly more agency by showing their fearlessness towards heavy military artillery, complimented with eye-line camera shots that convey authority. This challenges the general societal view that women are “nurturing, self-sacrificial, and empathetic” (Tolmie). Still, when the tank’s operator rears his head, the woman can’t help but throw herself at her seeming boyfriend, ruining any independent authority she once had. Similarly in the next scene a helicopter lands on a desolate field, and another soldier is reunited with his seeming wife. Again, the second wife is classically beautiful, and regardless of the flailing dust from the helicopter propellers, her white garments remain pristine. To account for both women’s faultless appearances, consider the first lecture when professor Tolmie discussed how in advertisement, women are often portrayed as perfect, and can do no wrong (Tolmie). This ties back to professor Tolmie’s discussion on the “politics of rescue”, which essentially outlined the male-female rescuer dichotomy that places females in positions of distress, and males in positions of power to save them. This in turn works to perpetuate the social constructions that have determined men to have “dominance, wealth, competitiveness, physical prowess, violence, and physical perfection”, and women as being helplessly reliant on men for saving (Tolmie). Axe chose to subtly exploit these societal conventions in this commercial, which work against the equal society for which we strive.
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            Underlying racial messages play an important role in this commercial as well. For example, the second scene in which the soldier comes to the rescue of the Asian woman is a classic example of man being a ‘white knight’ and forcing cultural hegemony. Along with the obvious sexist undertones mentioned above, this scene is indicative of the Western mentality that countries like America and England can be saviors to less developed Eastern countries. Amidst the chaos in this scene, a community of Asian people is shown as running away, terrified at the sight of the military helicopters. Professor Tolmie discussed orientalism, a concept that suggests the East to be “exotic, mysterious, secret, uncivilized, a binary opposite to the West” (Tolmie). Upon close examination of this scene, it is obvious Axe attempts to convey this Asian community uncivilized by showing huts made of wood, and a rural location that suggests exotic lands (Tolmie). As professor Tolmie put it, this type of orientalism creates an ‘other’ effect (Tolmie).

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            It is important to note Axe is a brand from the United Kingdom, and accordingly this commercial is made from a British perspective. However, this does not excuse the blatant racial stereotyping that is evident from the onset. Not only does Axe heighten the perception of ‘Western greatness’ by showing white people saving the day time after time, but Axe actually evokes a racist nuance by assigning the first instinct audiences have of Iran and North Korea to terrorist threats. With missiles being driven across the scene, the commercial flips to an ostensible Kim Jong Un presiding over a military assembly with his wife next to him. With this, Axe wants the audience to associate North Korea with communism and terrorism. In spite of all this, the North Korean leader presents his wife with a portrait of the two of them as opposed to an outward terrorist display that was implied by the ominous music. As if she’s relieved, Kim Jong Un’s wife grabs his hand. While this scene appears harmless, it is another prime example of sexism. It says that women cannot handle violence, which corroborates professor Tolmie’s point that women are seen as too delicate for violence and war (Tolmie). The same situation happens in what appears to be Iran. The Iranian leader is handed what seems to be the trigger to a bomb. When he pushes the trigger, fireworks explode in the sky. Axe used racial profiling here; axe implies that Iranians are prone to acts of terror. Similar to the North Korean leader’s wife, when the Iranian leader’s wife discovered it was merely fireworks exploding in the sky she gave her husband a forgiving laugh. This prompts one main question: is the falsehood that women cannot handle violence a product of Eastern societies only, or is this a universal belief? Either way, because Axe is a Western brand, this commercial comes off as unashamedly racist and sexist.
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            Overall, this Axe commercial is not unlike the others. It involves female subordination to men, as well as a component of Axe commercials I have never witnessed—racism.

– M

            

Tolmie, . “Gender, race, and Popular Culture.” Lecture 5, 7, 11. Queen’s University.             Kingston, Ontario. . Address.

Week 11; March 24th-31st Blog Entry #3 (Done by R).

Is White Beauty the Right Beauty?

 

            When I first watched the commercial for “Pond’s White Beauty” I could not believe that people would actually buy such an oppressive and ridiculous product. I asked my roommate who was born and raised in India to watch the commercial with me and she confirmed that she even knows people who use this and similar products in hopes of ‘whitening’ their skin. 

           

            The commercial depicts a white, heterosexual male who, of course, has the power to pick up and dump any girl whenever he choses, leaving them to fawn over him until he changes his mind. It clearly oppresses the non-white female who is left by her boyfriend for a white woman. It shows her using this “Pond’s White Beauty” skin cream to lighten her skin in order to try and get back her ex-boyfriends attention. It leaves the awful message that darker skinned women are not as beautiful as white women when this could not be more false. The commercial uses the oppression that non-white women feel by women of white privilege. This product is almost trying to give these women a way out of their oppression. It is not telling them to be proud of who they are, but that they can try and change their appearance to seem more beautiful.

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The message of this commercial is telling females that they must change their appearance in order to impress hegemonic males. Not only does this commercial encourage the concept of having to improve oneself to win the battle for a male’s attention, but also it tells the viewer that in order to be more beautiful, you must be white. That is what really threw me off, because growing up in a dominantly white community; I am very used to the constant aspiration to be as tanned as possible. I am a culprit of buying tanning oil while on vacation or getting a spray tan for my high school graduation. Yet is this not the same as this pond’s cream, but in reverse? It is the same concept, but in this commercial it uses non-white women’s oppression to sell the product. We automatically think it is normal for white people to aspire to be darker, then are shocked when we see creams to make darker peoples skin lighter because it is oppressive.

 

In lecture we learnt about culture appropriation and I found it really interesting and think it can relate to this commercial. Culture appropriation is the adoption of some specific features of one culture by a different cultural group. We were given different examples of victoria secret models dressing up to imitate first nations for fashion shows, and other white models who yellow or black-faced themselves for fashion purposes as well. These white models are chosen over darker skinned models for these photo shoots and that really reinforces the idea that white models are considered more ‘versatile’ or more ‘beautiful’ than any other race. That is why these products of lightening ones skin is so popular. Flavia Dzodan stated that, “The problem with cultural appropriation is that it replaces the original with a copy created by the dominant culture.” That is essentially what this pond’s cream is doing. White dominance is replacing darker skin with the favored white skin appeal.

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Intersectionality is also featured in this commercial. They show the oppression of a non-white female whose life revolves around trying to get the affection of a white heterosexual male. The commercial plays on the oppression of not being white by basically telling the audience that being darker will not help get the man of your dreams; lightening your skin will give you more of a chance. This brand actually had 4 more commercials after the one shown to us. The last four episodes show the woman as her skin gradually gets lighter which correlates with receiving more and more attention from the man.  

 

I think there is an obvious correlation between race, gender, sexuality and the product. The commercial oppresses the non-white female and places all the power in the hands of the white heterosexual male. The commercial basically gives the perfect ‘way out’ of some of this oppression by lightening your skin in order to limit the oppression that is being placed upon you. However, in the commercial, even if you are white this still does not make you equal to the male. He easily discards his white, beautiful girlfriend at the end of the five series of commercials. The white male will always have the power and can triumph over the women because these oppressed women are portrayed as weak and will do anything for his affection.

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-R-

 

 

Works Cited

Tolmie, Jane. “Cultural Appropriation.” BioSci Complex AUD. 4 Mar. 2014. Lecture.