A Country in Crisis—How Pop Culture is Devaluing Men AND Women
Back when I was in sales, we had a saying, “Say it once. Say it twice. Say it three times. Say it four times. Say it five times and they will believe.” Traditional marketing has hinged on this tenet for generations. The more people see product, an idea, etc. the better chance it will become “sticky” and meld into the collective consciousness.
This is also the foundation of any dictatorship, a concept those of us in political science called a “Cult of personality.” Propaganda is powerful.
Last post, I blogged about how seemingly innocent ads and blogs are anything but. Yes, I agree, some 20-something telling women over thirty they shouldn’t wear sparkles or eyeshadow shouldn’t affect how I feel about myself and frankly? It doesn’t.
She can go pound sand.
The problem is when an idea or attitude becomes SO pervasive that it translates into a socioeconomic or cultural reality. These snipes, jabs, “jokes” and stereotypes seep in and eventually forge the norm. Let’s explore a couple modern examples.
Blondes are Stupid/Slutty
When I bought a red Honda Civic years ago, I never noticed how many there were until I drove one. Thus, being a blonde, I tend to notice how we are portrayed in the media probably more than others. I will NEVER do business with State Farm because of some of their commercials.
In one commercial, there is an African American male documenting a fender-bender on his smart phone while the blonde waits for her date she found on the Internet (because everything you read on the Internet is true). She found a “French model”, who turns out to be a giant doofy phony she saucers off with extra proud of her “find.”
Try reversing this and making a person of color look that stupid and we’d have march on D.C.
It’s the blonde mother who can’t figure out that Benadryl has single serving portable doses for when Junior is sneezing at the park. The brunette mom rolls her eyes at the blonde mother struggling with a spoon and a bottle.
Or the blonde who can’t figure out teeth-whitening strips. The brunette obviously knows there is the Aquafresh whitening tray (because apparently whitening strips are super advanced technology beyond a blonde woman’s mental capabilities.)
It’s the birth control pills the blonde is too dumb to figure out and on and on. Now that I’ve pointed this out, I’m fairly sure you will see it, too.
In film we’re often portrayed as sluts, morons, home wreckers and villains. I had one author I really enjoyed, but by the third book I read where the blonde was the evil tramp? I was done. Stereotypes= Lazy Writing.
And one might say, “Oh, Kristen, just brush it off. It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.” Here is the thing. It doesn’t. I love being blonde. I’m Norwegian and embrace how I look and am secure in who I am. BUT, it impacts how others view ME.
Case in point, years ago I had a chemist approach me to ghost write a HIGHLY technical book. Why? I have a very strong science background and at the time was a technical writer for firearms, defense, and computer companies.
Anyway, we are in the middle of a critique session when his wife barges in and calls me everything under the sun, certain I was having an affair with her husband even though EVERY interaction I’d had with this person was via copied e-mails and in a large group (um, because I’m a professional and no, not THAT kind of “professional”).
She was certain because of my appearance I couldn’t be a “real” writer, especially NOT a high-tech writer.
Really. I wish I was making this up.
When I was in the business world, I’d come up with a new idea or strategy and no one would make a sound. Then the man sitting next to me would repeat what I’d just said and suddenly it was GENIUS!
One of my cousins, also a natural blonde, and as gorgeous as any supermodel, eventually dyed her hair brown because she found people listened to her ideas and took her more seriously as a brunette. Her career had slammed to a halt as a blonde, then suddenly took off when she changed hair color.
Thus, tell me again how pop culture has no impact on perception. What are we telling blonde little girls about who they will grow to be? Don’t get me wrong, the jokes make me laugh, but when it’s ALL jokes? Eventually, I’m not laughing.
One of the main reasons I LOVED “Frozen”? It was the first time in generations Disney had a blonde that wasn’t asleep waiting for a kiss or for a man to figure out her shoe size so she could get on with her life.
Media and Men
If I had a dollar for every commercial that implies grown men are idiots, I’d be writing this blog on a beach somewhere. Apparently, according to television, men are incapable of feeding themselves, watching kids, grocery shopping, and they need help from mommy when calling in a car accident. Mom, wife, girlfriend, kids and even the dog has a higher IQ than a grown man.
infuriating enlightening compilation of what I’m talking about…
I feel the past 25 years has Homer-Simpsonized men. If a man is over thirty, he’s incompetent and needs mom or wife-as-mom. He’s not even smart enough to order a pizza on his own (another commercial that sent me fuming).
Show me a strong, assured handsome older man? I’ll show you an E.D. commercial…with a man sailing off in a boat alone. WTH?
Huh? Wow, apparently older men can’t even think to pack a WOMAN on the trip. Should have called mom first.
As the mother of a boy, I think these media/cultural images are dangerous. I’ve had my own dealings with schools punishing Spawn for what 25 years ago was simply, “being a little boy.” Boys are loud, rambunctious, have a lot of energy and many times, aren’t going to behave like girls unless medicated. As in sit still and be quiet for hours at a time.
I was once called up to school because Spawn was playing Zombie on the playground (age 4).
Me: Was he biting anyone?
Me: Was he touching or grabbing anyone or hurting them?
Me: Well, then what was he doing?
Administrator: Moaning and wandering around with a blank stare.
Me: Well, sounds like every DMV employee I’ve ever met, so what is the problem?
Administrator: He just…likes zombies. We also think he lacks imagination and he refuses to answer to his name. He will only answer to Zombie-Robot.
Me: I think I need some air.
And NOW we unschool.
Even though society (in REALITY) has changed, why aren’t commercials reflecting this? We now live in a world where both parents work more often than not, and yet the majority of commercials still portray Mom as the one in charge, cooking, cleaning, etc.
Why are dads absentee in reality? I ask why are they absentee in advertising? I was SO thrilled that Cheerios took this on with their new campaign #HowToDad, which portrays a WONDERFUL example of a husband AND father. It made me want to stand and cheer! Why can’t we have more of these kinds of commercials?
Writers Create the Future
Writing forges culture and attitudes, meaning words and images are POWERFUL. If our pop culture keeps implying anyone over 30 is irrelevant (stupid, incompetent, lazy, invisible), guess what happens?
We are facing a CRISIS in this country. Age discrimination is RAMPANT.
If we can’t see it, we can’t BE it. What does the strong, confident sexy over-30, 40, 50 + person (male or female) LOOK like? What does a great husband, confident and capable father look like? There are a lot of single fathers. Who is speaking for THEM?
We “older folks” are the group with the most spending power, yet how much marketing is directed to those groups who need our credit card to make a purchase? And this affects products created and offered. I would LOVE to dress chic, but when Target offers 15 versions of skinny jeans and super-short shorts in the Misses section? I’m limited what I can buy.
I’m a professional. I can’t wear micro-minis and short shorts and be taken seriously (or be comfortable for that matter).
This means I live in t-shirts and yoga pants, reinforcing the stereotype that women over 30 just don’t care what we look like. It’s a double-bind for ALL of us.
Men AND women.
I can’t say much about this, but right now there is a LARGE group of people suing a BIG company because this company essentially wholesale got rid of anyone over 40 (mostly men) and replaced them with 20-somethings out of college.
There was NO concern for the years of experience these older workers had, the relationships with customers they’d spent years cultivating. They were old, ergo irrelevant and replaceable…which turned out to be a bad move because the newbies required so much training and had no industry experience. This meant they made a LOT of COSTLY mistakes.
Work had to be redone and redone…and redone when the older workers had ten times the output and projects/orders done correctly the FIRST time. So did the company really save money?
Thus, when people say, “Brush it off.” “Move on.” “It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.”
This is true.
The problem is that we’ve been “nice” so long that now we’re seeing these stereotypes become cultural and economic realities. Yeah, sure, I can feel great about how I look and I like a good self-deprecating joke or three. But I kinda like being EMPLOYED, too.
A Country Without a Heart has No Brain
My degree was in Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. Often when you study third and fourth world countries, what you find is that women aren’t valued. This means a country only has access to less than half of their workforce and intellectual/creative reservoirs (since women typically outnumber men).
The Western World likes to believe it’s “evolved” but we’re seeing major shrinkage in population sizes with each generation while simultaneously mothballing the more mature workers/contributors. If the population over 30 or 40+ vastly outnumbers the young? And we fail to value the more mature generations?
You see where the logic is headed.
Youth is beautiful and wonderful and I LOVE young people. Work with them all the time. They are our future. But I think this is why it is incumbent on those of us in the older generations to speak up. Sure, we can take a joke. But it seems that we are BECOMING the joke, and that’s uncool.
Many of you reading this are writers. Embrace the power you have. Writers are responsible for more social change than any legislation ever passed.
We have the power to change hearts and minds, but we have to confront. We have to write companies and tell them we won’t buy from them because they don’t represent us, or they are demeaning us. We should support companies who value us. Money has a LOT of power as well.
Support companies who empower you. I refuse to purchase anything from a company that can’t respect me as a person. We can be funny without being demeaning and cruel. And if their ad people can’t? Hire better writers. Advertise to make us laugh, but not at our expense (Hello, CHEERIOS ad? Funny and awesome).
This one made me get tears! What a PRO-BOY commercial!
So I am going to go buy some Cheerios 😀 and support the great, wonderful fathers, friends, dads and MEN out there along with the gals.
But first, I have to go do a 3-D rendering of this tooth-whitening strip. I’ve already gotten three stuck in my hair 😛 . I’m all for gal-power, but we are in this together. We are not alone ;).
What are your thoughts? Do you get tired of being the butt of the joke? Have you seen pop culture impact how you are treated as a person? What are some positive ads, commercials, images that you think we need to see more of? How could Madison Avenue do a better job of speaking to us? And MEN, speak up! We love hearing from you, too!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
***January’s Winner is Nolan White. Please send your 5,000 word Word document to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.