Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advertising: The Replacement for Religion

      I found the arguments Jhally asserts in his chapter entitled, Advertising as Religion: The Dialectic of Technology and Magic, to be not only informative and convincing but also thought provoking. He addresses the history of not only advertising, but also of human beings in general. The historical information presented is vital for understanding how various meanings have been given to products in present day (and since the beginning of our capitalist industrial society). Jhally claims that in traditional societies [that did not have market economies] people had a direct connection to the production process of the goods that were part of their lives. Goods were the communicators of social relations, and when making a good that person was putting a part of themselves into it. However, with capatilsm came the establishment of markets. Markets eliminated the opportunity for people to see where (or who) the goods they were purchasing came from, and thus the goods lost their meaning. The shift to capitalism was also a period of emotional transition and unrest. Whereas previously people had a experienced strong religious influences and a sense of stability and community in their simple agricultural lives; urbanization led to secularization and many changes in lifestyle. It was at this time that advertisers saw their opportunity.

      Since people needed meanings for goods, and products had lost their meaning when they went to the marketplace, advertising played a role of injecting new social meanings into them. Although religion was weakening, people still yearned for the things it had long provided them with. Advertisers strategically looked to the transcendental realm as a model. Their goal was to give the public something new to enhance their lives. Since then, advertising has evolved to keep up with the times, but despite is varying approaches, people continue to look to it for guidance. Although advertising has no moral core or central system of beliefs, the industry acts to tell people not only what they should buy- but also what they should or should not do, how to do these things and creates consumption communities (much like religious communities).

Call for Papers: NEW Undergraduate Conference sponsored by Society for Cinema and Media Studies

The Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) is one of the preeminent organizations for film studies and media studies academics (I'll be presenting at this year's professional conference in Chicago, March 2013). There's a new initiative for undergraduates (announcement below), which sounds like a great opportunity if you're interested in this field, further study, and taking the time to craft a strong proposal.


The Society for Cinema and Media Studies is proud to announce its support for a new venture, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Undergraduate Conference. Previously conducted under the title of the Midwest Undergraduate Film and Television Conference and held only at the University of Notre Dame, this new incarnation will rotate across multiple universities on an annual basis, so as to enable wider access to students across North America. It will carry the SCMS imprimatur to reflect the organization’s strong support for undergraduate education in cinema and media studies.

We ask that you tell your best undergraduate students about the First Annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Undergraduate Conference. It will be once again held at the University of Notre Dame on April 11-12, 2013. Next year it will move to the University of Oklahoma.

Undergraduate students are invited to propose papers appropriate for a 20-minute presentation on any aspect of cinema and media history, criticism, or theory. Interested students must submit a proposal form, which can be found at

Completed proposals should be sent by email to at the University of Notre Dame. Please write "SCMS Undergrad Conference 2013" in the subject heading.

The deadline for proposals is Midnight EST on Monday, February 4, 2013. Questions about the conference should be directed to Christine Becker at

Advertisement as our Religion

Throughout my whole life I have been exposed to countless amounts advertisements and will continue to be exposed to millions of ads until the day I die. Though this might sound a like a generalized melodramatic exaggeration it really isn’t, most of us will have been exposed to thousands, if not millions of ads before we are the age of sixty.
 As a person fascinated by media of all kinds I always found ads to be very interesting. This might the creative person in me, but believe it or not it, I would always think of creative ways to advertise things when I was little, but after a few college courses on advertising, a couple of good books and two years of experience as a retail sales person, I’ve learned a lot about the insides and outs’ of advertisements; from the technical aspects of commercials to the psychological purpose behind their message. Yet, I still would not call myself and expert and worst of all, I dare not to say that I am immune to these messages.  But personal interest aside, what I am really trying to get at is that ads are mediums that appeal to us through emotional leverage.
Jhally makes a lot of interesting points regarding advertisements in relation to society. He argues that products lose their social meaning when they ceased to be produced by individuals who specialize in building or creating that good. Industrialization, which sustains capitalism, strips goods from any personal meaning its makers  might have with their creation; consequently, the job of advertisements it to create one in order to sell it.
He says “it’s[advertising] power comes from the fact that it works it’s magic on a blank slate” (221).  For example, now a days we often value hand made things, they usually sell for more and are made by small companies which don’t utilize ads as much; however, these companies succeed because by just creating something handmade they already put in a part of their own personal value into it which customers can relate too, this is why they continue to purchase them and value them as something different. This doesn’t happen, when we go to the store and buy one shirt out of fifty sitting on clothing rack.
Another one of his arguments is that advertisements have taken the place of religion for some people in society. He believes, institutions that often provided meaning to peoples emotions and concerns have weakened.  Instead, ads suggest consumption as a mean of personal realization and success. Creating a false idea that the more we have, the more we are worth, and the more successful we are. He goes as far as to explain that advertisements often use “radiant beams”, lights similar to the one assimilated with religious backgrounds and “spiritual overtones” consequently suggesting an invisible relationship with success (223).
I can quickly relate this message to the way in this advertisements influence my life, and I often also find a release by doing so. For example, sometimes I find myself relieved after shopping spree and justify spending more money than I should by thinking that I will look good in my new clothes and therefore gain status; which leads me to have more happiness because I find a superficial solution to my own internal insecurities. We often hear the phrase “Shop till you drop” as a way to justify large amounts of unnecessary consumption.
The depth roots of advertisements have affected the way we utilize and satisfy emotional appeals through products. In the United States some women have been diagnosed as “shopaholics”, addicted to spending money on shopping in order to avoid uncomfortable emotional states.  

An example of a women utilizing shopping as form of release and relating it to happiness: 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Media Share

Advertising as Religion

 In the text “Advertising as Religion: The Dialectic of Technology and Magic,” Sut Jhaly states that Karl Marx’s predictions of society have proven to be true.  Marx believed that material items would corrupt human relationships as a result of capitalism and advertising.  In order for an item to thrive in capitalism, it needs to be advertised, promoted, and sold.  In today’s society, material items can make use feel a certain way about ourselves, interact with others based on the things we own, or interact with others through certain things that we own.  Although superficial, people can relate to others who own the same items or brands as them.  Jhally mentions older non-market societies and how people in those times people also had a connection with the goods that they used.  It seems as if it is natural for humans to connect with their physical belongings; however, in the older non-market societies people produced their goods themselves.  Therefore, their connection was more direct and intimate.  Today, there are so many products and brand names that advertisers have to compete with one another in order to have their product sold even if it means tricking the consumers.  Advertisers claim that the main purpose of advertising is to provide consumers with options in order to make the right choice in their purchase.  However, the real function, Jhally states, is to make people feel good and focus on what the public wants to hear.  It is true that that often times we don’t have enough time to look at every item on the shelf in close detail to make sure it is the best product, in which case advertising certainly stays in the back of our minds often times causing us to choose the brand name we have heard before.  Advertising allows people to justify the choices they make when choosing a particular brand because the ad proves that it does works or is worth it.  Jhally declares that it is similar to religion in the sense that people use religion to justify their choices as well.  Another similarity between the two is the act of worshiping.  In religion, people worship their own God or higher power and in a capitalist society, people worship their physical belongings.  This reminds me of an email my mom sent me:

Advertising as Religion

I found Jhally’s article, especially his ideas about Advertising as Religion really interesting. We’ve talked a lot about advertising creating an experience for consumers in order to make them feel like they need the product, and that “the function of advertising is to refill the emptied commodity with meaning”(221). In today’s world, where religion is often being replaced by other ideas, advertising can create that awe-inspiring vision for a person that needs to fill a void. Sometimes the consumer may not even know they have a void until they see an advertisement, but with proper marketing techniques the producers can trick the consumer into thinking they need to buy something to make their life better. This all reminds me of a documentary called “What Would Jesus Buy?” in which a famous activist who goes by the name of Reverend Billy, goes on a campaign to stop the “shopocolypse” that is world is facing. Reverend Billy uses religious themes to shock people into taking a step back and to question whether they really need a product, where it was made, under what conditions etc. Jhally brought in a quote by Jesuit scholar John Kavanaugh who argues, “advertising is part of a gospel based upon the commodity form –a world where people are identified through the things they consume as well as being dominated by them”(226). Today in a consumer-based world, advertising is only reinforcing the idea that people need what they are buying. People like Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping use the same techniques that advertisers use to sell products, sensationalizing etc., to try to dissuade people from over consuming. Below is the trailer to “What Would Jesus Buy?” it’s a pretty entertaining and interesting documentary. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


There is no secret sex sells. We have observed the feminine and masculine side of advertising and how appealing the body can be to consumers. When advertising the human body it is nothing more than a sexual object to attract consumers eyes. Sexual advertising can be found in nearly any brand that advertises. In Advertising by Stole she wrote how, "Sigmund Freud's view of the human mind as irrational, easily manipulated, and driven by unconscious (mainly sexual) instincts and desires invited advertisers to apply psychological constructs to their commercial strategies" (615).  What I find interesting is that sex can be applied to anything and have no relevance to the product at hand. Carl's Jr. came to my mind immediately which led to me thinking of the oligopolistic advertising in the fast food industry. In my mind I group together 4 chains: McDonald's, Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box, and the infamous Carl's Jr. All 4 of these companies make and sell similar products. But what is interesting about the companies at hand is the different advertising schemes they implement to sell their product. Check out these different commercials from the fast food chains above.

It's really interesting to see the different approaches they have to the market and who their target audiences are. Hope you enjoyed.




'Tis the Season to be Conscious of Advertisements

One of the key points that Stole makes in his/her article was that without advertisements, we, as consumers, would not know which brand we should buy. Ads are essentially supposed to inform the consumer of the different products and of any differences that exist from competitor brands. Instead, Stole explains that companies try to differentiate themselves from other competitors by devising elaborate ad campaigns that creates a desire for the product.  An example that came to mind was paper towels. Why is Brawny better than Bounty or vice versa? They have the same qualities and price, yet Brawny is advertised as a burly, durable, and tough while Bounty is advertised as great for homes and families. Wait, what? Without the packaging and ads, the two brands are the same. Moving forward with how this is relevant to holidays, specifically Christmas, it has become evident that companies have used this holiday to tell that people’s loved ones NEED the newest iPhone for Christmas. What about the true meaning of Christmas? Advertisers have stripped away the actual meaning of Christmas and commercialized the holiday to conform to their constant drive for profit-making.
Corporate greed leads advertisements to deceive the consumers as seen in ads. From personal experience, online shopping can be generalized to be a modern loophole for false advertising. Whenever I shop and buy clothing, the model would make the shirt look really high quality and in a very nice color. The moment I get it in the mail, the shirt is cheap and looks ten shades uglier than what I saw in the picture that they advertised… not to mention that the shirt is a lot wider than it looked on the fairly thin model. With the introduction of the Tugwell bill and its reaction by advertisers, Inger Stole brings up an important point on the role and effect of advertisements for consumers. The Tugwell bill “empowered the FDA to prohibit ‘false advertising’ of any food, drug, or cosmetic. It defined any advertisement as false if it created a misleading impression ‘by ambiguity or inference’” (91). This is a response from the consumer movement that had their anxieties about the commercialized society that deceive consumers into buying ambiguously advertised products.
To tie these two ideas together, Christmas has become commercialized and we are being deceived that these invented traditions that advertisers have deployed are what we want. We are told what to buy for gifts and instead these ads are only reinforcing the status quo. The status quo is reproduced when ads create campaigns that targets a certain population but instills this desire of us and them.  These ads and the culture to buy things to gain social status is exactly what advertisers are trying to tap into. My takeaway on this article was that we should really question the advertisements that we are being bombarded by especially during this holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season but being a conscious consumer doesn’t hurt.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Advertising and the Cola Wars

In Inger L. Stole's chapter "Advertising", she discusses the idea that in oligopolistic markets, advertising that gives consumers information by comparing products does not work if there are no differences between the dominant brands in a market (page 86). She writes, "To tell the truth about a product - that it costs the same as its competition and is basically identical in quality - would hardly develop brand loyalty or secure new users". Stole uses this fact to explain why modern advertising uses imagery, emotional claims, or irrelevant claims in advertising messages. The point, she argues, is to create a difference in consumers' minds even if there is little or no difference between the product and its direct competitors.

When I read this paragraph, I immediately thought of the ongoing advertising battle between the Pepsi and Coca-Cola soft drinks. Appropriately named the "Cola Wars", both brands have engaged in a campaign of television advertisements and marketing campaigns that target the other.

These fizzy, dark, sugary drinks are both extremely similar in taste and appearance, making them parity products that have no major differences between either of the two brands. Thus, the firms in those markets must spend more money of advertising to convince the public that they are in fact different. Annually, both brands spend billions of dollars on advertising around the globe. 
While Coca-Cola does not seem to directly attack Pepsi as obviously in their advertisements, the battle between the two brands of soda is well-known and continuously ongoing. Despite their differences, both soft drinks have become increasingly dependent on advertising to secure "brand loyalty" in order to sell their products (Stole 88). Consumer brand loyalty is especially illustrated through social media like Facebook page likes and comments. For example, Coca-Cola's Facebook page has 51 million likes versus Pepsi's 9 million likes. 

Despite these Facebook numbers, both companies have spend enormous amounts of time and money to conquer one of the toughest advertising strategies in Stole's chapter: creating a belief that their products are different despite being inherently equal. 

Dr. Pepper: It's not for women.

Over thanksgiving break, I was eating and watching football at a restaurant with my family when I saw a disturbing commercial. I found it on YouTube to share, and came across different commercials for the same product. I thought this one was even more disturbing than the original one I watched...

Dr. Pepper TEN: IT's not for women. How disturbing is this to you?

Manipulating Advertisements

In the article, "Advertising: the Magic System", the author, Williams, talked about the emergence, growth, and change in the advertising world. Williams quotes the book The Ethics of Advertising that says advertising is a "cynical manipulation of the infant mind". This quote really stood out to me. I can't help but wonder, are our opinions that easily changed? Can we not think for ourselves? And even if we can think for ourselves, why do we so easily believe something that is so clearly outrageous? For example, Williams mentions ads from the 1930's that were notorious for stretching the truth. I found this ad online for "goggles" that one is suppose to wear at night to give them better vision ( Where is the consumer's common sense? How could "goggles", which are basically sunglasses, help your vision at night? It would be interesting to see the product numbers after advertisements like these. After all, it is the advertisers' job to persuade the customer.

If we look at the gradual change in advertisements, the strength of persuasion has still remained the same. For example, in 1930 print ads like ( and we see that the way the product is presented, the spokesperson for the product, and the content about the product is very important. Today with our technology, these things are still the same. In my opinion the best advertisement out there thus far, the Old Spice commercials (, we can see that advertisers have just evolved with the art of advertising. With more to work that just print advertising, advertisements have more leeway to become more than just a slogan or catchphrase. With more than 42 million YouTube views, the Old Spice commercials have gone viral. It was no longer just a commercial, it became gifs, memes, and parodies. An advertisement like this is ever lasting. It affects more than our decision to buy the product, but it also becomes something we talk about and is intertwined with media. It is crazy to think how much advertisements affect our lives even without us even really realizing it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The "Magic" of Advertising

In "Advertising: the Magic System," Williams brought up the idea that is "impossible to look at modern advertising without realizing that the material object being sold is never enough" and this is the "cultural quality of its modern forms." When we buy products, we are buying much more than the product itself. Williams gives an example of beer--we would willingly buy it regardless of whether or not it makes us look "manly, young in heart, or neighborly," but the cultural pattern attached to beer serves to validate it in our minds as a product that is (for the most part) positively associated with social and personal meaning.
Upon reading this passage, I immediately thought of the Old Spice commercial as another example of advertisements as perpetuators of cultural meaning.  Attached below, the original/most common Old Spice commercial advertises the product as the manliest toiletry of them all. The commercial features a "Man [that] Your Man Could Smell Like," one who is fit, handsome, charming, and above all, clean. The commercials easily appeal to both genders because men are led to believe that the product will help them achieve the status and image that they want and women are shown a model of what they should see as the ideal man. Additionally, the advertisement has a light, comedic tone that entertains viewers and its style and the deep voice of its spokesperson have become unmistakable identifiers of the product. The video currently has 43 million views and it has spawned tons of parodies all over the web. Needless to say, Old Spice hit an advertising jackpot. Even more so, it succeeded in creating something that extends beyond its original purpose and demonstrates the lasting effect of advertising tactics that adhere to and reinforce cultural patterns.
To see cultural patterns so embedded in our reception of advertisements is not surprising at all. With popular television shows like Mad Men, which unveils all the dirty details of the advertising industry, we are fully aware of our role as targets because we see depictions of how advertisers formulate plans and ways of capturing our attention in everyday media. The consequences are unclear--are we just accepting this manipulation of our consumer habits as necessary and even entertaining at times? Even if we resist, is there anything we can effectively do to stop it?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Changes in Perception

     Sex and sexuality has always seemed to me to be a mostly taboo subject in society. Not unless you were with really close friends could you be completely open about your thoughts on others, and even then it could be an uncomfortable moment. Susan Bordo explores how there have been changes in the way that men and women perceive and think of the human body and sexuality.
      There were two main ideas that stood out to me the most in "beauty (re)discovers the male body" by Bordo. The first is her discussion of how women see the male body and whether or not they enjoy actually seeing a nude body. She cites some studies that suggest that a woman does not react the same way when seeing a nude male body as do men when they see a naked female body. The study stated that "Fifty-four percent of the men were erotically aroused versus 12 percent of the women..." when they were showed nudes of both men and women. These findings may be because perhaps men may be more biologically prone to becoming aroused by naked people, or because women may feel some sort of shame at seeing pictures of nude. Personally, I feel that our society has become much more "sexualized" than it has been in the past, and that now it is a lot more "acceptable" for women to be more open with their feelings of men and looks. In the past, if women were too open about their feelings on sex, they may have been looked down upon or looked at as overly promiscuous. In contemporary society, women are much more visible in society, holding top positions in the work force (Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo) and also in different media (Zooey Deschanel, star of New Girl). This shows that women are not just secondary to men, but that they are people who their own tastes and preferences, and now they are more open to let others know. Women are catered to much more now, and I think a great example of how women are now more of an important market is the move "Magic Mike". The movie, which stars Channing Tatum, is about the racy escapades of a male stripper. The movie features a lot of eye candy, and it was a box office hit, which shows how women are definitely a huge market in our society.

  The other idea that stuck with me in Bordos article is how the perception of a male body has changed. It used to be that it would be wrong to be seen as feminine if you were a male, and instead a man had to be tough and rugged. Today, there has been a change in style for men, and men are now put to different standards when it comes to "beauty". I think a good meter of how there has been a change in what is considered a attractive are the James Bond movies, of which I am a big fan. James Bond, secret agent 007, has always been seen as a sort of sex-symbol, a smooth guy that is always good with the ladies. It is interesting to see how his character and actor has changed over the years, trying to stay contemporary and with the times. The most famous of the early James Bond would have to be Sean Connery. Sean Connery immortalized James Bond, starring in seven films.

 As you can see, Sean Connery James Bond is not overly muscular, and he even has a little bit of a tummy, but still, he is fit but not overly buff. This is in stark contrast to the most recent iteration of James Bondy, portrayed by Daniel Craig. Craig is still just as smooth as the other James Bonds, but as you can clearly see, he is much more "buff" and much more built.

 Men today are subject to these images of what the ideal man and body type are. Of course, to achieve such a body takes a lot of hard work and an excellent diet, which many people are not able to achieve if they have a busy day with a job and kids. This puts a lot of pressure on men to try and look like a movie star, when in fact it is nearly impossible for the average guy. Guys become obsessed to trying to look this fit, and it could lead to the use of steroids or to some sorts of eating disorders, which are not as talked about as they are with women. Of course, the Daniel Craig Bond movies are awesome, and I really enjoyed them (go watch Skyfall!!!), but he is an example of what men are "supposed" to look like today, and the Daniel Craig Bond look seems to be harder to achieve than the Sean Connery Bond Look.
Styles change and what is perceived as attractive will probably change somewhat drastically in the years to come as well. It is difficult for men and women to try and keep up, but sex sells so I doubt there will be little to stop our society from becoming even more health and body conscious. Although being health conscious is not exactly a bad thing, it could lead to a lot of self-esteem issues with many people, especially when extremely fit people are put on a pedestal in ads and movies for everyone to admire.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stole Advertising for 11/20

               First, some background information on Stole’s Advertising. Stole argues that the reasons behind the advertising industry’s creation are uncertain. Even advertising companies themselves cannot come up with an exact reason behind the creation. He argues that advertising became a mandatory “business expense” as the economy developed into a “oligopolistic market,” or one where “a small handful of firms who provide the vast majority of the industry’s output... with considerable control over the level of industry output and pricing.... with pricing and output levels closer to a pure monopoly than a purely competitive market” (85). He argues that this market is the gasoline that fuels the flame of advertising. Thus, the role of advertising in these markets is to act as a weapon in the battle to protect and expand market shares. “First advertising permits firms to increase sales without cutting prices, and serves to establish brand identity around a given product or service, thereby making loyal users less susceptible to appeals from direct competitors” (86). Stole argues that this way, advertising is a mandatory expense as it protects large firms from attacks.
To tell the truth about most products, which is that they are the similar cost and similar quality to the competition, would not develop brand loyalty or persuade new comers to use the product. Thus, the advertisers have to “employ puffery, imagery, and emotional or irrelevant claims in advertising messages” According to Stole, this creates the difference in the mind of the consumer, even if in reality there is little difference between the brands. The products that have little or no difference between them are called “parity products” where there is no meaningful difference between any of the brands. In fact, there is a direction correlation to the money a company spends on advertising and how similar their product is to the other companies. The corporations have a “mandatory expense” of proving that they are different to survive in oligopolistic markets. Stole offers soaps, beers, perfume, and pain relievers as examples. I immediately think of McDonalds and Burger King trying to separate themselves from each other with their various ad campaigns and brand associated puffery like Ronald McDonald or The King mask. When it comes down to it, you are buying a burger and fries regardless of which restaurant you choose, but these two fast food chains try desperately to distinguish themselves from each other through various advertising campaigns.
               I couldn’t help but think of all the athletic gear I have purchased over the years and the reasons why I bought the gear, and also how the products are not much different than their big competitors. I am not going to lie about the fact that I have bee a total sucker to the Nike's ads. Is the “storm technology” advertised in Under Armour’s most recent ad campaign any different than Nike’s “Element Shield Max?” Well, according to Nike, their company is different than the rest because of they are the  “ultimate in breathable protection” for braving the elements. Not to mention, Nike has several Olympic athletes that make up their “brand” as the premier athletic-gear company. But looking at the products that Under Armour is selling, the two brands have very similar styles and pricing of their “element proof” gear, but two different ways of wording and branding that appeal. Take a look at their water proof shoes:
Nike’s weatherized mesh gives the protection from the elements, and “Nike Free Run+ 3 Shield Women's Running Shoe delivers a barefoot-like ride with the cushioning, traction and underfoot protection of a shoe, while weather resistance helps keep feet dry in wet conditions”. Whereas the Under Armour running shoes “added a UA Storm finish to repel water while you run. “ Both shoes are wet weather resistant, lightweight, and are very similar in size, cut, colors, and style. The only visible differences are the logos that are strapped on the side. But, it is what these logos have been “branded” to represent that convinces the consumer to buy Nike or Under Armour even though the products are basically the same. Nike has attempted to build their brand to be associated with Olympic athletes and various endorsement deals with popular “celebrated” athletes. (Michael Jordan, Shawn Johnson, Tiger Woods and Lebron James to name a few). The ads project that the attire has created the athlete's success and the athlete cannot rest on talent alone. If one does not use Nike and decides to go with Under Armour they are not a serious or Olympic-quality athlete. However in reality if I wear Under Armour or Nike on a run my experience or "skill" will be the same.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Engagement Chicken... It's "for realz"

Thanks to Thia for hunting down the original article in Glamour!

Media Share Video/Images for 11/15

This video resembles many of the 'women and chocolate (or ice cream) indulgence ads shown in lecture/discussed in Bordo's text.. but with baby carrots. Even though it is acting as a parody, it is still a real advertisement promoting a product in the same way which I think continues to reinforce this overly-sexualized portrayal of women in the media. It also inaccurately depicts women's relationship with food, which is not sexual. "In these type of commercials food is constructed as a sexualized object of desire and eating is legitimated as much more than a purely nutritive thing. Rather food is supposed to supply sensual delight.. as an erotic experience in itself" (Bordo, 109). Other things for discussion:


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Size -1 is the new size 6

The common factor that Susan Bordo makes evident in her case study in Hunger as Ideology is the suppression of women and their choices. The advertisement focuses on knowing what women want to do but offering the option of what women should do. And the things that women should do are all learned from either past generations or portrayed in the media. I mean, why would women subject themselves to eat as little as possible for the glorification of the appearance of their body if the media did not shove the idea that “thin is beautiful” down their throats?

A recent example I remembered was a commercial for Yoplait. She wife is talking to her friend about all of the sweets she has been eating while her husband, who is eavesdropping, desperately looks through the fridge to see if there are any leftover desserts. By the end of the commercial, it is apparent that the desserts she was referring to are actually Yoplait’s dessert flavors so women can satisfy their sweet tooth without having to pay the price of gaining weight. The advertisement encourages dieting, as long as it is with them. Yoplait also sends the strong message that with their product, women are able to be in control of their weight without having to starve themselves. Just another example of how “the popular media have targeted as characteristic dilemmas of the ‘contemporary woman,’ who is beset by conflicting role demands and pressures on her time” (105).

Bordo also brings a very interesting point, which is that during the mid-19th century, “voluptuous female nudes” (102) were adorned, and Lillian Russell was admired by both men and women because she had a “hearty appetite” as well as an “ample body” (102) whereas our culture praises the minority bodies of so-skinny-you-can-see-her-rib-cage. As Professor Retzinger mentioned, big bodies symbolized wealth, privilege, and status. Now reading through the case study, the comparisons food is made to in order to cater to women, such as sex, love, and morals is such a ridiculous idea until you realize that they still exist everywhere in today’s commercials and advertisements. They are so prominent in today’s culture, it makes me wonder: What positive change and impact have we made?

Our cultures’ media message may not have all shifted dramatically; however, it is relieving to know that there are some companies who encourage natural beauty as well as the bodies of all shapes and sizes. For instance, Seventeen Magazine launched a beauty campaign called Seventeen’s Body Peace Project. The campaign gets readers to sign the pledge of various vows such as: “Appreciate what makes my body different from anyone else’s,” “remind myself that what you see isn’t always what you get on TV and in ads,” and “accept that beauty isn’t just about my looks. It’s my awesome personality and my energy that creates a whole, unique package.” It may or may not sound a bit corny, but I think what is important is that there are well known and powerful companies, like Seventeen Magazine, that are encouraging the celebration of all body types. They also have female celebrities sign the petition to inspire others. As Jean Kilbourne mentions in Slim Hopes, we need more positive messages from the media as well as more critical thinkers and media literacy going around our society.
If you would like to sign the petition à

Temptation, Insatiable Desire, and Sexy.... Food

I am a woman. I also happen to love food. These two things are not mutually exclusive. However, in the eyes of the American advertising gurus who make their livings trying to warp the minds of myself and the other 50% of the US who happen to have XX-chromosomes, they are.

The piece I am going to discuss, Hunger as Ideology by Susan Bordo, was an absolutely fascinating read for me, as a woman -- and a scholar -- who happens to have a particular interest in women's issues and gender studies. I could write pages, and pages, and pages about this article, but, for the sake of this blog post (and your attention span), I will limit my discussion to a critique of Bordo and her discussion of the sexualization of food.

Before I discuss Bordo, I would like to first divide up the sexualization of food/eating into three sub-categories that I saw repeated throughout the piece:

  1. Food as a substitute for a romantic relationship, or used to fill some sort of emotional void
  2. The need to control/dominate one's consumption of food, and the proximity of this desire to that of sexual domination and powerplay
  3. The substitution of descriptive language used to illustrate things of a sexual nature, for things concerning food/eating; the innate relationship between sex and eating both as primal needs for survival

While Bordo herself acknowledges, analyzes and critiques, in-depth, the perceived relationship between women and their food that is shown to us in advertising, she makes some of the same mistakes that she is chiding (like using "sexy" language to describe food/eating) in the 12 pages of writing leading up to the section 'Food, Sexuality, and Desire,' (which is where she finally delves into the direct correlation that advertisers create between hunger and a sexual appetite, and successfully calls out/critiques examples of the sub-categories listed above). Examples of Bordo's snafus include:

  • "Undominated by unsatisfied, internal need, she eats not only freely but without deep desire and without apparent consequence" (102)
  • "... free and easy relations with food are at best a relic of the past" (103)
  • "Emotional heights, intensity, love, and thrills: it is women who habitually seek such experiences from food and who are most likely to be overwhelmed by their relationship to food, to find it dangerous and frightening (especially rich, fattening, soothing food like ice cream" (108)
  • "... the depiction of women eating, particularly in sensuous surrender to rich, exciting food is taboo" (110)
  • "... an advertisement depicting a young, attractive woman indulging as freely, as salaciously as the man in the Post cereal ad" (110)

Is she really talking about food here? She is, truly, but bits of language used throughout the piece certainly evoke ideas that are much more.... salacious. This is not to say that Bordo's piece does not have it's redeeming qualities -- as I said, I found the entire piece a wonderful and thought-provoking read -- I just don't have the space to discuss it in its entirety. That'll have to be saved for another blog post.

Must we choose between food or love?

In "Hunger as Ideology," Bordo brought up various thought-provoking claims about women's perception of food, the media's manipulation of these tendencies for advertising purposes, and the whole dynamic of the woman-food-man configuration. A point that struck me as especially interesting was the claim that men had the privilege of eating and being loved because their food was often received as an expression of love from a woman, but women could only benefit from the former. Eating, for women, becomes a substitute for love and an expression of emotional need. Thinking about common "rituals" like eating ice-cream after a bad break-up, it seems like Bordo is making a valid point. In times of high emotional stress, food alleviates the pain because it is undeniably a pleasurable experience. However, to say that women can only have one or the other when it comes to food or love seems a bit extreme. When a boyfriend cooks dinner for his girlfriend, is that not a demonstration of woman's capacity to be loved and be fed? Alternatively, who's to say that reciprocated love comes only from a man to a woman (with whom he is a in a relationship with) and vice versa? Friends and family love just as equally and it is not uncommon to see shared meals between loved ones as a way of bonding and spending time with each other. Moreover, the notion of women as perpetual nurturers who use food as an offering of their love seems to me almost like a contradiction to the previous claim because food and love seem to go hand-in-hand (or at the very least, food could be considered an extension/expression of love) rather than one against the other. Yes, it remains true that there are women who feed themselves and seek solace in food when a male counterpart is absent, but it is also possible to consider other aspects and situations in response to Bordo's argument.

One more thing I wanted to bring up on the subject of gendered representations in media is the critique and attention paid to the image of the woman. As analysis of the Fibrethin commercial points out, advertisers often use this depiction of the "ideal" woman as being slender and attractive. Although this image is unrealistic, it is reinforced by countless media texts because it sells a fantasy that people want to believe in and imitate. is a San Francisco-based organization that is rooted in a documentary that was made as social action campaign exposing the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in media and its detrimental impact on young audiences who are led to believe that all women should fit a certain framework and are limited in power and expression in society. It's at best reassuring to see organizations like this one make an effort to inform media consumers and advocate a change in gender representations. I've attached the trailer for the documentary for anyone who is interested and highly recommend visiting the website if anyone is interested in learning more about the movement and how to get involved:

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Media Share from 11/15

Dove Chocolate's "Senses" commercial reinforces Bordo's claim that food is seen as a "sexual object" and replacement for a romantic partner. I found this commercial a bit uncomfortable to watch because the images and innuendos bordered on soft-core and definitely incites some reactions that are typically inappropriate for younger tv viewers. Nonetheless, Dove has made it clear that its chocolates cater to the needs of their female consumers.
*on a side note, how often do we see chocolate commercials geared towards men?

On a more humorous note, a meme that surfaced awhile ago was "woman laughing alone with salad" ( The meme is both hilarious and ridiculous -- the fact that women have to be "happy" with a salad (when they might really want a nice, meaty burger or steak) points again to the gender expectations when it comes to food. 

Is it worth the je ne sais quoi?

As I read “Hunger as Ideology”, I could not help but relate it back to my own knowledge and experience in the fashion industry. The industry is one that is plagued with an obsession with thinness and aesthetics. The dominant view of what is trendy, chic, and beautiful is represented on the runways and in magazines, as women around the world look to these authorities on fashion for the “right” perception. Unfortunately, the women used in magazines and runway shows are all professional models, whose job it is to maintain a specific image- an image of androgynous thinness. This image is exuded in photo spreads and runway walks as they exude effortless beauty and grace. To me, this almost ethereal and idyllic perception of models is similar to the FibreThin ad where,

“Eating has become, for her, no big deal. In its evocation of the lovely French mother who doesn’t each much, the commercial’s metaphor of European ‘difference’ reveals itself as a means of representing that enviable and truly foreign ‘other’: the woman for whom food is merely ordinary, who can take it or leave it.”

This image of a thin, elegant, beautiful one is depicted in fashion and in advertisements. The woman always moves with ease, making her decisions seem like they take no contemplation. However, this image can easily be argued as false if one looks to the countless controversies involving eating disorders among women. In the modeling world, some turn to consuming coffee and cotton balls, using cocaine and Adderhal, and smoking cigarettes to suppress their appetites. There have also been numerous instances where models have died due to complications associated with Anorexia Nervosa.

I suppose the point is that advertising world, the movie industry, and the fashion realm perpetuate images of the “it girl”- the girl who doesn’t need to try to look and feel amazing. But behind closed doors and behind the camera lies a different story. 

- Barbara Lin

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Next Time, I'm Going With the Sausage Calzone (and an extra order of fries)

*This is not an assigned blog post, but a spontaneously generated anecdotal reaction to Bordo's piece, which I found fascinating. 

Last week at at a research meeting, I was having lunch with three other students (one male, two female) and my male Professor. When it came time to order, one of the girls passed because she was "getting over a stomach bug" and another ordered nothing but salad and coffee. For some reason, I ended up being the only girl actually eating a sandwich, along with the other male student, who also ordered a sandwich, and my Professor, who went with a Calzone. 

Bordo talks about the enormous pressure, often through advertising, on females to be thin, to forgo food, and to exert self-control and daintiness when they are eating. While men are allowed to have "hearty appetites" and eat as much as they want to, for women to do so is often associated with a kind of revulsion and fundamental wrong-ness. As is often depicted, men eat, but women deny themselves in order to nurture others through preparing or giving food, deriving joy and pleasure from such an experience. In contrast to men, women's "indulgences" in food are often private and closeted.

Reading Bordo's piece suddenly made me realize how many of the women that I have known and continue to know talk and act in a way that reflects their worries about weight and eating come mealtime. I've always linked problems and pressures associated with eating to the extreme of having an "eating disorder," but Bordo draws attention to the fact that the gendered ideology behind food and eating can also manifest itself in much more subtle and ingrained ways. 

On that note, I've only ever briefly come into contact with one woman who suffered from bulimia. But many females that I have considered friends past and present have done things (not all the time but often enough), like eating nothing but a salad for a meal, purposefully forgoing eating because they're "not hungry," or consciously limiting their intake of food in front of others. Instead of hearing, "I'm hungry and I'm going to eat until I'm full," I more often hear things like, "I shouldn't eat so much" or "I need to go on a diet." While none of these women have what you would call a medically prescribed, "eating disorder," they are all extremely conscious of how much they're eating and the perceived effects on their bodies, as well as how they might be viewed by others when they're eating.

Bordo's points are creepily relevant - how hard is it not to feel just a little bit self-conscious, especially as a woman, about shoveling mounds of cheese-covered fries in your mouth or ordering the super burrito and tucking it away in five minutes flat? And even for some of those women who do eat as much as they want without worrying about it, it always seems to be tied up in discourse either about a lack of self control or about others being "jealous" that someone "can eat so much and still stay so skinny." 

As Professor Retzinger mentioned, this obsession with eating and body image and how it is framed and subsequently internalized by women can be thought of as a kind of control over women - to make them smaller (both literally and figuratively) and to discount them. How much brainpower and energy could be expended on other things if women were less consumed with the desire to be skinnier, to eat less, to lose more? 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Social Media and Political Power

In Clay Shirky’s The Political Power of Social Media, he believes that rather than relying on “instrumental” approach to social and political mobilization, by putting great emphasis on technology’s power to let people mobilize, we should focus on environmental view of social media effects on the public sphere. He believes that the U.S. government should follow this approach, “…promoting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly everywhere…Only by switching from an instrumental to an environmental view of the effects of social media on the public sphere will the U.S. be able to take advantage of the long term benefits these tools promise…,” (41). Shirky argues further that the potential of social media lies in their support of civil society and public sphere, where changes should be measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months. This article reminds me of the incident that happened in China last year, of a two year old Chinese girl who was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. (, but please do not watch it, it is very violent: I just put up the link as reference). The video is of Yue Yue (the girl’s name) being run over by cars, while bystanders fear to help her because they might be blamed. According to, Many people in China are hesitant to help people who appear to be in distress for fear that they will be blamed. High-profile lawsuits have ended with good Samaritans ordered to pay hefty fines to individuals they sought to help,” ( The viral video caused uproar among people all over the web, becoming the most popular topic talked about on China’s Twitter-like website (Weibo). Users discussed China’s social, political, and economic circumstances because of Yue Yue’s death, and her father had received more than U.S. dollar equivalent of $42,280 in donations from all over the world to help pay for her medical treatment. The outrage sparked by the viral video and social media websites triggered the capital of Guangzhou to plan laws to protect good Samaritans and give rewards up to 500,000 yuan for actions of good will, ( Although Shirky asserts that private and commercial environments of social media should be taken more environmentally, should aim at specific regimes, and increase support for local public speech and assembly, I think in this case culture plays a role as well. U.S. is multicultural nation and I believe we should still take in consideration of the diversity in America. In Yue Yue’s case, Chinese and other races of people voiced their opinions through social media, individuals who are too far away from their home nation yet they were still able to make a difference. International donations supported for Yue Yue’s medical bills, as well as changes in policy to protect and reward good Samaritans. It also made people aware of the issue. The video was a news clip for China, yet when posted on Youtube, it sparked people’s outrage of those who do not speak Chinese or watch the Chinese news, or have international cable.  Although these networking sites are commercially and privately run, it still had an effect on people to take action, spreading to Chinese, Chinese immigrants, and multiple individuals of all races. The global audiences of this video was able to mobilize, help, and have an effect on the policies toward good Samaritans in Guangzhou regardless of whether these network sites are privately run or allowed people to mobilize locally or globally. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ramblings on DeLuca & Peeples

Jurgen Habermas comes up with the term, "public sphere," which is defined as a interlude between civil society and the state as a whole. It acts as a place where individual citizens can gather and join in rational-critical debate to aggregate public opinion. DeLuca and Peeples comes up with the term, "public screen," which is defined as a space in which "public discussions take place via 'screens'--television, computer, and the front page of newspapers" (131). DeLuca and Peeples argues that the public sphere has transformed into the public screen due to the new technologies of the present--I agree.

In Habermas's time, people actually sat down--physically--in salons and had discussions about different topics of the state. People don't necessarily do this very often in the present--physically sit down in a cafe and discuss deep democratic issues. (Don't get me wrong--I'm sure it happens...just not very often.)  Instead, this debate of opinions occurs more online. I think the most clear example of this for me is Twitter. In light of the current election, and Obama's victory, I searched #Obama on Twitter and up came a ridiculous amount of tweets concerning Obama's victory--both positive and negative tweets. I think in this way, people are engaging rational-critical debate, just through a different interface.

Something that stuck out to me in the DeLuca and Peeples reading was Susan Sontag's quote: "'Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies...turn experience itself into a way of event has come to mean, precisely, something worth photographing" (133). This quote made me think of Facebook and the notion that people do things and participate in events to take pictures and then post them on Facebook. Another example of this occured to me in this summer when I worked at a Public Relations agency. The first day of work, a signed Derrick Rose basketball jersey came into the office to be used as an item in a silent auction for an event. Knowing that my brother is very interested in the NBA, I quickly texted him with this news. He replied, "Pic or it didn't happen." I believe that this phrase is a direct example of Sontag's quote above. Even little events turn into something worth photographing. It is merely not enough to just ave an event exist as it is.