Category Archives: Deconstructing Commercials

It’s All About You: Korean Air sells the virtue of American selfishness

At first, Korean Air’s “All About You” global ad campaign seemed like a fanciful satire. Orchestras and international landmarks glide across the heavens. The titular song (calculated to trigger James Bond flashbacks) lulls rich, white travelers to sleep while airline employees pamper them with serene smiles on their faces.

“At the heart of our world is you,” a female voice intones.

This had to be a joke…right?

Research and repeated viewings have since disabused me of that hopeful notion. While the commercial presents as tongue-in-cheek, its earnest undertones and ultimate endgame [read: profit] subverts any such satirical integrity. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

The commercial (unwittingly?) lampoons the archetypal American business traveler, selling the airline by showcasing what is traditionally the subtext of American ads: the consumer as the center of a commodified universe. A be-stubbled white man closes his eyes, encased in headphones. A white woman plucks a giant shrimp from the sky with chop-sticks. Another makes meaningful eye contact with the folks at home before she (presumably) takes a sip of her freshly shaken martini. But not before her blue cocktail turns into a round pool featuring female synchronized swimmers, who in turn become the rods and cones of her blue eye.

It’s all about you, indeed.

It simultaneously celebrates and spoofs American travel fantasies, often at the expense of Korean women. Each of the travelers being served in the commercial are white. All of the airline employees occupying service positions (flight attendant, bar-tender) are portrayed by Korean women. Meanwhile, men exert their dominion in the cloudy kitchens. The shadowy background dancers–per James Bond standards–are all women, serving the voyeuristic eye of the casual American viewer. The commercial is selling its target consumers–business travelers and a (largely female) leisure class–what Korean Air presumes to be their ideal version of themselves, all while reinforcing a (racist) status quo that devalues the women serving them.

In short, the commercial nails white American entitlement by showcasing aspirational consumerism that trades in the tired trope of Korean women servicing white clients. The only “modern” twist is that many of these clients are themselves women.

*Note: This goes live around the fifth anniversary of the blog’s first “real” post, so I thought it only fitting to return to the blog’s roots of deconstructing commercials for gender trouble. Ah, nostalgia…

 

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Filed under Contemporary, Deconstructing Commercials, Gender Trouble, Racism

Holding Our Brains in Our Hands

As you’re probably well aware, the robots have arrived, and they’re being marketed at our collective penchant for laziness, gussied up as “convenience.”

Cortana smartphone

The commercial was full of friendly voices, one belonging to a straight male human, the other to a feminized robot living in the human male’s smarphone. They have a conversation, or rather, the male voice asks the female voice to remember things for the slowly atrophying male voice’s brain.

“Cortana, next time my wife calls, remind me to tell her, Happy Anniversary.”

How is this easier? Does female robot secretary really make this process of remembering/doing more seamless? Employing Cortana to assist you with these tasks involves several steps:

Pushing buttons; talking into the phone; confirming that the phone heard you and interpreted your meaning correctly; saving this reminder appropriately; not accidentally activating an irrelevant app; and coming up with the idea one wants to remember in the first place.

The commercial wants us to think that Cortana is erasing the potential for human error, but technology itself is not infallible. What if the battery dies? What if your wife is waiting for you to call? What if relying on Cortana is ruining your marriage?

We’re uploading our memories; outsourcing key cerebral functions. Set a reminder for Cortana to sound the alarm! We’re the agents of our own destruction, depleting our capacity to remember how to be human.

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Filed under Contemporary, Deconstructing Commercials, Technology

Half-Baked Motherhood: Compromise & the Dough Boy

There’s a Pillsbury commercial that has been nagging at me to rail on it since late 2014. Here we are, three months later. No time like the present. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a clip of this commercial, so a description based on my memory of having seen it once will have to suffice.

A Commercial Mother encounters the three members of her family as she makes her way through the house. She tries in vain to get the attention of each:

  • Child #1 cannot hear for the headphones that keep him glued to the TV screen on which he’s playing a video game.
  • Child #2 charges down the stairs, nearly running into Mom as she texts on her smartphone.
  • Husband is changing the channels on the TV in the kitchen.

Instead of snatching the devices away from these rude family members like a sane person would, Commercial Mom sighs with an exasperation meant only to underline her infinite maternal patience. There’s even a smile creeping into the corners of her mouth. Oh, family members–can’t live with ’em, can’t get ’em to acknowledge your presence. 

Suddenly, a solution!

We see her pull a steaming sheet of something presumably delicious out of the oven. One by one, each family member unplugs themselves, the irresistible aromas drawing them to the dining room. The closing shot sees them all sitting together, face to face at last. “Nothing brings them to the table like Pillsbury.”

My eyes almost got stuck in the back of my head. I’m really glad I only saw this commercial once, or Feminist Rage and also a very high ophthalmology bill.

As alluded to previously, what I had hoped this mother had done was confiscate the offending devices that were turning her family members into offensive people. Nothing brings ’em to the table like dropping all their technology down the garbage disposal. Also, if we’re being reasonable about things, maybe they could have had a family discussion about why it’s a problem when you don’t acknowledge someone who is trying to talk to you. But no. Commercial Mom gives in to the socio-technological forces swirling around her and tries a different tactic to reach her goal of familial engagement.*

The message of the ad is if you can’t beat ’em, bake for them. Sacrifice. Work harder for what you want. Embrace your family’s foibles. Aren’t people these days a riot, with their technology and lack of interpersonal skills? Why, we should reward them with baked goods–and not just any baked goods, but par-baked goods that make your life of thankless sacrifice a little easier, more palatable. To get what you want–which is, apparently, not respect, but rather the physical presence of your family–you need to meet them more than half-way. You need to meet them half-baked.

What might be most troubling about the existence (and persistence) of this representation of American motherhood and winking maternal “wisdom” is

  1. Many mothers (parents, really) must identify with this representation
    and
  2. These women haven’t yet pushed back to a degree that would manifest itself in market research

Ads are not a mirror of the real world, instead tending to lag slightly behind cultural trends and social mores. But they also serve to reinforce kernels of truth in the collective lived experience. Too much money is riding on the ability of this ad and its representation of modern family life to resonate with its target market for it NOT to have sufficient market research behind it. Market research that told the Pillsbury executives that a significant chunk of American parents feel like the mother in this commercial. A feeling of futility that only our product can alleviate!

Parents in general will likely identify with the mother–so the market research would have shown. You want to be a close-knit family, have quality moments with your children, but modern technology is getting in the way. Luckily, Pillsbury is here to save the day, offering up a product as a solution to the problem the ad offers up on a platter.

This convenient confection is just the sticky substance that will keep your family unit together. If you value your family–if you’re a good mother–you will buy it. Motherhood is a goldmine of social anxieties,and Pillsbury knows it as well as we do.

So instead of the mother laying the smackdown in this commercial–which wouldn’t really present a problem that a Pillsbury product could solve–and teaching her family about the importance of NOT BEING RUDE and RESPECTING OTHER PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE YOU THE LUXURY OF A MIDDLE-CLASS EXISTENCE…we get get the tired trope of sacrificial maternal compromise, repackaged & refrigerated for those struggling to parent the iGeneration.

*I am not making judgments about real-life parenting decisions. In situ, I’m sure plenty of great parents pick their battles and exhale their anger instead of making every moment a teaching one. In this deconstruction I am taking issue with the way the mass-media represents motherhood and family life as a social structure in which the mother is disrespected and then rewards her family for their rudeness. A representation that holds up motherhood as self-sacrificing and somehow still rewarding. A representation that holds up as relate-able, emulate-able, and Good a person who takes shit and bakes it into cookies.

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Filed under Commodification, Contemporary, Deconstructing Commercials, Gender Trouble, Technology

This Downton Abbey recap is not about Downton Abbey

As devotees of this PBS Masterpiece series know, Downton Abbey is preceded by a parade of obligatory sponsors. The line-up invariable, I am not here to deconstruct the “story” Ralph Lauren never tires of reminding us he’s telling, but the sumptuous & escapist European visions offered up by Viking River Cruises.

The sweeping aerial vistas we’re treated to as we ready our wine and popcorn for the main event are ones we would never get on a river cruise. We can tell even with one eye on the microwave that what Viking River Cruises promises is at best an exaggeration and at worst a lie. Their weekly commercial promises what cannot be delivered, because as their company name suggests, they are not  in fact selling helicopter rides.

At the same time, their ad does little to reveal the views that one would experience lounging on the deck of a modest sized vessel on the Rhein: the views from below. Views from below arguably offer up their own type of grandeur and majesty, the awe-inspiring sense of being utterly dwarfed by surrounding history, unfamiliar culture, and landscape.

So why does the ad privilege a vantage point it cannot reproduce? Surely they’re not in the business of giggling and smirking “gotcha!” after tucking us into our cabins at night. Do they think shooting landscape from above shows more? Are we all just a helicopter ride away from being inspired to drop thousands on dollars on a river cruise?

Something the ad does get right is the vague sense of cross-cultural adventure. The Vikings were a society of traders, after all, exchanging goods with many different peoples in northern Europe (http://www.schloss-gottorf.de/haithabu/das-museum/viking-museum-haithabu).  And it’s entirely possible that patrons of these river cruises discover new horizons to expand along with the inevitable swag and deluge of digital photos.

But would it be so hard to be upfront, instead of up top? We are intelligent viewers of the best soap opera on television–show us what you actually got!

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Filed under Contemporary, Deconstructing Commercials, Television and Movies

Walgreens Commercial Normalizes the Objectification of Women Using a Young Boy and Christmas

Briefly:

There’s a commercial running for Walgreens Pharmacy, claiming it’s a great place to find gifts for the holidays. Leaving this insane claim and any deep analysis of commodification aside, I’d like to talk about what the commercial does visually to make the objectification of women seem cute and normal. The commercial centers around a young elementary school boy who is giving gifts to various female classmates, all awe-struck by his shopping prowess. The young ladies man then turns his gift-giving attention to his teacher–at the same time that the camera turns its attention to her rear end as she writes something on the board. The boy gives her the gift, and she walks away. Cut to a shot of him smiling in the direction that she walked away, causing us, the viewer, to surmise that he is watching her walk away. Like a sleaze. We are meant to think he’s getting a good look at her ass.

And the commercial frames this as funny-cute. As normal. It implies that this boy has the right to do this because he bought her a gift. It ignores, or makes light of, the inappropriate of this in several ways:

1. On an age level, by attributing sexual motives to a prepubescent boy

2. On a gender equality level, by reducing a woman to her sexualized body part that is ogled

3. On a power and ownership level, where the buyer/gift-giver is accorded rights to transgress social decorum

Ugh. Just, ugh. All of this is what is wrong with our culture. That all of this gross sexism and scary commercialism is wrapped in a pretty, innocent bow of holiday generosity.

My ass.

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Filed under Beginning of the Body, Commodification, Contemporary, Deconstructing Commercials, Gender Trouble, Uncategorized