In 2008, the US economy went to shit. And yes, that’s the technical term. One of the largest contributors to the collapse was shortsighted greed. (Not only on the part of companies but also consumers.) We’re still recovering from the resulting implosion once greed proved to be an unsustainable way of life. Yet, although there seems to be an ample amount of anger about the situation, I often wonder if anything that has happened over the last 5 years has really sunk in to the American culture.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post bitching about the economy; it is a post about the values of capitalism. When capitalism is left unchecked, making money becomes the most important endeavor. The ends start to justify the means and issues of ethics and morality seem irrelevant. But when a sense of community tempers capitalism’s greed, we’re able to balance a desire for progress, advancement, success, and financial wealth, with a consciousness for societal implications.
Basically, we decide we want to make money without screwing people over. One of the industries in this country (and others) that is still operating out of unbridled capitalistic greed is that of the advertising industry. Of course, the goal of advertising is to sell products, but the goal of any industry is to be financially viable. That rarely (in my opinion, never) gives industries the right to be destructive to the rest of society.
But for some reason we, as a culture, have seemed to give advertising a free pass. We simply accept advertisers will do whatever it takes to sell products and rarely care if they spew toxic waste into our culture. As long as advertising is humorous, entertaining, or effective, anything flies. But something humorous, entertaining, and effective can still be toxic, especially when it goes unexamined.
Now before you decide your tv is evil and that you should sell it on craigslist, know that I’m not suggesting we all try to avoid seeing ads. That would be impossible. Our culture is saturated with ads. Rather than avoid them, the important thing is be able to understand the impact ads (and all kinds of media, for that matter) have on our way of thinking and our perception of the world. To do that we have to look underneath the humor, underneath the entertainment, and underneath the effectiveness to examine the more subtle narrative being told. The messages that might be unintentional, but are still present and powerful, nonetheless.
Take this commercial, for example.
GoDaddy commercials almost always rely on the blatant sexualization and objectification of women, which in and of itself is toxic for a plethora of reasons that I’ll go into in subsequent posts. But the worst thing about this commercial is that, not only are these women being objectified, they’re being forced to use their bodies and sexuality in a way they don’t want to.
I understand the situation depicted in the commercial is fictionalized. Jillian Michaels and Danica Patrick weren’t actually forced to do something against their will. But by depicting a narrative in which two female performers are adamantly protesting something and then told (by a man) that they’re “contractually obligated” to do it, the commercial endorses and makes light of forcing women to do something with their bodies and their sexuality that they don’t want to and don’t consent to.
This is extremely dangerous. Once a woman is stripped of control and ownership of her own body, she becomes dehumanized. She becomes an object to be used for other’s satisfaction. Her own wishes, her own humanity doesn’t matter. She is merely there to serve a function for someone else. How easy it it, then, to treat her like an object? To treat her with disrespect? To cause her pain without a second thought?
Of course this commercial isn’t explicitly endorsing rape, violence against women, or forced female prostitution (a form of rape). But it begins to normalize certain types of behaviors and thoughts. It normalizes forcing a woman to do something with her body against her will. Put in those words it’s pretty easy to see that the ad sends a toxic message. But many don’t take the time to think about media in this way. Many simply absorb the subtle messages about women, men, sexuality, and other aspects of life without even knowing it.
And for the record, there’s no such thing as being “contractually obligated” to appear nude. To prevent just the kind of exploitation that the commercial makes light of, there’s a whole section in the SAG Basic Agreement that addresses nudity:
The appearance of a performer in a nude or sex scene or the doubling of a performer in such a scene shall be conditioned upon his or her prior written consent…Such consent must include a general description as to the extent of the nudity and the type of physical contact required in the scene. If a performer has agreed to appear in such scenes and then withdraws his or her consent, Producer shall have the right to double…
In other words, a performer is not obligated to appear in a nude or sex scene without previously having given written consent to appear in that scene. And they cannot give that consent without being given a description of what will be expected of them. It seems likely that, by their protestations, Jillian Michaels and Danica Patrick neither gave their consent to appear in such a way nor were given a description of what was expected of them, whatever it might be. Even further, the section states that if the performer did give consent, she has the right to withdraw that consent prior to filming.
Now if you follow the directions at the end of the commercial and go to GoDaddy.com you’ll find out that the women were not actually protesting nudity. Rather, they were against appearing in silly costumes that are shaped as the GoDaddy Logo. As they walk on set the camera angles makes them appear to be naked, but the GoDaddy costumes strategically cover just enough so they’re not showing any nudity.
Well, fine. But in order to see that you have to click on the GoDaddy website, which I’ve never had any desire to do before and only did now to research this article. I doubt that many people actually follow through and watch the extended version of the commercial. The way GoDaddy edited the commercial for TV is blatantly meant to give the idea that Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels are naked or close to it. Even though the extended version shows that isn’t the case (though they are showing a lot of leg), the company is still responsible for implying that these women are being forced to do something with their bodies and their sexuality that they don’t want to do.
That’s the message they’re sending to the majority of the population. That’s the message that people will subltly pick up on. That’s the message that, when added to all the other messages about men, women, and sexuality in the media, will help build their understanding of the world. That’s the message that helps creates a culture in which (at least) 1 in 6 women are the victims of sexual assault. And that’s the message GoDaddy wanted to create and wanted to put out there, because, well, it would make them some money.
UPDATE 6/16/12: GoDaddy is changing is their advertising! A big step in the right direction, though there are still plenty of other companies using similar toxic strategies.