About BMC 277: Media and Diversity
Monday, October 19, 2009
During the 1930’s-40, an age of global conflict, war bonds, and political propaganda, Americans reveled in the idea that we are better and smarter than the rest of the world. It certainly showed in the cartoons we were watching, where even children were exposed to subversive, racist imagery disguised as humor. Warner Brothers cartoon characters have come a long way since then; when racial propaganda was prevalent and negative stereotypes were celebrated. Those episodes have since been banned or censored due to their poor taste. Today’s cartoons contain more “family friendly” content, focusing on morals and ideals.
Nips the Nips (1944) is one of the many banned cartoons in the U.S. It’s an eight-minute long racial attack on the Japanese which portrays them as an unintelligent and militant culture with oversized teeth and poor diction. Starting off the episode is the very familiar orchestrated theme music. The opening scene shows the loveable Bugs Bunny who lands on an island after a period of time floating around on the Pacific in a crate. Upon arrival, he is shot at from all different directions. Finding refuge in a haystack, he discovers that he isn’t the only one hiding. A Japanese soldier jumps out and chases Bugs with a knife while shouting nonsense in a Japanese-esque tone. The two continue to chase each other around, Bugs outsmarting him with each encounter. A sumo wrestler, which serves no purpose other than to emphasize the stereotype, walks into the scene and challenges Bugs to a match. After Bugs looses, he runs away only to change into a Geisha costume and returns to the Sumo man and bashes him on the head with a mallet. “Japs! Hundreds of em’!” Noticing he is soon to be outnumbered, Bugs has to think quickly to get out of this predicament. Playing of the ignorance of the Japanese, Bugs drives up in a “Good Rumor” ice cream truck to hand out grenade filled ice cream pops to the troops. “Here ya go monkey-face. Here’s one for you slant eyes.” One by one he passes them all out until the troops eventually explode out of frame proving to children and adults everywhere that the good guys, or rabbits, always win.
Cartoons like these ran in many movie theaters for almost 40 years. They were shown back to back with war-front news reel propaganda. Bugs was portrayed as a true American patriot, outwitting the enemies of the U.S. These cartoons provided a service to the government during this time; promoting animosity and hatred towards the nations and cultures that we were at war with. Since the end of WWII and the civil rights movement of the 60’s, the general public no longer accepted these racially charged images. They are now deemed tasteless and wrong. Warner Brothers has since been forced to ban or censor many of its earlier creations such as Speedy Gonzalez.
During the 90’s Warner Bros. produced a more age-appropriate series called Tiny Toon Adventures. It centers around a university for cartoon characters attended by younger versions of the original Warner Brothers characters. The teachers of the school are the previous loveable characters that have not since been banned: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd to name a few. This particular episode, The Potty Years, focuses on the traditional family roles of potty training a toddler. The opening scene pans into a cozy cottage where the Duck family resides. Soft music plays in the background. The overly adorable character of Plucky is finally learning potty training. Like most children, he has some troubles. Refusing to learn how to use the toilet appropriately, he flushes whatever he can. “Diaper go down the hole. Toot Toot go down the hole.” The family dog wags his way into the bathroom and takes a drink out of the toilet bowl, then licks the face of little Plucky. Here we see the recurring joke of Plucky saying “ewwww” in his sweet childlike voice. Once everything has clogged the toilet, it overflows and begins to flood the bathroom. The parents walk into a huge mess, where Plucky is given a minor scolding. Thus being a more widely accepted attempt at humor compared to that in Nips the Nips. Racial jokes not included.
As one can see, no longer are we instilling politically incorrect views in the minds of children. Rather, Warner Brothers is using humor to reinforce values and ideals instead of purporting racial stereotypes.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
When hear the term Country Music, what immediately comes to mind? The South? Banjos? Cowboy hats? Country music is arguably one of the most stereotyped genres of music in existence in the United States. These stereotypes of country music are reinforced by the major record labels associated with the music. Country music has created its own image of the average American citizen, one that is not true in most circumstances, but avid country music fans are constantly exposed to this type of discourse by the music that is streamed through their radios. However, one country singer from a long line of musicians dared to challenge the establishment with one of the most controversial albums ever released in the world of country music, challenging the sub-culture that’s being created by “pop country.”Hank Williams III is the grandson of one of the founders of modern country, Hank Williams, and the son of the Great Bocefus himself, Hank Williams Jr. With his release of “Straight To Hell” Hank III’s second album, he became an outlaw and rebel in the country world because he chose to fight the preconceived imagery that is created by country music.
Modern country music ideology is none more present in the tune “A Good Man”, by the Canadian country group Emerson Drive.
Lyrics to the song include, “I just need a little green in my pocket, so I can buy my buddies a round… Lived a good life, loved a good wife, always helped someone in trouble…” The pre-conception in this song can be used as an example for country music in general, is that the average man should strive to have good Christian values, love their wife, be a good samaritan, etc. This “code” is followed fairly standardly by country artists, and any songs that attempt to break these ethics usually tie the consumption of alcohol to the “evil” acts as defined by Christian Ideals. Take for instance the song “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley, where a couple are so broken-hearted over each other that they use alcohol to literarily drink themselves to death, but are reunited in the afterlife. Even the most depressing or somewhat controversial topics held by modern country still have what seems to be a distinct Christian philosophy with a lot of talk of heaven and none to much of hell. Where Hank III dares to strive is blending his punk rock background with that of a country twang, meaning his message is pure and clear, “pop country really sucks”, and rather than end up in heaven he’s convinced he will go “Straight To Hell.”
The album is glorified by punk rock enthusiasts because of its originality, however some of its content is expectably obscene. Some of the lyrics off several of the songs in the album can be viewed as unrighteous, and homophobic. Hank III dares to cross these lines, and stays in the underground of country music, because the radio and music industry will not accept his message and distribute it accordingly. Hank stays with the punk rock philosophy, alienating himself from the “music world” and playing in small clubs to avid fans who appreciate the message, which is once again “pop country really sucks.” In ways this could be viewed as Orientalism because he is alienating himself and exposing everything that he is not, rather than what he IS. Hank’s message may be vulgar and inappropriate but he puts it forth in context, that you can take it or leave it, good or bad, this is how country ought to be.
Hank III’s message also expands off of the fact that such country artists as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were outlaws in their own time, challenging the rules set forth by the music industry. American youth took in to this new trend that expanded out of country music, and it evolved into rock and roll. What has happened since that time is that country has seemed to slip back into its infant stages and the outlaws cease to exist and the music industry once again controls the market. Because of this, and the fact that the music industry is one of the most powerful forms of media, an ideology is created within the genre of good Christian values and a powerful sense of right and wrong. Hank III’s message is not necessarily right or wrong, but what it is, in his “Straight to Hell” album, is different. It changes the perceived normalcy that country has beheld fairly untouched for several decades.
The album “Straight to Hell” contains obscene lyrics, such as slurs for homosexual preference, and about every four letter word in the English language that cannot be played over the radio. But this can be viewed in the context that Hank III is simply exercising his right of free speech and the music is just a prime example of the positive aspects of American Constitutional Rights. But another contextual argument against the album might be that this seemingly discriminatory character is spreading his words of hate in form of his album. But the point Hank is trying to convey is that the American people share in his feelings at a natural basis, that is, before their thoughts are influenced by media.
Regardless of whether the album can be viewed as right or wrong, “Straight To Hell”, receives its shock value, which is exactly what is intended. Hank is trying to prove to the music industry in Nashville that country’s good and wholesome Christian values are not exactly the feelings of the people that it is being exposed to. The album has very offensive lyrics and takes a contextual approach to appreciate or dislike, and that, once again, is one of the main ideals of the album. It is safe to say that Hank III has not changed the country music industry with his album, but it certainly is message music that strikes deeply into the heart of the values that the genre currently holds.
Williams, H., III. (2006). Straight To Hell. On Straight to Hell [CD].
Bruc Records Inc. Drive, E. (2006). A Good Man [Recorded by E. Drive]. On Countrified [CD]. Midas Records.
Paisley, B. (2003). Whiskey Lullaby [Recorded by B. Paisley & A. Kraus]. On Mud On the Tires [CD]. Nashville: BMG Music.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Burger King has a history of creating controversial commercials. For example, its television ad for the Texican Whopper, which debuted in early 2009 in England and Spain portrays a Texan and a Mexican being friendly and doing things together. The problem is that the commercial portrays the Mexican as a short wrestler wearing a cape and a facemask, while the Texan is tall and masculine. The Mexican’s name in the commercial is “Just a Little Bit”, playing into the stereotype that Mexicans are short.
While this ad certainly caused controversy among Mexicans, the print ad was a big article posted online about Spain’s reaction to the commercial and print ad tells why Spain is angry with the major fast food chain. Jorge Zormeno, Mexico’s ambassador to Spain, said “We have to tell these people that in Mexico we have a great deal of respect for our flag.”
The slogan for the commercial is “The taste of Texas with a little spicy Mexican.” Some people took this as making fun of Mexicans because of the stereotype that they are short. Furthermore, the Mexican is cleaning the glass window, thus reiterating the stereotype that they c
This ad campaign plays into the symbolic annihilation of Mexicans because it trivializes their culture by representing it with a short, Mexican wrestler while the Texan is represented by a tall, masculine man. Also, while the Mexican is wearing the country’s flag, the Texan does not wear the flag of Texas or the American flag. If the Texan were to wear the Texas or American flag it would go against rules in America as well. says that it is okay to go against Mexican customs but not American customs. Furthermore, the Texan does not wear anything that gives him a second role. He is simply just a man dressed in cowboy boots and a hat. The Mexican is given a comedic role while the Texan is given more of a serious role. The implications of these ads are that Mexicans are trivialized as short and needing help, comic wrestlers, professional cleaners, and as having a culture that is not important. Therefore, these ads are contributing to their symbolic annihilation.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
She’s the Man (2006) centers on a teenage girl, Viola, who poses as a boy at a highschool. As a female posing as a male, this film examines the role of gender and sexuality.
Viola’s mother teaches Viola table manners and buys her a lot of feminine dresses. Viola’s mother values consumption, male power and feminine passivity (as she doesn’t approve of viola’s interest in soccer.) The mother here, represents the extreme ideology of traditional femininity, which mainstream culture has long identified as out-dated. As personified by the “masculinized” Viola, this construction of femininity is clearly not valued within the film’s narrative. Viola is not satisfied with following the old rules and does not want to “behave like a lady”. Instead, she insists on playing soccer and even enters the team of another school to prove her abilities.
In the film, Viola is an active character, not passively waiting for male attention. For example, in the last scene, her brother pulls down his shorts to show that he is a male in the stadium and viola who pulls up her sports shirt does the same. She also takes initiative sexually, kissing Duke who is her roommate first. At the end, Viola’s team wins the game and her mother no longer stops her from playing soccer. On one hand, the film seems to tell audiences that females have the power to make changes.
On the other hand, I argue that the film still holds a deeply rooted ideology which values masculinity over femininity. First of all, the film shows that sports are still the world of males and females are not supposed to get in. Viola cannot play soccer if she does not pose as a boy. In order to play soccer, she must abandon all of her feminine traits, and hide any feminine signifiers. For example, she needs to put on a wig of short hair and fasten her breasts on sunny days, hide all the tampons away, take showers only when there is nobody in bathroom and speak in a deep voice. Furthermore, the coach in Viola’s highschool, who represents the mainstream opinion, actually discriminates against females as he does not allow Viola to join his team.
The main actor, Duke, is muscular, tall, athletic and interested in girls. Meanwhile, when Viola acts as a woman, she is very feminine. She is thin, slender, has long blonde hair, big eyes and smooth skin. Moreover, other actresses in the film are all very feminine and appealing. When Viola’s friends show up in the movie, they dress in low-cut dresses and make-up; their goal is to grab male attention.
Much of the humor in the film comes from near-homosexual encounters. When Viola poses as a boy, her female classmate wants Viola to be her boyfriend. Much of the humor also stems from the fact that Viola is interested in men, staring at men in the changing room and hugging her male roommate.
On the surface, the film portrays the flexibility of gender roles. Viola is able to successfully “act like a boy,” and thus demonstrates the social construction of gender. However, this interrogation of gender roles is ultimately superficial. Viola, even when dressed as a boy, is still very feminine. Her love interest is also hyper-masculine. Furthermore, the fact that a large portion of the film’s humor stems from near gay/lesbian encounters makes one question just how progressive the film really is.
Ally Bank, formerly GMAC, is in the process of rebranding itself. Its new name means that of supporter, assistant, or helper. When reading “Bye Bye, GMAC: Will ‘Ally Bank’ Work or Not?”, Jodi Xu states that in the past Ally Bank has not necessarily followed up to this new name they have. “On a day-to-day level, customers have grown fed up with hidden checking-account fees and elaborate mortgage fine print. That doesn’t even begin to reflect anger over the huge bank bailout and financial crisis.” According to their mission statement they are “A bank that values integrity as much as deposits.” Their advertising campaign is part of this newly packaged company.
Many of the comments from YouTube focus on this Ally commercial’s humor. One viewer comments, “I laugh every time I see this commercial on TV. ‘You did not say that I could have a real one’ oooh, the look in that girl’s eye! She looked like she could have torn that man apart. LMAO!” These viewers comment how funny it is when the first little girl doesn’t get the real pony and then seems extremely angry at the salesman.
In this commercial the first young girl that is asked if she would like a pony is clearly of a different background other than white. She seems as though she might have some Hispanic, or Middle Eastern descant. When she later says to the salesman “you didn’t tell me I could have a real pony,” one can hear a slight accent, signifying “foreignness”. On the other hand, the second girl that is asked if she would like a pony is given a real, live pony. This second girl is a blonde white child and clearly, she represents a higher socioeconomic class; her hair is combed, and she is dressed up in a nicer dress shirt. The man offering these girls a pony is a middle-aged white man that clearly favors the child that is seemingly wealthier and white. He has a much nicer tone with her and is actually a little rude in responding to the first girls comment when he replies “well you didn’t ask.”
This commercial frames our understanding of the children, inviting us to, ultimately, devaluing nonwhites. The irony in this commercial is that one of the last lines in it says “even kids know it’s wrong to hold out on somebody.” On one hand, the advertisement’s message is that of egalitarianism. Everyone should be treated equally. However, at the same time, it relies on naturalized assumptions about worth and ethnicity. In this case, the non-white child is given less. This line is further ironic because now even kids know it’s wrong to treat people differently and hold out on somebody based on their background.
The problem with this commercial is that it reiterates an acculturated schema. It is a representation of how we commonly see different ethnicities represented. This commercial helps categorize people into different groups by showing us the basic characteristics of these two girls, which allows us to assume that everyone with those characteristics are alike without really having to expend upon that or make much of a mental effort.
Monday, October 12, 2009
One popular criticism of popular music is that it perpetuates gender stereotypes. Although it is more common to see female stereotypes perpetuated than male stereotypes, it is not difficult to find such stereotypes in popular music. One song where it is somewhat difficult to find the perpetuation of stereotypes is Craig Morgan's “I Am.” Although there are instances in which male stereotypes are supported, the majority of the supported stereotypes are positive and many of the lines in the song denounce the negative stereotyping of men.
“I Am” is essentially an autobiographical country song. The lyrics consist of questions inquiring as to different personality traits that Craig Morgan possesses. At the end of each verse and the refrain, Craig emphatically responds “you bet I am!” These traits range from Morgan being a so-called good ol' boy to being down to Earth. Several of the traits that Morgan says he possesses, however, come in direct conflict with negative male stereotypes.
The first time that a negative male stereotype is quashed by Morgan is in the first line of the refrain. He asks, “[a]m I strong enough to cry?” The notion that men who cry are as weak is a key element of the schema that is the male stereotype. However, this element of the stereotype is problematic because it teaches men to hide their emotions. This can lead to a variety of problems ranging from difficulty making friends to post-traumatic stress disorder (United Press International, 2009; Salters-Pedneault)
Another important yet less-discussed stereotype that Morgan denounces through his song is that men tend to be unfaithful. It is not uncommon for males to be portrayed in the media as having multiple love interests. This can be harmful because Morgan denounces this stereotypes by singing “[a]m I a lover, a one-woman man, you bet I am!” By using this line in his song, he sends the message that it is okay to be famous and faithful.
Not all of the lines in “I Am” combat male stereotypes, though. In the second line of the refrain, Morgan sings “[a]m I weak enough to show my tender side?”. This line seems to perpetuate the notion that it is not acceptable for men to be emotional. This is a problematic line for two reasons. As was previously mentioned, suppressing emotions can have negative effects on a person's health. More importantly, however, is the fact that this line seems to contradictory to other parts of the song. It contradicts what Morgan sang in the line previous to it when he said that he is “strong enough to cry.” It also sends a conflicting message because he infers that it is acceptable to “show your tender side,” but uses the word “weak” to describe why he is able to do it. These conflicting messages may lead to some listeners to be confused about what the lyric actually means.
However, Morgan does sing about some male stereotypes that are considered favorable. He uses lines about whether he is “willing to take a stand” and “tough as nails when push comes to shove.” These lines signify that Morgan is encouraging men to be tough but not overly violent or aggressive. The media often does not portray men as such, as even Disney has portrayed many of its main male characters as violent and aggressive at times.
Although Craig Morgan’s song “I Am” is one of his lesser known songs, it has a more message about what it means to be a man than the majority of today’s popular music. It breaks through some of the stereotypes of men, including the notion that it is not acceptable to cry or be monogamous, and reinforces other traits such as being tough but not overly aggressive. Although there are conflicting messages at times, Craig Morgan did a very good job of cutting through some of the stereotypes that surround males today
Morgan, C. (n.d.) I Am. In Youtube.com. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXmpHeKmr5Y.
Salters-Pedneault, K. (n.d.). Suppressing Emotions. In About.com. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from http://bpd.about.com/od/livingwithbpd/a/suppress.htm.
United Press International (July 25, 2009). Study finds suppressing emotions can hurt. In UPI.com. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2009/07/25/Study-finds-suppressing-emotions-can-hurt/UPI-36381248566093/
In today’s media there are a few unwritten rules in regards to who can be acceptably exploited, who can be made fun of and who can be stereotyped. As seen in the snickers commercial gay people are one of these groups. In the video we see two greasy mechanics that accidentally kiss and afterwards need to prove their manliness to one another. Gays are not the only group that is still an acceptable target, we still see advertisers using people of Irish, Arabic and Asian decent how they see fit, usually without any consequences.
Why are they allowed to do this? Historically gays and lesbians have been a minority group in American society. This is the same problem we have with other minority groups that are represented in the media. The media believes that there is simply not enough people in that group to cause a problem or the people in that group do not have enough power to enforce a change. Gays in America are in a special category, they are a smaller minority of the population however they have a large non gay alliance. So together, gays and their alliances make up a larger more recognizable percentage of media consumers. Another reason that gays are allowed to be so commonly misrepresented or stereotyped is the fact that the people who are against homosexuals as a whole are usually larger, louder and newsmakers.
The commercial plays off of the schemas we have for mechanics as well as the schemas we have for homosexuals. When people think of greasy men in jumpsuits fixing a car the schema for mechanic is activated, however when you see all of these things preceding two of the men kissing there is no schema for this. On one level we can think about how this commercial shows us how we view the homosexuality as wrong and it also shows us all of the stereotypes associated with it. Gay men are thought to be more feminine than straight men, therefore when we see two mechanics kiss our schema for what it means to be a mechanic is challenged. As people we do not like change, we would rather have things remain constant than to always change. This idea can be applied to the commercials schemas of mechanics because instead of changing the schema to accept that mechanics can be gay, we would rather assume that the gay people in the commercial are doing something wrong and it was an accident, so that we can continue to use these restricting schemas and stereotypes.
Some people may see this as another part of society that simply cannot or will not be changed so why focus on it. Actually advertising has changed greatly over the years and we can see that in how other groups are portrayed today in relation to how they used to be portrayed. For example many years ago you could see an advertisement for something like watermelon with stereotypic images of black people plastered across it, however now in society if an ad or even a television show negatively portrays or serotypes African Americans it is likely to be pulled from the public and scar the company from whom the ad was created. Because of the evolution of African Americans as a more powerful force in American culture there had to be a change in the way they were going to allow themselves to be portrayed. We see this same trend happening in Hispanic culture, as they are growing in population, they are also growing in power. We see fewer Hispanic stereotypes in media today than we have in the past, because advertisers and media people know that if you cross the line of any accepted group in America you will automatically be blacklisted.
When we were kids one of the things that we hold most dear to us is what we watch on television. Most of the time parents take for granted what their kids are watching. Parents think this show or game is made for kids so there is not any content that would be inappropriate for them to watch. When I was a child I did not see any of the stereotypes because I didn’t know they existed. When I look back on some these portrayals now from old cartoons such as Bugs Bunny or Popeye I am shocked by the blatant forms of racism. My blog will focus on what a child can learn from cartoons in terms of race and gender.
After watching a few older cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Popeye that are still somewhat prevalent to this day I asked myself what could a young mind take away from these portrayals of race, gender and social class? The first cartoon I viewed was on YouTube it was an old Speedy Gonzalez with his cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez. This particular cartoon stereotyped Mexican people as either being fast and energetic or slow, lazy and hungry. Speedy Gonzalez is the fast and energetic character who is always running around screaming Andale or Arriba while Slowpoke Rodriguez is lethargic and sings la cuca racha very slowly. Even the two characters attire is stereotypical Speedy and Slowpoke both wear all white outfits with sombreros. On top of their clothing, accents and behavior even their food choices are stereotyped in this particular cartoon. When Slowpoke suggests to speedy in order to enjoy their cheese they need Tabasco sauce. This particular cartoon suggests that Mexicans are slow and lazy or energetic and annoying as well as hot sauce eating sombrero wearing people. These perceptions are disturbing to say the least.
Warner Brothers had another very controversial and shocking racist cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny. This included the Original Elmer Fudd who was an African American character originally. Elmer Fudd is extremely dark with huge light colored lips and is all slouched over he looks more like an animal then an human being. Elmer is not very intelligent either you can barley understand the words that are coming out of his mouth and he uses all slang instead of proper English. Although this particular cartoon was made a long time ago it is very offensive and would not be accepted in todays culture. This particular cartoon did not even portray the Elmer Fudd as a human being this gives young white children that black people are stupid and animal looking people. This particular portrayal would be very hard inpaticular for a black child because a cartoon like this could be very degrading to their confidence and may make them feel inferior.
An example of gender roles in cartoons is in the Disney Pixar movie Toy Story. The scene when Woody and Buzz are arguing over whether Buzz can fly or not. Woody is the dominant male in this group of toys until Buzz enters their lives. Woody tries to convince the other toys that Buzz is all bells and whistles. The main toy he is trying to convince is his girlfriend Bo Peep she has clearly moved on from Woody to Buzz because he is more dominant and has more desirable physical features when she says “Looks like I found myself a new moving partner”. This sends a wrong message to little girls that they should be looking for materialistic traits in a man instead of looking for a man with a great personality who really cares about her.
Another cartoon that shows stereotypical gender roles is the Jetsons. In the intro of the show we observe George Jetson giving his wife Jane money to go shopping. This act promotes the fact that Jane does not have her own money or make her own money. The only way that she is able to go shopping is to use her husband’s money. In the show she also fits the stereotypical housewife role in the capacity of staying home all day and preparing the meals. This tells a little girl that when I’m older I’ll find the right man and won’t have to work George is the breadwinner for the family he goes to work makes the money for the family and does not lift a finger when he is home. A little boy who watches this gets the idea that he does not have to help his wife with duties around the house and all he has to do is go to work. Even the kids fit stereotypes Elroy the Jetsons son is interested in sports and does anything to please his father and Judy is a typical high school girl who is interested in boys and shopping. These stereotypes in this show goes with times in which the show was made. However the Jetsons are still is prevalent today and may cause children to think that they need to fit these stereotypical gender roles.
Past cartoons and even some current ones can teach a child about race and gender in a negative way. Parents should monitor what their child watches and explain to them that these cartoons do not portray reality. These cartoons are generally harmless but obviously there are many messages about race and gender that we don’t really realize until we are really looking for it.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
If celebrities like Tyra Banks, Halle Berry, Rihanna, and Beyoncé have to be altered for advertisements, just what does it take to be an “ideal” beauty? In the case of the four afore mentioned cosmetic models, their shortcoming is apparently that they are not White enough. Despite already being what is considered “light-skinned” for African-American women, their true appearance is still not deemed appropriate for cosmetic ads. While it’s likely no ad for L’Oréal, Cover Girl, or Revlon goes “untouched,” it is what is retouched in these ads that make them questionable. After a recent debate over the cover of the book, Liar, Young (2009) makes the observation: “In the history of the marketing of black art, racism and biases towards lighter complexions have been collaborators.” She further asks “Why is disguising or watering down the ethnicity of the cover model still a marketing tactic in book publishing and in other aspects of popular culture?” This blog will explore the beauty advertising aspect of popular culture under the contexts which Young mentions, and the implications of this “watering down.”
While Tyra’s Cover Girl ad looks about the same as other photos taken of her outside of a photo shoot, her skin color is striking in the ad. As one of the darker light-skinned African-American women to be accepted by the media (as a model first, then an actress and now media personality), she is certainly lit in a way that changes her skin color from its natural appearance. While the change is not so dramatic that one would assume she is digitally “white washed,” it does seem as though there was attention paid to lightening Tyra. The ad also does not focus so much on Tyra’s face as the others do, which could be why her deeper color is permitted. Here, Cover Girl is selling nail polish.
Revlon, however, is selling face makeup with their Halle Berry featured ad. At first glance, the model could be mistaken for White actress Sandra Bullock. While Halle is of mixed race, accounting for some of her more Caucasian features, she still was apparently not White enough for this ad. She is positioned in a way that completely alters the shape of her nose. She is also lit so that her light complexion is even fairer. Her eye shadow, blush, and lip color are all in shades of what the cosmetic companies often call “nude” which is really only the color of Caucasians when they are nude.This brings us to Rihanna, R&B recording artist and light-skinned Black woman from Barbados. In both of these ads for Cover Girl, her complexion is lighter than in reality. As with Halle, Rihanna is made-up to look more White. Her natural lip color is masked by icy pink lip gloss while peaches, taupes, and all things light transform her look. The irony lies within the second ad, which advertises foundation; it says “TAKE OFF THAT MASK!” It would be very surprising if the foundation color they matched to her skin in the ad came anywhere near what she’d use in real life. Furthermore, that foundation must really work magic – it changes facial features! The curves of Rihanna’s nose are dramatically softened in these ads, particularly in the second one.
Finally, there’s Beyoncé. While her hair color, part of the package L’Oréal is trying to sell here, dramatically lightens the ad overall, it is not the only thing that is lightening Beyoncé’s look. Her skin color must have been altered by a computer because the contrast between what’s real and what’s in this ad is striking. Her nose and overall facial features are bony, closer to those of White models like Kate Moss than to those belonging to Beyoncé’s naturally fuller face. It even looks as though her mouth was positioned a certain way as to not make her smile look “too Black” – and her lips are of course colored “nude.” While the non-ad photo doesn’t show it very well, Beyoncé does have a naturally big smile. This ad seems to attempt to make her mouth look smaller or even just take all focus away from it, making it invisible. While the second ad highlights her lips, clearly selling red lipstick, this image looks strikingly similar to one of Veronica Lake, a White 1940s actress.
While she may have been the inspiration, and a revisionist Black Veronica Lake ad may have been otherwise acceptable – it just doesn’t make sense that an African-American woman looks almost identical to a White woman in an ad – from her facial features to her hair – when in real life any visual likeness does not exist. Not to mention, while Beyoncé is allowed to be a little darker in the second ad, she still does not resemble her true color.
When Essence, a Black beauty magazine, held a panel last spring, they discussed the female African-American cosmetic consumer. Makeup artist Sam Fine “believes African-American women are looking for affirmations of their own beauty through seeing spokespersons or models of color in ad campaigns for beauty products.” The panel also said that African American women are more likely to buy high-end products such as “Chanel lipsticks and Versace perfume” rather than brands like Cover Girl and L'Oréal which have celebrity spokeswomen (Smith, 2009). While the reason could simply be that these products are better quality, there could also very well be a connection between the above ads and ones similar to them and what brands African-American women are choosing to purchase. While it is possible that African-American women do look for Black spokeswomen to affirm their beauty, they’re not finding ones that represent them, so they don’t buy those products. The ads don’t speak to them. When Black celebrity models are altered to look Caucasian in advertisements, there are clear messages there.
According to Collins (2000), the “prevailing standards of beauty” in media favor skin color, facial features, and hair texture that are closest to those of a Caucasian woman. In fact, she argues that blue-eyed, blonde, thin women are most favored, and that this is because they are not the Other: “black women with African features of dark skin, broad noses, full lips, and kinky hair” (Collins, 2000, p.89). With this ideology, those that are considered the “most Black” are the least beautiful and thus, Blacks who can be considered the “least Black” are most beautiful. This social construction permeates beauty and cosmetic advertisements as exemplified by the six above featured print ads. Sengupta (2006) reasons:
A Beauty or a Beast? Textual analysis of stereotypes and discrimination in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
This statement is spoken by Gaston, the “ultimate” male specimen in Disney’s 1991 film, Beauty and the Beast.
A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Though useful in allowing us to take shortcuts in interpreting vast amounts of information, these mental frameworks cause us to exclude important information in favor of the information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or ideas. These schemas give rise to stereotypes by making it difficult to retain new information that does not conform to our already established schemas. The schemas most children have of gender stereotypes and discrimination are reinforced continuously by Disney films. The Disney empire, long beloved by parents and children alike, has recently been confronted about the stereotypical messages within their material. With such a powerful influence over the public, especially children, many contend it should be Disney’s responsibility to censure their media outlets and work to eliminate evidence of stereotypes and discrimination within their products. Scholars and parents alike are becoming concerned with the portrayal of women and other questionable behavior in Disney’s films.
In particular, Beauty and the Beast portrays severe gender stereotypes. Using a textual analysis, one can discover the use of these stereotypes in the main characters of Belle and Gaston, and indication of discrimination towards the Beast. The opening song in Beauty and the Beast summarizes the schemas of Belle and Gaston. As the whole town sings about Belle, the main character, they introduce her as beautiful, but “odd”, “peculiar”, and a “funny girl.” Why? Because she reads. The only town seems to be baffled because there is really no need for a girl to read, especially if she has beauty. The text of this film immediately displays Belle as the town spectacle because of this trait. Rather than encouraging Belle’s fancy for reading, the film isolates it as an “odd” and ridiculous trait. Although Disney does allow their female main character to be seen with some brains, she never ends up needing them. Just as the towns people suggested in the beginning. In Belle’s book she reads, she describes her favorite chapter as the one where the girl finds her prince charming. The film suggests that the only purpose a woman like Belle has, is to find a man. However, Belle does sing of her desire to find “more than this provincial life.” Yet, her idea of “more” still revolves around finding a man and no more.
In addition to Belle, other stereotypical females are shown in the film. While Gaston sings of his perfection, three girls swoon around him and sing the chorus. These three girls are either triplets or heavily stereotyped. All blonde, skinny, and with tiny waists, the only difference of them is the color of their revealing dresses. They are portrayed as the town’s “regular” women. In other words, the construction of femininity as portrayed by the three girl/women is normalized within the film’s narrative. They are completely infatuated with Gaston and the idea of marrying. They are sexy and ditzy. Clearly, their most valued commodity is their body.
This leads us into Gaston; he is a typical Disney male. In the film, Gaston sings of how “lucky” Belle is that he picked her as his bride. He continues to say that Belle must be the best there is because Gaston only deserves the best. This reinforces the idea of male domination and that a man comes first and deserves more than a woman, or will attain the best at a woman’s expense. The character of Gaston is illustrated to have a plethora of muscles with “biceps to spare!” This body image along with his uncanny physical abilities, like the female characters, puts emphasis on the body-as-commodity. In another musical number, Gaston’s minion replies that Gaston thinking is “dangerous” after Gaston announces he thought of a plan. The idea of Gaston’s lack of need for intelligence is also reinforced through the identical swooning girls. They only focus on his sculpted face and hairy muscles, as well as his abilities to shoot and drink. This represents the stereotypical “jock” as the main male character. While both male and female characters are valued only for their outer appearance, the difference here is that Gaston has the power to chose; the women in the film do not. Instead, the women are chosen, and chosen based only on how they look.
The other main male protagonist in the film is the Beast, and it is here that we find some potentially destructive ideology. Firstly, the idea of the Beast as an abuser becomes prevalent the instant he comes into contact with the other characters. The Beast is shown as a violent, angry creature, incapable of mercy. When Belle’s father stumbles into the Beast’s castle looking for help, the Beast immediately locks him away in a dungeon. To get her father released, Belle imprisons herself to the Beast, taking her father’s place. As the Beast’s prisoner, Belle is screamed at and threatened. At one point, the Beast’s temper boils over and he screams, “If she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all!” Yet, after all this emotional abuse, Belle continues to hope that there is something human inside him, which is capable of love. Against the odds, Belle falls in love with him and “tames” the Beast. Belle’s actions tell children that it is okay to be abused by a man, because you can change him and he actually loves you. This is probably the most dangerous message in the film.
In addition to the Beast being seen as an abuser, he also represents the idea of discrimination. Cursed into the form of an ugly monster, the Beast’s life is threatened because of his difference. Discrimination or the unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice is illustrated perfectly by the Beast. When the town learns that the Beast is real, they immediately form a prejudice against him based simply on the fact that he is not one of them. They carry this prejudice further through discrimination when they venture to his castle to “kill the Beast.” It is disturbing that prejudice and discrimination are prevalent in a child’s movie and more so, that these actions are never shown as wrong. Rather, the occupants of the house and the Beast’s servants (who happen to be thinking house-hold objects) defeat the town’s people and send them running. The film reinforces ideas of prejudice without reinforcing them as wrong, only defeatable.
It is important that Disney movies be analyzed and questioned by parents. Katherine E. Barnett (10/8/09) states that, “gender is a social construct, meaning that what we think males and females should do or how we think males and females should behave is not based on one’s biological sex” (185). In other words, Barnett is insisting that gender roles are learned and taught by one’s society. In a time of critical learning, a child begins to understand what is considered male and what is considered female. Therefore it is very important what he/she is being exposed to. Children have been, and continue to be, influenced by the overly stereotyped Disney frames of gender.
Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Perf. Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson. Walt Disney Pictures, 1991. Videocassette.