Zeitgeist

Advertising is Rape

January 07, 2009

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Advertising is Rape

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, ladies, you are being oppressed, exploited, abused, beaten, enslaved, murdered and raped. This evil is being perpetrated by the patriarchy, and Barack Obama is part of it.

Oh, also Dolce & Gabbana, Levis, Wrangler, Jimmy Choo, BMW, Corona beer, and Captain Morgan rum.

This is the message of a remarkable video produced by the Gabriela Network as part of “the international feminist movement’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign.” The 16 days expired in December, but the video was posted Tuesday at a feminist blog, The Confluence, where it generated more than 200 comments in the span of a few hours.

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“This is what the victory of Barack Obama means for women: We are all fair game,” said the woman who posted the video.

Entitled “Burn It Down,” the video features images of magazine advertisements, mostly for high-end fashion brands, in which women are depicted in sexualized ways—for instance, there’s a Levis ad in which the outline of a jeans pocket is shown on a woman’s bare buttocks—or, in some instances, shown on the receiving end of stylized sado-masochism. Interposed with these images are notes for a sort of mini-lecture about violence against women.

“Violence and objectification are a normal part of women’s lives,” the viewer is told. “In the US, the media bombards us on a daily basis with images that regulate how we think: about our bodies, our sexuality, our ethnicity, our relationships, and our very existence.”

Wait a minute. Notice how glibly this script puts violence and “objectification” on the same moral plane, as if the models in the fashion ads, in being hired for display as sex symbols, were victimized in the same way as if they had been assaulted. To equate violence with “objectification” serves the propaganda purpose of expanding the universe of victimhood so as to include every pretty girl who’s ever been made uncomfortable by a stranger’s lingering glance.

The claim that advertising can “regulate how we think,” turning us into robots or zombies incapable of independent thought or action, is certainly not novel or unique to feminist cant. More than a half-century has passed since John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society depicted the consumer as “subject to the forces of advertising and emulation by which production creates its own demand.” Whereas Galbraith’s wrath was directed at the marketers of Chevrolets with tailfins, however, the producers of “Burn It Down” aim their indignation at advertisers who (the feminists would have us believe) are more interested in maintaining patriarchal oppression than selling blue jeans or beer.

“Advertisements like these contribute to a culture where all women are for sale,” the video tells us, before showing us a jeweler’s ad in which, once a kneeling man opens the box holding the engagement ring, a seated woman uncrosses her legs. The next image is of a Tom Ford perfume ad, with the perfume bottle situated in front of a naked woman’s depilated crotch.

A few images later, the video lecture connects cause and effect: “These advertisements contribute to the fact that in the US, a woman is battered, usually by her partner, every 9 seconds.”

Full stop. However degrading the imagery in these ads, they appear mainly in upscale magazines like Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue and Esquire. Most of these ads are directed at women readers and, while one doesn’t wish to stereotype the readership of men’s fashion journals, it’s difficult to imagine the average GQ subscriber as a wife-beating brute.

The video continues: “In the US, a woman is raped every 90 seconds. . . . 4 women are murdered in the US every day. . . . 1 in 3 women, globally, is sexually abused in her lifetime. . . . Over 1 million women and children are trafficked into sexual and labor exploitation every year.”

Even if you accept all these statistical claims at face value, the question cannot be avoided: What does this have to do with Dolce & Gabbana? How many international sex traffickers, for instance, have ever picked up a copy of Vanity Fair? Until someone can get a federal research grant to investigate the reading habits of murderers, I refuse to believe that serial killers are being inspired to their crimes by reading Vogue.

“All violence against women”—back to the video script again—“is the result of a system that values power and money over human rights. This system is responsible for these advertisements and for the TRAFFICKING, RAPE, MURDER of women all over the world, including right here in the US. It’s called PATRIARCHY. Burn it Down, Start Over.”

The revolutionary moment has arrived, sisters! Women of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your Jimmy Choos. Cancel your magazine subscriptions and then . . . and then what, exactly? The video doesn’t say.

There are no instructions for just how the sisterhood will fight the systemic oppression wrought by advertisers in the pages of Conde Nast publications. Ah, but surely they’re too clever to divulge their secret plans for overthrowing the fashionista regime. However, let us assume they have such plans and furthermore assume that these plans are destined to succeed.

Once the destructive maelstrom of the revolution has spent its fury, once the patriarchy has been overthrown, what new civilization do the feminists propose to erect on the shattered ruins of the sexist empire? Where is the blueprint for this New Girl Order?

Is there a manifesto, a 10-point platform providing some basic guidelines to govern the post-patriarchal world? We get the point that, in this promised utopia, there will be no half-naked models posing provocatively in magazines, but beyond that, what will we be left with, once the feminists “burn it down”? We are not told.

Questions multiply endlessly—isn’t it true that these fashion ads are chiefly conceived by gay men?—but perhaps the most relevant mystery is what any of this has to do with Barack Obama.

Feminist logic is an oxymoron, but the apparent connecting point between the “Burn It Down” video and the femblogger’s rage against Obama is the incident in which the president-elect’s top speechwriter, Jonathan Favreau, was photographed while groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. Having denounced this “feign[ed] date rape,” the outraged blogger proceeds to identify herself as a PUMA, one of the Hillary supporters whose response to demands that Democrats unite behind Obama was summarized by the phrase, “Party Unity My Ass.” She then vents her anger at women’s groups that endorsed Obama, “asserting that they will then be able to ‘change’ him after he wins.”

Next, she devotes most of a paragraph to the case of a New Jersey man, George Hartwig, who shot his estranged wife’s sister. After that detour, she’s ready for her peroration: “I am sick and tired of being treated like a third-class citizen by people who aren’t even fit to tie my shoes. The plutocracy uses the built-in misogyny of American society to keep the power and the money in their hands. And NOW and WomenCount and NARAL simper and giggle and scrap for all the crumbs they can scrounge from Barack’s table. MoDo [i.e., New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd] and Gail Collins and their ilk spend their time sniping at other women to earn the big bucks from their condescending corporate masters.”
Plutocracy, misogyny, “corporate masters”—she’s mastered the radical vocabulary and yet, oddly enough, this mastery has not been accompanied by empowerment.

What can we learn from this online outburst? First, it becomes obvious that whatever the political merits of adding Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket, diehard Hillary devotees were never a constituency that the GOP could seduce easily. Their frustration at seeing their idol go from inevitable nominee to also-ran only intensified their commitment to militant gynocentrism, and even Hillary’s appointment as Secretary of State has not abated their feminist fury.

Second, we witness the rage of the politically self-marginalized. The blogger responsible for this screed, “madamab,” identifies herself as “an opera singer residing in New York City.” Through her refusal to reconcile herself to Obama’s presidency, she purposefully relegates herself to a futile fringe of her own party, so that she forsakes whatever joy she might otherwise have derived from the Democratic triumph.

Third and finally, we are reminded that kooks constitute the natural base of the Democratic Party. As bizarre as the “Burn It Down” video may be, its ideology is really no more extreme than the Women’s Caucus at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where one speaker—actress Rosario Dawson—earnestly assured her fellow delegates: “One-in-three women in this country will be affected by rape, abuse or be killed.”

There it is again—“one-in-three women,” the statistical assurance that any woman who hasn’t yet been victimized still has a chance to claim her prize in the victimhood lottery. You’re “fair game,” Obama is to blame, and don’t let anyone tell you different, sister.

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