Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ads That Fail, Ep. 1: I Wouldn't Trust My Auntie, Anyway^

I want to dissect this  ad for myriad reasons. First off, I like doing this with ads I see on Facebook, YouTube, etc. Sometimes, they're just bad. Sometimes, painfully contrived. Other times, way off the mark. Sometimes, offensive- either generally, or to me  personally (for example, Facebook keeps sending me ads for dating sites, presumably because I'm single- while there's nothing wrong with the ads themselves, I get sick of my "status" being tossed in my face all the time).

So this gem was on YouTube. The source is in the pic, so no need to talk more about that. 

So I'm not going to rag on dating sites in general. I'm signed up for one, and while yeah, I've had pretty shitty luck with it, I know that's not always the case- I have multiple friends in serious relationships with people they met online. I'm part of the digital age, I totally understand that the Internet is a place to meet people. Hell, I've had crushes on guys I met in various "places" online (forums, communities, etc.) plenty of times. And while it makes starting LDRs an easier thing, it can also help sustain them- my roommie was engaged when we met, and I was in their wedding this past August; part of what they do is "get ready together" in the morning via Skype. So another place to meet people, great- that's not my problem.

My problem here is the objectification of women's bodies, stereotypes about masculinity, and the normative conceptions of "beauty" and ableism that are being perpetuated by this ad. 

So first off, let's think about beauty. What is this ad saying? Taken with the text, the implication is the viewer of the ad wouldn't be "happy" with this woman. I'm going to conflate "happy" and "satisfied" for the sake of argument, but bear with me. So if this image is all we have to go on, then, presumably, there should be some indicators in it, and the first, most obvious, is that this woman is "ugly" by societal standards. Sure, she seems to have really nice skin and hair, and she's got lots of bling. But she seems to have some rather large, uneven teeth, pronounced, almost-crossed eyes, and glasses (oh GOD NO, NOT GLASSES!). So the implication is that this woman's entire worth is wrapped up in her physical appearance, in her body, and that since it doesn't match normative standards of "good," she as a person is thus lacking and wouldn't satisfy the viewer of the ad. It doesn't matter that she could be an amazingly kind, smart, funny, talented, high-positioned woman. She's not "hot," so she's out. Her body is her source of value, and it's ranked at zero. 

We  see this way too often in popular culture, and perpetuated in countless sexist comments on blogs and articles and pictures online. Women's bodies often become stand-ins for their entire identity. I can't recall a specific example, but how often have you read an article about a female celebrity or by a female author, and  criticisms often end up being about how she's ugly or looks like some sort of animal ("I wouldn't fuck her anyway," or "She looks like a horse!"), rather than talking about, I don't know, her argument? The story? How often does a terrible actress make lots of money because she's "hot"?* Women are much more often assessed based on their looks by society. And yeah, I get that men get cast for being hot, too, but you also see "ugly" men in leading roles getting what they want in the end, whereas you'd never, ever, ever see an unattractive female lead get what she wants unless there was some sort of makeover involved. In those cases, the woman he wants sees him for the inside and loves him anyway, whereas it takes a physical transformation for the unattractive woman to get her happy ending.

Anyway, my point is this ad is perpetuating assumptions that "good" women, women that could help others be happy, must be conventionally attractive. I'll go into the "conventionally" part soon, but suffice to say at this point that this is absolutely degrading and metonymic, insulting to women. A woman is worth more than her looks.

But I'm also going to say it's belittling to men, as well. I'm going to assume that Muslim culture doesn't really match up same-sex couples in arranged marriages, and given her traditional attire, I'm assuming the insinuation is this woman comes from some sort of match-maker situation. So the object of the ad is a straight male. This means the ad is operating on the assumption that all a man would care about is how attractive his future girlfriend/partner/wife is. And while yeah, I did just say  a lot of rude dudes objectify  women, assuming they will does them no favors and will not help the behavior change where it does occur. And it's messed up to assume that's all a man cares about. 

So now let's talk about ableism. It sort of aligns with the beauty thing in the sense that both ascribe to a normative ideal body type, and that anything not fitting those criteria is Other and thereby of lesser value. So just as the "ugly" woman would be unsatisfying, she  also has eyes that appear crossed and glasses- a look resembling a person with perhaps a lazy eye, or at least some sort of condition requiring assistive tools (glasses). So then, having a disability makes her unsatisfying, too. This woman looks a lot like the "herp derp" garbage crap shit circulating the Internet now- and I haven't much had the opportunity to rant about this to anybody, but I think "derp" is the new "retarded." It's demeaning and dehumanizing. And one of the assumptions behind it is that the person that "herps" or "derped" is inadequate, stupid. Essentially, this ad is implying the woman is, pejoratively, a retard and thus not good enough. And since this is drawn purely from a visual aid, we must assume they're equating able-bodied-ness with beauty. 

The thing is, I come from a perspective that beauty and disability are not binary constructs, but fluid processes in which we navigate daily, hourly, whatever. And I think both have a direct impact on identity, both of self and someone else- and identity itself is fluid, something we reshape and reform in every context. There are ranges of physical attractiveness, and the standards for conventional beauty are arbitrary at best- centuries ago, a heavier woman like me would have been quite the pick, but now I'm smiled at and then passed over. Plus, this assumes beauty is a purely physical thing- but I think it's more sensory, and I'd add emotion in there, too. I think "beauty" is a sort of "I'll know it when I __ it" kind of thing. And the very fact that being "able-bodied" is not a definitive, guaranteed state of existence is really important, here- society is so bent on the binary that knowing one could end up on the "wrong" side of it, be it through disease, accident, or just getting old, causes negative perceptions of disability. It comes from fear. And this can be internalized by anyone, whether they have a disability or not. I'm not going to delve too much into how BS I think the binary construct is, but suffice to say it's the dominant perception of disability today, and it has underlying assumptions about what is normatively "good" and "bad" and disability is definitely "bad." How this is problematic for the ad, then, is easy, and has already been stated. But I'll reword. 

The woman is shown with the appearance of someone with a disability, and is labeled as unsatisfying. So, the ad is saying disability is unsatisfying.

And we can even say this without making assumptions about her mental capacity (because of how stereotypically "retarded" she looks). She has glasses. An assistive tool. That's enough.  And while a general, everyday encounter with a person that wears glasses may not leave someone else thinking, "Hm, they have a disability," and certainly people with glasses don't usually consider themselves as disabled, the fact is, in this case, the glasses are symbolic of the myriad inadequacies this fictional woman is supposed to have that make her a bad pick by the "Auntie" being referenced. 

Last, and, yeah, okay, least. Have you ever been in a flame war online? C'mon, admit it: You have. So tell me something- doesn't the idiocy of the opposition get exacerbated by poor grammar, punctuation, etc.? This ad falls victim to that: "Aunties," it's missing its apostrophe. And only makes me hate this thing more. 

*It was hella hard to find pics that didn't look borderline pornographic of some of these women- which proves my point, I think.

^It would depend on the aunt giving me the advice. 

1 comment:

  1. I hate the internet (but love the internet).