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See, this is why I keep myself busy and watch stupid movies, because shit like this comes out of my brain if I don't. While watching the Super Bowl commercials (I read during the football parts), one aired that, to say the least, caught my attention. Not in a good way either. Perhaps some of you watched it too; it was a commercial from Detroit advertising..well, not really anything, but it was narrated by Clint Eastwood, inspired by Detroit's story as a city that almost died but brought itself back (as near as I can figure from the commercial, as I don't know Detroit history at all), and was paid for by Chrysler according to the branding at the end of the commercial. You know what? I'll embed it right here, so take a looksie for yourself:

Done? Great. Now let's get to the good stuff.

I actually went through this commercial and wrote down what was being said at what time, with what accompanying visuals, for the purpose of this analysis. For the curious here it is, but it's in no way necessary to read. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make a spoiler box on LJ, so you'll have to live without.

To summarize, Clint Eastwood is talking about how America is at its halftime, and how like Detroit, America is going to come back from its downturn stronger than ever. I could probably write an entire paper on this commercial, examining the US-centric viewpoint of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, the American Dream-esque structure of how Detroit's story is told, the use of race in the commercial, the fact that motherflipping Clint Eastwood is who they chose to narrate, but I'm going to focus today on gender primarily, with a smattering of race.

Now, perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that a commercial aired during what is supposedly the manliest sport in the good ol' US of A should be so passively sexist, but I think that it's the passive nature of that phrase that got to me. Sure, you have the commercials like the one that personified a car as a beautiful woman, which are incredibly sexist and have so many problems--commodifying women, equating them to be the same as objects, reducing women to little more than sex symbols, using the lady's lack of English speech to further draw attention solely to her looks, implying that women just crave some attention including negative unwanted attention and they'll be all over you (look up the translation of what the woman's saying too, it's a doozy)--but that's so overt I'm honestly inured to it by now. Which is perhaps the saddest statement I've made today. However, the sexism shown in the Detroit commercial is passive, covert, and honestly the type that in some ways pisses me off the most, because it's a brand that's been imbedded in US culture for a very very long time now.

So, to actually get to the critical portion of this post, let me start off with a count. In the Detroit commercial, there are a total of 42 people, with 10 of them being female, meaning 32 are male. Of the females, 4 are children who can't be more than twelve; of the males, 7 are below the age of eighteen. Of the women, only 3 out of the 10 females are doing something active, with the rest either sleeping or in a still shot staring at the camera; one of the active women is a little girl walking a dog, and the other is a faceless woman walking purposefully around a car. Contrast this to 18 of the men actively doing something, be it tying a tie, driving a car, working in a factory, working on a construction site, making a point as a news anchor, dropping a kid off at school, going to school, or narrating a commercial.

Starting to get my drift?

Here's the thing: this commercial's message is awkwardly sweet and sentimental in its own way, but what it's broadcasting isn't "All of America will get back up and protect ourselves," it's "The men of America will get back up and protect the women and children." The commercial emphasizes that the men are the ones who will be doing, while the women will be waiting and watching; the men will be working, while the women are sitting picture perfect waiting for the bacon to be brought home; the men will "find a way through tough times and if we can’t find a way we’ll make one", while the women wait.

The message doesn't stop with the numbers either. The phrases associated with either gender also emphasize that women are the ones to be protected and watched over, while the men get to go be heroes. Consider, at the very beginning of the commercial, when Clint says "People are out of work and they’re hurting" while the shot pans over a sleeping woman--pretty obviously not hurting--and her husband, his back turned to the camera as he looks out of his window over the city. He's the one who's hurting, the commercial implies; See how worried he is about providing for his wife who's sleeping so peacefully? Later, Clinton narrates that "after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one" while the camera shows still shots of a woman and a young man, a woman with a little girl in her arms, and a family including a woman and young girl with the husband and two older brothers. Act as one as a stereotypical nuclear family, the commercial implies, complete with mommy, daddy, and all the accompanying children. In addition, the emphasis for the phrase "rall[ying] around what was right" is placed on the shot of the woman with a little girl; stereotypically, women have been portrayed as the 'moral' half of the gender binary, a vision to which this single half-sentence plays, as well as insinuating that the "right" thing to do is to protect these centers of moral purity, the women and children. Finally, near the end of the commercial, Clinton speaks the line "All that matters now is what’s ahead, how do we come from behind, how do we come together, and how do we win", while a woman is shown driving in a car with a little girl in the passenger seat. This shot doesn't bother me quite as much, but considering the activity seen from males in the rest of the commercial and the lack of activity from females, the implication that the women and children are the impetus for "winning" in the future just continues the trends discussed above.

I mentioned I would touch on race during this, so I'll do my best. Of the people shown, three of the men are black, one of the teenaged boys is Asian, and one of the women is also Asian. I will point out that there are several shots where men are silhouetted against a bright background and therefore anonymous as to any obvious racial traits; these shots would eliminate about seven men from being identifiable. Without even going into how I think the lack of anyone obviously Hispanic reveals a subconscious fear on the US' part of immigration and the "takeover" of non-white minorities, I would like to point out that two of the three black men appear in the first half of the commercial, when Clint is talking about how America is currently not looking good; the two Asian actors appear in a still shot at the beginning of "But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one"; and the last black man was during the 'uplifting' second half of the commercial. Other than being disappointed about the lack of racial difference in many parts of the commercial, I'm left genuinely unsure if the fact that almost half the minority actors were shown during the speech about how downtrodden the US is was pure accident, an actual acknowledgement of the skewed statistics regarding race and economic equality in the US, or something else entirely. I have fewer thoughts on this one, or tools to deconstruct it.

So, tl;dr, sexism is in the US and according to this commercial the men get to do everything. Why do I even bother with this stuff still.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
I remember seeing this commercial and kind of forgot about it since, although I do follow your argument. To be honest, I vaguely remember noticing the race problems, but I'm not sure whether or not the sexism caught my eye. I think I was too busy raging over Kia's asinine pile of multi-tiered turd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHZbXvts0LE

*angry sigh*
Feb. 25th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
WOW I had not seen that one, that is..pretty ridic. (although at the end, I won't lie, I thought it was kinda sweet they had the hubbie go grab his wife instead of being surrounded by the scantily clad ladies. A tiny drop of okay-ness in a giant turd does not a good thing make, though.) Why do I even expect the Super Bowl to have anything but, I do not know.

Oh wait, because sometimes it does have genuinely funny offerings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y59VUQxX3Dk
A commercial aired during a male-dominated sport, appealing to both males and females, focused around a female-centric product but NOT playing into a ton of the stereotypes therein, and actually funny. Or maybe I'm just silly for laughing at it idk.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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