Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Killing us, but not very softly

This is another essay I did for my writing class last term dealing with advertisements and children.
Super Bowl Sunday: the biggest advertising day of the year in the United States, if not the entire world. Millions of people across the globe tune in to watch and most of them aren't tuning in for the football game. The Super Bowl was originally a contest between two iron-willed teams out to prove to the world that they are the best. Today, the Super Bowl is known more for its advertisements. Several people have told me “I don't care about the game, I want to see the new commercials!” This statement boggles my mind even though it makes sense in a creepy Bizzaro-world way. Advertisers are blessed with an event that over the years has gained a large amount of worldwide attention, especially after television became mainstream. The Super Bowl consistently has a large audience who is glued to the TV until the game is over. People who watch the Super Bowl aren't inclined to change the channel when a commercial comes on, since the game is only broadcast on one specific station. Advertisers know that the audience is captive and relatively stuck watching the same station for the duration of the game.
What about people who have no interest in football? Advertisers benefit from a larger audience, so it is in their best interest to figure out a way to get more people to watch. Every year, Super Bowl commercials become more like shows in and of themselves. Now there are two captive audiences: People interested in the football game and people that are watching only for the commercials. Both audiences watch both programs because no one wants to change the channel.
Advertising has invaded almost every part of our lives. The Super Bowl is just one example of how advertisers have slowly taken over. Many people would say that advertising is a bad thing and that less of it would benefit just about everybody. However, those same people will gladly sit and watch a sports contest that has over the years become nothing but a day-long, multi-product infomercial. They will spend hours upon hours on Facebook, even though the entire site is funded by advertisers. Advertising has become more subtle over the years while at the same time becoming more bold. I compare it to a silk-covered brick. It is soft to touch and pretty to look at but if it hits someone it still hurts. People will ignore the pain if the object causing the pain is appealing enough. Feminist author Jean Kilbourne addresses advertising and how it influences our perceptions of what is beautiful in her video presentation Killing us Softly. I believe this influence is starting to affect children at a young age. Art critic John Berger said that we see before we can speak. Children, who are being babysat by the television at younger and younger ages, see a large amount advertisements. Advertisements are often bright, colorful affairs that easily snatch a persons attention. Even babies will pay attention to something if it is bright and colorful enough. Some of the first memories children have are of advertisements. By the time they are old enough to start spending money, they already are brand loyalists. Furthermore, they have an image of themselves and of others based almost entirely off of what advertisers have been telling them for years. Even though they have been bombarded most of their lives with advertisements, young people do not realize the influence advertising has on them or the way they interact with others.
Children can be cruel, especially towards other children. Advertising is making children more cruel to themselves and others. The problem involves more than actual ads. Programs that target children advertise to them through cleverly placed products. The programs have even become brands themselves. Television programs such as “Dora the Explorer” while educational, are still marketed to children as products. Dora backpacks, dolls, and even bedsheets are available. Children, absorbed by the show, end up wanting anything and everything associated with the show no matter how cheap or useless it is. This branding phenomenon isn’t a recent development. I remember many toys from my childhood that were connected directly to television programs. I also remember being convinced that I needed every last Transformers action figure and accessory, otherwise I would simply die! Products associated with television programs don’t need further advertisement. Children walking through a store will recognize the “brand” that has been created by the television program and instantly enter “I want it” mode. Branding teaches children that wanting is acceptable and that those who don't want the same things must be abnormal. On top of the desire to posses more, children that are over-exposed to advertisements begin to absorb them into every aspect of who they are. They start to form references and jokes based on the ads they see. The very few children who are kept out of the media loop become targets of reticule and even violence. Author Jackson Katz in his video Tough Guize, proposes that men start forming thoughts about how other men should act based on what they see on television. Children judge other children based on an image shaped by advertisements. Young children shouldn't have to worry about being too fat or having bad hair but they do.
Children grow up in this “be what we tell you or suffer” world and are affected by more than just the judgment of others. They are also being constantly judged by advertisements. People stare at the TV to immerse themselves in a reality that is better than the one they exist in but at the same time the more people watch, the more miserable they become. They realize that they aren't perfect and never will be no matter how much useless stuff they buy. However, they are inclined to buy useless things because ads tell them that they will feel a bit better. They will fit in more wearing an expensive fragrance or they will be more socially adept after a few beers but they will never be 100% perfect. Images in advertisements display a reality that is edited, manipulated, and impossible to emulate.
Children grow up with this reality, and as they grow, they turn into the perfect consumers. Through repeated exposure to television, billboard and even radio advertisements, children are taught that in order to fit in, they must have certain possessions and look a particular way. They become convinced that if something has been branded, it must be superior, even if experience tells them that the generic option is the same or better than the “name-brand.” The knee-jerk reaction of many parents when they realize the massive impact of exposure to advertisements, is to completely isolate their children from media sources. While this protects children from becoming brand-tools or product-mongers temporarily, isolated children often are sucked further into consumer culture because of the sudden and massive exposure to media that happens when their exposure is no longer monitored. Media isolation can also cause problems during childhood because the isolated aren’t aware of pop-culture references, which can make them the target of ridicule and bullying. The flip-side to over-monitoring is under-monitoring. Parents who don’t care about or are not aware of the impact media exposure has on their children’s lives will not monitor what their children are exposed to. As scary as the notion is, part of the solution to the over-saturation of consumerism is to encourage children to think. Of course, this means more work for parents, which can be daunting for someone who is struggling with a career on top of being a parent. However, opening a dialogue with children about media exposure will help them make smarter choices as consumers. It will also help them have a better sense of reality when it comes to body image. Many parents believe in the power of conversations with children when it comes to subjects such as drugs or alcohol. I believe that the same conversations should be happening about media and media exposure. As more people become aware of the impact media has on their lives and on the lives of their children, people can work towards lessening the impact advertising has on their lives.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Easy Meat n Potato Glop

I just came up with an easy and tasty recipe. Measurements are far from exact.

What you will need:
Aprox 1 lb stew meat
1 packet Mrs. Grass onion soup mix (Or a packet of whatever onion soup mix you prefer. I can only attest to the tastiness of this particular brand though)
1 packet of random mashed potato flakes. (I used one of the "fully loaded" flavors this time. I plan on experimenting with different varieties)
Butter (optional?)
Some sort of large pan

1. Brown the meat. Leave all the grease and juice (or don't if you are a health nut. Use more water in the next step)
2. Mix in onion soup powder. Add enough water so the meat is covered entirely.
3. Let onion soup simmer with the meat until the onion pieces are tender
4. Turn off heat and stir in the potatoes. Add enough milk so the potatoes are a creamy consistency. This is the part where butter is optional. I added quite a bit of butter here but more milk will likely work just as well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sexuality On Sale

This is an essay from this term. Enjoy! Works Cited at the bottom of the page.
Lets talk about sex. Actually, lets talk about sexuality.

When most people think of the word “sexuality,” their thoughts drift towards sexual orientation and gender identity. Many people think that a person’s sexuality is something that can’t be controlled: people are born with their sexuality intact and nothing can truly change it. On the other hand, many people believe that sexuality is entirely a choice and so a person can be rid of any and all sexual tendencies and new ones can take their place.y. Humans seem to be overly aware of sexuality. People spend a great deal of time trying to make themselves more sexually desirable. They also spend a great deal of time agonizing over sexuality when it concerns other people. Michel Foucault, a French modern philosopher, wrote in his book The History of Sexuality that sexuality has nothing to do with sex. The Sparknotes editors say this of Foucault:
"Sexuality, according to Foucault, is nothing more than a social construct. There is not something about our sex organs, or the act of sexual intercourse, or our instincts and impulses related to that act, that in itself relates to other aspects of our consciousness and social being. Rather, we have created connections that we now think of as objectively real and independent of us."

If sexuality has nothing to do with sex, why do people obsess over it so much? Foucault goes on to say that sexuality has become something that has invaded every aspect of our lives. People are judged and have a moral character assigned to them based on how other people perceive them sexually. Not only do people have to work at becoming more sexually desirable, but also they must make sure that they are not perceived as being sexually unacceptable.
What is sexually acceptable and what is not has never been concretely defined. Things that society today deems completely unacceptable were acceptable and even sought after in times past. The argument that “it has always been this way” simply does not hold water. Sexuality, while a huge part of our core being, is not something that appeared out of thin air. It was created through a bombardment of images and the massive power struggle that shapes our collective consciousness. Susan Bordo, a writer who often tackles the subject of sex, says that men featured in advertising appeal mostly to other men. No singular guide book exists (at least none that I am aware of) that tells gay men what they must find attractive. Yet, Bordo can look at an advertisement and say with confidence “That ad is appealing to gay men.” How does Bordo know what a gay male would find sexually attractive? Her perception of what gay men find attractive is likely found on display in advertisements, both in print and on television. With very little research, one can find a plethora of information concerning the likes and dislikes of a “typical” homosexual male. One can also find plenty of companies willing to sell things to a typical homosexual male. Of course, they also want to sell things to a typical heterosexual female, a typical homosexual female, a typical heterosexual male and anything and everything in between.
Most people would like to think, no matter what “box” they have been put in sexually speaking, that they have total ownership over their sexuality. They know what they like and nothing is going to change it. Jean Kilbourne, in her presentation Killing us Softly, shares her view that advertising is contributing to poor body image in both women and men. She also speaks about how children are now growing up with an unrealistic view of themselves because they are constantly being reminded that they are not perfect little objects. I believe that the people in charge of media outlets are doing more than simply telling people “Please feel bad about yourself. We can fix whatever ails you for only $19.95!” Foucault theorises that sexuality is a constantly evolving social construct and that the construct is always being modified to benefit those in power. About the seventeenth century, he writes “One had tolerant familiarity with the illicit.” (Foucault) This way of thinking shifted, however. Behaviors and ideas that were perfectly acceptable suddenly became taboo. For example, homosexuality was not a subject of conversation even as late as the seventeenth century. As time progressed, it became less and less O.K. to be gay. Of course, people could still indulge in “unacceptable” sexual behavior, but it wasn’t free anymore. Not only had the definition of “sexual deviant” changed, but also people began to see profit potential in this new kind of deviant. Industries for treating and housing sexual deviants began to appear. Prostitution increased as more people required outlets for their deviancy, and as more people realized that there were some willing to pay large sums of money in order to deal with their deviant tendencies in a somewhat anonymous fashion.
Rarely does a person wake up and say, “I am a sexual deviant. I am not normal,” even though this is the message people see on a daily basis. People have been conditioned not to label unattractiveness as sexual deviancy. No, being unattractive sexually is not the same as being a child molester, but with the way the media puts emphasis on needing to be sexually attractive, it might as well be. When someone is sexually unattractive, they face many challenges. They may even be put last in line for a job, even though they meet or exceed the qualifications required. Many laws are in place that tell companies and individuals that they cannot act against someone based on race, religion, or handicap. Being unattractive is not considered a protected class, therefore people can discriminate without fear of retaliation. Axe, a brand of male beauty products, often warns men of the dangers of having “bad hair.” in their advertisements. The warnings are meant as somewhat of a joke, but a male with unacceptable hair can find himself discriminated against by both women and other men. Attractiveness is used as a measure of worth. If sexuality wasn’t constantly on display in television or print media, I doubt that people would be willing to spend large sums of money in order to become more sexually desirable. People also wouldn’t judge people based on what they are told is sexually attractive.
People in charge of the media benefit from telling people how think about sexuality. They have formed constructs telling people how to identify themselves sexually and what to do with this identification. Forces within the media even tell people how to operate within “unacceptable” sexual constructs. The television program "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," for example, is designed to help heterosexual males with subjects such as wardrobe selection and hair management. The programs premise is that homosexual males are better at selecting clothing and doing hair. This implies that heterosexual males are incapable of picking clothes or doing their own hair. Conversely, homosexuality, particularly in males, is frowned upon. Paradoxically there is quite a bit of money to be had in telling men how to be better homosexuals. Women are affected by the manipulation of sexuality as well. Most women are aware of the dangers of eating disorders yet at the same time there are hints found in various media outlets that suggest that sometimes women must develop an eating disorder in order to stay thin enough to be sexually attractive. Jokes about eating disorders are a constant on comedy programs such as "Family Guy." Some would argue that statements that would encourage women to develop eating disorders are not supposed to be taken seriously. I believe, however, that these jokes are are tiny bits of encouragement to some, especially those that feel desperately unattractive. Those in charge of media outlets benefit from making sure everyone is dissatisfied with their sexuality. The media tells people “You are xyz paradigm, but you can always be better at it! Pay us to find out how” and people do pay because they they are being watched.. People fear the eyes of strangers, especially when it comes to anything involving sex. The more sexual paranoia is perpetuated, the more people are willing to pay to make the nasty feelings go away. Don’t like being watched? Buy this product, get this surgery, take this pill and become normal enough to be ignored.
Even though they perpetuate a skewed perception of sexuality, television, magazines and movies appear to many as a savior. If the media are the ones telling people they have a problem, of course the media are going to have the solution. Maybe that new perfume will work or maybe just a little plastic surgery will do the trick. The media picture of the perfectly sexually attractive person is based completely out of image manipulation. Fashion models often admit that the images of them put on magazine covers and advertisements are not real. Imperfections have been smoothed over and pounds have been dropped artificially. Models are not perfect but people are told that they should find them attractive. No perfect person exists, even though there are many people who have some perfect parts. This is a good thing for the media because it means that people are constantly chasing perfection. People will never stop spending money on perfection because they can never achieve it. Those in charge of media outlets are careful not to reveal too much about how they are defining sexuality, even though it is obvious in just about everything the media has out there. There are shows that tell people how to be gay, straight and every thing in between. People start to think “Well they are experts after all; if I’m not all that they say I should be, there must be something wrong with me.” It becomes more than just not feeling attractive. People start to question what they find attractive about others based on what they see on television and in movies. Eventually, people begin to define their entire sexuality based on the opinions of others.
Isn’t sexuality supposed to be a personal thing? Over time, sexuality went from an individual construct to a construct built by the illusion of the status quo. Sexuality has become simply another commodity that companies buy and sell from society in little advertisement-sized chunks. Taking control of something that people find to be deeply personal is the perfect way to assure that the profits will continue. Those in charge of media outlets know that people are more driven to action when it is their idea. Simply telling people “We are going to tell you exactly how you should act if you identify with this sexual construct. By the way, your sexual construct is:” wouldn’t work. Most people would reply with a heartfelt “Screw you!” Rather than being direct, the media convinces people that they come up with sexuality on their own. Once people have come up with their sexual identity, through repeated exposure to what is perfect and what isn’t, the “Empire of Images” (Bordo) comes swooping in to save the day. Until people realize that they are being manipulated at the very core, companies will continue to profit from sexuality. Media companies profit from advertising. Advertising is paid for by companies who turn a profit. In order for companies to sell things, people have to be convinced that they need those things. This goes far beyond the beauty product and fashion industry. People who feel like they have something wrong will seek out medical treatment, psychiatric treatment and who knows what else. It could be argued that every industry on Earth could potentially profit from people who are convinced that they are flawed.
Works Cited

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.

Bordo, Susan. "Beauty (re)-Discovers the Male Body."Ways of Reading: an Anthology for Writers. By David Bartholomae and Tony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 131-76. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction Volume 1. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I've been waiting for this moment
For so long it seems I'm never at peace
and yet you lie there unmoving
I touch you but you don't touch me
I'll float around like a shadow
silent, contemplative of my lonliness
Sometimes you wander by
and ask me silly questions
I laugh and I smile
I feel close to you again
Back into the dark I fade
back into yourself you go
I am your rock, your fortress
but I am a timeshare
Pulled in pushed away
it all ends up the same
I'm in this moment and I'm alone
and only sometimes, am I at peace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Final thoughts about my Writing class

This is one of my favorite quotes from the movie Fight Club:

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war, our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." ~Tyler Durden

How many people are "pissed off" at this fact? Do people even realize that they are motivated by something that is invisible and in the hands of the owners of corporations? In a way, we live in a feudal society where those who have/run large corporations dictate everything to those who don't. The difference now is that it isn't very obvious.
I've felt manipulated by advertising and other media for a long time but until I took this course, I didn't really think about it too much. Reading the required essays made me think a lot more critically about the world at large. They also kick-started my brain. After I dropped out of college the first time, I became the perfect corporate tool. I worked for what I could never have chasing the impossible dream that TV said I wanted and needed. Going back to college made me realize that the dream is total BS. Why should I want what someone else wants? If I want something different, does that make me bad? HELL NO!
There is something better out there.