Monday, December 17, 2007

The News, Primtime TV, and Life: Violence as a Common Thread

On Their Side of the Lens

Today’s generation, and the one before it, has grown up inundated with media. Magazines, television, movies, and advertisements found within these, and independent of these forms of media are designed to sell products. But how can a company pitch a product to an audience that is supposedly as diverse as this country’s population? Employing advertisements that not only sell a product, but tell a person how they ought to look, speak- or not speak- and act in general allowed, and continue to allow, companies to captivate an audience, star struck by the beauty and class of the faces on the billboard, the television, and the magazine covers. Gia an HBO special produced in the late nineties, depicted the life of the model that those in fashion industry claim revolutionized fashion and photography. Starring Angelina Jolie, the movie brought the damage that is done to the models themselves to the forefront.

The film begins with a carefree young girl, as most little girls tend to be. Then we see her quickly grow up when her mother leaves her and her father for another man. Hardened by this experience, Gia adopts a ‘rough around the edges’ persona, clad in a leather biker’s jacket, and torn jeans, her hair more often a wreck than not, and she carries a pocket knife that she does hesitate to use to intimidate a haughty secretary during her first modeling interview. Taken under the wing of the modeling industry, Gia’s style captivates the fashion world. She is an instant superstar at a young age. As Gia’s success compounds, she begins to show signs of strain.

Jean Kilbourne suggests that though we are all aware of “the damage done to girls by the tyranny if the ideal image, wieghtism and the obsession with thinness”, there are other, even more detrimental messages in the media which we are all submersed in (Kilbourne 263). She poses that through advertisement as blatant as a perfume ad that reads “Make a statement without saying a word” and “the silence of a look can reveal more than words” girls are being “urged to be ‘barely there’” (Kilbourne 263). Advertisements like these convey that women have only one thought and desire, lust, and that thought can be readily displayed with a blank look, a pouted lip, or a finger in the mouth.

These messages are sent to the models constantly in Gia. In one scene the fashion photographer tells the girls to “look brain-dead”. If a woman is desired to be brain dead they are left helpless “submissive”, “vulnerable”, and “subordinate,” (Crane 316). Before long, Gia’s newly mended relationship with her mother crumbles and her romantic involvement with her makeup artist, Linda begins to fail. “People keep going away from me, that hurts,” Gia tells confides in her agent, Francesco, seeking advice. Obviously, her agent only cares about further exploiting Gia’s beauty, and pushes her leave everything else behind. She says “Work. You have a gift, use it. Life, life will be there later. When you have worked, and you have lived, and you know who you are, life is easy. Work. It's the only answer I know”. Gia was prodded to continue her career in spite of all else failing and crumbling around her. In search of an escape, she turns to drugs which only worsen her situation. Unable to get through a shoot, with out shooting up, her fame is smudged, her relationships fail entirely. Ultimately she is diagnosed with AIDS and dies in her hospital bed, truly helpless for the first time.

The film demonstrates that the media has the power corrupt a person. It can completely alter their perceptions of themselves, driving one to extremes to become whom ever it is they feel convicted to emulate. There is no escaping these harmful messages in today’s era of information. Therefore it is crucial to the well being of women, and men, to keep a critical eye focused on the media to avoid the brainwashing that companies spend millions on.

Works Cited

Crane, Diana. "Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines” Gender, Race and Class in
Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 314-331.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 258-265.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Advertising is focused largely toward the middle class, aiming to convince the group that luxuries above their budget are actually necessities. Years ago, advertising was less impactful than it is today. “In the 1950’s and 60’s, when Americans were keeping up with the Joneses down the street, they typically compared themselves to other house holds of similar incomes” (Schor 186). This had a stabilizing effect because people were aspiring to a lifestyle within the reach of their income. However, once women entered the workplace, neighbor interaction declined and people spent more time watching television. This lead to heightened exposure to advertising and people began to emulate a lifestyle that was out of their budget (185). Quickly, advertisers formulated a message for each gender.

Ads that target men specifically have a unifying theme; “cotemporary adds contain numerous images of men who are positioned as sexy because they possess a certain aggressive attitude” ( Katz 351). Katz points out, “men’s magazines… are rife with ads featuring violent male icons, such as football players and leather clad bikers”. Why produce these images of violence, though? What purpose do they serve? Katz later concludes that in a society where power lies in the hands of the white collared and the educated, the use of their bodies and a tool for strength and physical control and often violence can “afford young males across class a degree of self respect and security” (352). This source of security in one’s masculinity can quickly become problematic though as it can easily be interpreted to encourage violence, especially against women.

In an effort to demonstrate that not all men are inherently aggressive, and subject to materialistic consumerism, I aimed to represent myself in a different light. Rather than identifying with an unshaven, leather clad biker, identity masked by sunglasses, I chose a child, enjoying something as simple as a sprinkler to represent myself. Rather than exercising to bulk up like the man depicted on the bowflex, I am more likely to push myself mentally via a long run or bike ride. Similarly, rather than playing football I would prefer something less inherently violent such as kayaking. Lastly, rather than finding appeal in the pretty boy images and labels like Chaps, I’m more intrigued by the sciences. With all this said, it is necessary to emphasize that I do not condemn all types of competition and aggression. These can be appropriate and healthy, as long as they are in moderation, do not harm others and are in combination with appreciation for other things.


Schor, Juliet. The New Politics of Consumption. Gender, Race and Class in Media. Dines, Gail and Jean Humez

Katz, Jackson. Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity. Gender, Race and Class in Media. Dines, Gail and Jean Humez


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The messages conveyed by children's toys.

There is no denying that there are gender roles in our society. The source of the ascribed roles that dictate the masculine and feminine, and when they are learned, is much more debatable. When searching for the source of anything that is instilled in a person childhood is the obvious place to begin the search. A child’s thoughts can probably be divided into two categories, toys and sweets. The toys that children ‘would do anything for’ have been, continue to be, and will remain laying the groundwork for prescribed gender roles.

To examine disparities in the types of toys labeled for ‘girls’ and for ‘boys’ I browsed I first searched for gender neutral toys. I reasoned, to be gender neutral, a toy must not be either pink or blue, and cannot be shown in use by either a boy or girl exclusively. Using these criteria, there were few androgynous toys. Mostly everything was tagged with gender specific colors and patterns, or was photographed with either a boy girl using it. The few exceptions included scooters; however, they were found on every page of boy’s section and hardly at all in the girl’s pages. There were only a few toys that had a picture of both boys and girls playing, these included a Radio Flyer red wagon and Twister. The differences between the toys for boys and those for girls were based on much more than just pink versus blue and high heels and leggings versus combat boots and camouflage.

The toys listed for girls sent some very clear, and is some cases disheartening, messages. A new Barbie product called “Barbie Girls” is a low capacity mp3 player in shape of an adolescent version of Barbie ( despite a shorter stature she still has inhuman proportions-particularly in the waist) that can be accessorized with several hair colors and styles, outfits such as mini skirts, and alternate facial expressions such as an ‘innocent’ wink. Ken would go crazy. Amazon describes it as “an mp3 player with attitude”, something that as a three time day camp counselor, I know is not in low supply. The manufacturer boasts, “Barbie Girls allows girls to connect to their favorite things: music, fashion, and going online.” The product also includes an account for an interactive website which allows its owners to “make their [virtual] Barbie girls as unique as themselves” and design a “dressing room” where the virtual Barbie girls can interact and chat. Surely, I hope that no girl, or boy, prefers this fa├žade of socializing over true personal interaction. The Barbie Girl mp3 player seems to be aimed at encouraging the formation of cookie cutter girls just as empty headed and predictable as the subject of the 1997 Aqua song titled “Barbie Girl”. Another Barbie product, Barbie Forever Barbie Totally Real House Playset, sends a slightly different message that is just as obvious.

This collapsible play house includes three rooms, a kitchen, bed room and bathroom. In the kitchen, the manufacturer was kind enough to Barbie to include a laundry washer and dryer; we would not want to deprive Barbie of her favorite of the household chores. Toys like this do not overtly say that women ought to be at home, cleaning and homemaking. However, with out alternatives to the Barbie Forever Barbie Totally Real House Playset that display Barbie performing tasks as physically and mentally demanding janitorial work, it is reasonable that girls can come away from play time with the notion that they too should be cleaning when they are ‘grown up like Barbie’. The messages of some the ‘girls’ toys, as listed on Amazon, were intrinsically troubling. More troubling though, was the disparity between the girl’s and boy’s toys listings.

The collection defined as toys for ‘boys’ was much more broad, but can be divided into a few core elements and values. There were the toys such as a bug drawing kit that came with detailed pictures of insects and tracing paper and colored pencils. There was also a ‘rock tumbler’ that claims to polish and transform ordinary stones into shiny gems. It is toys like these that encourage thought that in some cases, including my own, leads to a scientific mind. Every page of toys in this listing has some kind of scooter or wagon which, I would think, encourages feelings of independence. Another clear difference is the number of board games in the boy’s listings. Oddly, there were far more games that required social playing. In short, the boy’s toys encouraged physical activity, inquisitive minds, and social interaction.

When the messages of the accessorized Barbie girl, and the Barbie playhouse are compared with the values behind the boy’s toys there is a clear difference. Boys are encouraged to be independent, thoughtful, and active, while the girl’s toys seem to promote trivial forms of socializing, and other equally valueless ideals such as fashion and materialism. In her piece, Klaus Barbie and other dolls I’d like to see, Susan Gilman goes as far as warning that Barbie will inevitably produce women like Pamela Lee who, via plastic surgery, strive to look like Barbie. Naomi Wolf in Brideland, her piece about how the ‘glam and glitz’ of marriage has a hypnotic effect on young women, mentions the bride to be is “treated like a very queen with her court of maids. She has perhaps a child to lift her train and another to bear her ring”. What goes on to describe sounds much like a fairytale, lofty expectations for most common folk. So, where do young women get these ideas? Wolf and Gilman would likely argue that products like Barbie and Bridal Magazine are to blame. However, it is hard to believe that a plastic doll or a bimonthly editorial are so inherently toxic to girls’ dreams and egos. Perhaps the problem behind the messages children are receiving from toys lies in the repetition of a similar messages. This repetition may be more detrimental than the message itself, and with the help of toys that send alternate and sometimes opposite messages, one may be able to convey a more wholesome, balanced message to children.

Toys such as the Fischer Price play-kitchen, can send a positive message if they are employed properly. As a boy, I loved playing with my GI Joes, hiding them from the enemy in the cracks of the sofa and building ‘secret’ lairs from pillows. However, I also loved to cook for my parents, pretend of course. So, one Christmas, my father bought me the Fischer Price play kitchen with a microwave, stove, oven, and sink. I like to think that this nurtured a side of my personality that is less oriented towards machine guns and figures in camouflage. However, if my parents thought it wise to strip me of my more ‘boyish’ toys there may have been adverse effects; perhaps, I would never have developed the competitive drive to excel as a runner in high school and college. Similarly, to limit a girl’s exposure to a domestic, materialistic, and disproportioned Barbie, could be robbing her of a necessary competitive drive, independence, and certainly other important traits which can be introduced and fostered during play time.

After examining the messages being conveyed to young, impressionable children it is a certainty that there is a gender based disparity between the types of toys and the messages those toys send to children. Whether this difference is based on innate difference between the genders or the effects of media exposure and nurturing, we may never know. What is of utmost importance though is that there are toys on the market with multimillion dollar advertising campaigns aimed at children, that left unchecked may yield a personality in a child that can limit his or development and potential.

Works Cited "Barbie Girls- Green." 28 September 2007 . Path: Toys and Games; Girl’s Toys. " Barbie Forever Barbie Totally Real House Playset." 28 September 2007 . Path: Toys and Games; Girl’s Toys.

Wolf, Naomi. 1995. Brideland. in Dominant Ideas about Women. p. 61

Gilman, Susan. Klaus Barbie and other dolls I’d like to see. p. 75.