Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Intro: What's Up With Teens in Commercials??

Our Question: how are teenagers represented in commercials? how does this representation of teenagers effect how they view themselves?

We looked at past and current commercials to see how teenagers are represented and how these representations play into the discourses about teenagers. we took a particular interest in how LGBT teens were represented on television, how past commercials played into todays current discourse and themes, and how others are viewing and analyzing this onslaught of media about teenagers.

Teens: Commercials That Blast From the Past


From watching all of these old commercials something has become really clear about the present day, teenagers have become over sexualized and objectified in the media. These discourses presented in multitude of costumes interweave to create a teenager who will objectify him or herself willingly and laugh at it. Young girls are supposed to be sexy but never sexed, experienced in bed, but a virgin. All of this is presented in the media, but more and more of our schools are returning to abstinent only sex education. "In 2007 the American Psychological Association issued a report that concluded that the rampant sexualization of girls was undermining their self esteem and jeopardizing their physical and psychological health because they were learning at ever younger ages that their value came primarily from their sexual appeal and behavior (184)." This ties into Tolman's argument that society is perpetuating the idea that woman should use the "power" of their sexualization to get what they want from people. Susan Douglas, the author of Enlightened Sexism writes, "so the media began to highlight this message: it's through sex and sexual display that women really have the power to get what they want. And because the true path to power comes from being an object of desire, girls and women should now actively choose- even celebrate and embrace- being sex objects (156)." These teenagers are told what to look like, how to be appealing to the opposite sex, even down to sex moves taught in Cosmo Magazine and Hustler, but their knowledge on safe sex practices lacks in comparison. "Boys and men who live on regular diet of all this stuff typically have more sexist attitudes and are more accepting of sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, and the myth that women invite rape (Douglas, 185)." So what do we do to combat these issues? And how do these tie into teenagers’ representations in older commercials?

These older commercials can give us an idea of the progress we have made in the last 60 years, the discourses, which have stayed consistent about teenagers, and also newer formed discourses. Through these old commercials we can clearly see the progression of sexualization to sell consumer products, the idea of the asexual female, and the ever-growing need to objectify oneself for power.

Neither the present day commercials nor the dated commercials actually represent teenagers the way they actually are, if you could even categorize them in the first place. Every individual is different and unique, no matter his or her age group. The media often shows a very skewed version of teenagers, often white and middle-class. In the older commercials female teenagers were represented often as asexual sex objects, making men all to often dumb struck puppy dogs.

In this big red commercial we see the role of the asexual helpless female again. The women are positioned on top of the men, showing the males strength. The woman camping gets scared and jumps on the man while he mockingly makes a scared impression. The couples are all kissing but it never even gets to the French kissing stage. This is what teenagers did, they kissed, they didn’t go any further, and they never explored their feelings or desires. Girls were taught never to listen to their own desires. Their desire was not important what was important was getting “your Mr. Right”. Girls were represented as a tease, someone who uses her allure to get what she wants, love. But no sex till marriage, don’t forget!


The ever-present male gaze is not a new problem seen in commercials. These jean commercials ranging from 1979- 1992 show the use of the male gaze on females as well as males, using sex appeal to sell jeans to teenagers.

Jordache Jeans 1979

Sasson Jeans 1983

Brook Shields for Calvin Klien 1980

I feel dirty…do you? Brooke Shields was just 15 when this commercial was shot.

Marky Mark and Kate Moss for Calvin Klien 1992

In this Calvin Klein commercial Marky Mark is being objectified, but plays into this discourse stating " my mother still thinks I’m a virgin," and, "I’ve had lipstick stains on my underwear a few times." These statements, which would have been seen as "slutty" if said by a female, are seen as normal, even cool, when stated by a man. Also Kate moss is featured in this commercial, but never speaks, she is there for his pleasure and the pleasure of millions of others. During the shot more time is spent on Marky Mark's face then his body, even when he's talking about the underwear directly and pointing at it.


Enlightened Sexism by Susan Douglas

"Object Lessons: Romance, Violation, and Female Adolescent Sexual Desire" by Deborah Tolman from the Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 2000, Vol. 25, Issue 1.

Teens: Current Representations of Heterosexual Commercials

Commercial #1: National Org. for Marriage says "Stylish, Sexy, Pregnant"

  • wow, well objectification is key here. in the thirty second commercial only four seconds focus on her face, which Tolman would find "degrades and objectifies women to the point where they no longer connect to themselves". But we also see her as an object of lust while being pregnant, put on by the national organization for marriage, simultaionously tying together sex with marriage and denouncing that sex before marriage is a reality.
  • this is a united states commercial, but i have never seen it air (though, too, i probably don't watch the channels that NOM caters to)

    Commercial 2: Romanian Condom Commercial


    Selling sex may be a reputable marketing technique, but when advertising to teens is it all they've got?
    Teens are vilified for being hormone crazed junkies looking for their next fix. But how could one believe anything else if every popular culture depiction of humans age 13-19 idolizes sex obsessed, morons invested in naught but the short term gratifications of life. Teens are heralded for their youth in advertising. However, like children of generations past they are not seen in terms of innocence, youthful thought, or innovation. Teens are merely objects of their own insatiable emotions and hormones.
Teens of the current generation have ingested hours and hours of this advertising, and it has played a palpably negative role in their lives. Through glorified and unrealistic versions of sex and parenthood in the media, as well as the un-unifiable depiction of teenagers as beautiful white suburban youth we have been left with these results.
  • 1 in 5 women struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating.
  • 90% of those women are aged 12-25.
  • Each year, almost 750,000 women aged 15–19 become pregnant.

Teens: Current Representations of LGBT Commercials

Commercial #1: Dad Thinks the Date is a Boy

  • opening line is "mother tells me you think you're in love" this has a multifaceted message, that daughters talk to mothers but not fathers, that teens are not capable of understanding love, and that teens are an alien life form that parents will never understand. This feels very Raby to me, under the double standard that we force teens to act older then they are but treat them as if they are younger than they are.
  • this shows and tells a lot about dominant culture, because the father assumes the person she likes is a man, and she doesn't feel the need to tell him it is a woman. the discourse of silence surrounding the LGBT community is strong, and accurately portrayed here. Though accurate, that doesn't not mean it should be accepted or perpetuated. But i digress, this shows how the homosexual community operates within a herteronormative society as if we are ashamed of our resistance to their assumptions.
  • this video shows sexuality without oversexualizing participants, but it should be noted that a double standard persists in which gay males in commercials do not touch, and gay females almost always do, showing how society finds it desirable to see two females together but not two males.
  • This commercial was due to air in Canada but was banned for "content"

Commercial #2: Standards of Beauty at the Bar (and the teen reaction to it)

  • the use of three men together further reinforces same gender associations as safe and comfortable as opposed to different gender associations, as Carey showed in her photo presentation
  • Standards of beauty are defiantly on display here. the busty blond is favored over the conservative brunette, and the friends give each other a high-five over the second woman, totally objectifying her as a better prize, and when the man avoids them both to go for a man the friends are disgusted and repulsed. again, while progressive in intent the translation is not so clear
  • Tolman talks about the objectification of women and what this translates to in feelings about ones self in real life, showing how media matters and does effect us, so what does the timing of the video teach us? We see the first female for four seconds, all concentrated on her face, perhaps saying if you don't want to be objectified, you need to dress yourself differently, but you will always be overlooked for the "hotter" people. The second female we see for eighteen seconds, only two of which show her face. The teen that narrates the video in the second frame comments to this woman "boobs, boobs, wow big boobs" though the pan of her body shows legs, tongue over lips, hourglass silhouette, and long blond hair. The man gets six seconds, they focus on his body, and we see the "friends" looking appalled twice, in case you missed it the first time. If this timing doesn't show how media matters, values somethings while devaluing other things, and will effect viewers, i don't know what will.
  • this is a British commercial
  • teen that analyzes the commercial comments "there's always one gay add during the Superbowl season that pisses people (of power) off". my argument is: there is only one because dominant culture doesn't want to allow for the "other" to have any chance at be seen (because then of course we will up rise and take over the world, because we are inherently violent, too). He also comments that this is "nothing new", showing how media matters and teens do see and understand the discourses that constantly bombard them.

Commercial #3: MTV Gay Teens in America

  • this also effectively shows how homosexual relationships operate within a heteronormative society, and even a progressive commercial that shows a gay man (bisexual? craves four women and also one man, very stalkerish undertones, no friends, never touches the man) focuses 55 seconds of the one minute swenty second commercial on heterosexual relationships
  • an American commercial (finally!) on MTV (though i haven't ever seen it air)
  • "if your love is boundless wear a condom"- so wrong. progressive because it promotes safe sex, but it also spreads the assumption that only gay and bi people need to wear a condom, that bi people are greedy and love everything "boundlessly" and that they crave as many partners at once as possible
  • progressive in that it fights the traditional macho male stereotype, this male is in touch with his feelings, but perpetuates the stereotype that gay males are in touch with their feelings too much, are weak and are feminine, are loners and are creepy.
  • Christenson would argue that all these things mentioned above, the dominant hetero-normative discourse, the portrayls of masculinity, and the portrayal of gayness as an oversexualized monster are all myths that circulate in out culture and are reinforced constantly through movies, tv, the radio, internet, etc to reinforce their messages. She would also argue that we need to teach our children young to interpret these messages so that by the time they are teenagers and beyond they don't absorb all that they hear and see as the only truth.

Commercial #4: European School Dance (followed by the english version)

  • this is a commercial that i feel has the intention of being very progressive, to say that"you don't have to be afraid" that gayness happens, people know it at a young age, and that it is not something to fear, but i think that message is lost through the add itself.i believe the implication is that we see the gay male as a lone wolf on the prowl, that he doesn't have friends and is indeed dangerous, that he intentionally breaks up happy heterosexuals and seeks to "recruit" for his "cause" and "turn others gay".
  • This is a Norwegian commercial, and despite efforts to translate the original message, I'm still not entirely sure what it is really trying to say. another response in English called all gay people "pedophiles" and said we should be institutionalized (thank you but the psych association declared us mentally fit long ago).
  • an alternate ending that would actually be progressive, besides showing the male with friends at the beginning, would show the male with the female as not enjoying himself at all, and when the second male offers a dance the first should get up immediately with a reassured face and we should see them dance (yes, *gasp*, we would have to show two men touch in this ending)
  • i am torn if this is depicting teens as an alien life form or not, they do seem very awkward, but cross culturally, in the united states i can understand the "awkward first dance" in junior high is a reality. maybe its a little bit of both (i know, shocker, life has grey area)
Commercial #5: That's So Gay Campaign (and teen reaction to it)

  • this is very progressive and direct to take down teen terminology that spreads phrases like "thats so gay" when things are stupid or unfair "that's straight" when their cool. it does lead to a disconnect from the gay community, which i am at odds about, because people try to argue that this "gay" has no relation to sexuality, when it does. But i like how wee see straight people opening the dialogue, to show that not only the community can talk about issues that target and discriminate against the community.
  • It airs on United States TV! (though i see it more on logo than anywhere, which is so preaching to the choir, and don't even get me started on how bad it is that we throw all the gay shows in one place so it is easier to avoid them)
  • in the final PSA, teens are creating culture and sending it back out for other teens to view. Miller would argue that this is part of phatic culture that that this is not from corporations preaching to the masses but people making progressive insight for others to view.
  • this reminds me how the terminology "no homo" is used in hip-hop culture and how some rappers are opening discourse about its use, see the video below. :)
"Discourse on 'No Homo'"

  • We know that media matters, because there are people that walk around the campus rapping their favorite songs, spitting out things like "no homo" without stopping to think about what they are saying, or perhaps understanding but unaware of the effect this has on the people around them. i, for one, was hurt the first time i heard it used, it was a very "othering" experience, and if it were progressive should read more like (sample lyric)"...that just came outta my mouth, but so what if it sounds homosexual, people are flexible, and no matter who you love, be sure to give respect each other and hold your lover tight." Marco McWilliams had talked about how rap involves the culture of African Americans, a culture in which males are demasculinized and hence are forced to be hypermascline to counteract their stereotypes. Part of this is the demonetization of the homosexual community, which, i argue, is suggested by dominant white society, accepted and perpetuated by black society, and furthered through such venues as hip hop as a form of expression.

Commercial #6: Lesbians; Normalized :)

  • i commend this commercial for normalizing the lesbian, making her just the "girl next door"
  • however, these women are oversexualized, are undressing each other and wrestling, there is a lot of body contact, and two of the seventeen seconds show faces. this was not meant for the GLBT community but for the hetero community, specifically males that want to see "girl on girl action". they won;t be listening to the progressive audio but watching the steamy visual.
  • this is an American video, but i have never seen it air
  • Tolman, i believe, would have a hard time discerning if these women were "good" or "bad", because though they are normalized they are also sexualized, and sex is not cool before marriage, and by definition in the vast majority of states gay people cannot get married, so are these women doomed to be deemed "loose sluts" because they are normal, active teens (oh wait i forgot, according to dominant culture, lesbians don't have sex)?

Problems and Promises: Issues We Ran Into and What Can Be Done

Problems and Positives with old commercials:
1. Females sole purpose being placed on this earth was for male pleasure and to sell consumer goods. females are three times as likely to be objectified to sell products (current stat).
2. Objectification and sexualization are evident in all of these commercials, specifically female objectification, although males can be seen being objectified to sell jeans and undies.
3. Positive: Teenagers were represented having other interests other then sex. An example of this would be the Britanica Encyclopedia commercial below...

Problems and positives with current commercials:

  1. Teens who have grown up in the digital age have responded just as we have predicted they would be after viewing older commercials. Teens have related to their oversexualized image and have begun defining themselves through their hormones and sexuality first and foremost, with their emotional and intellectual growth takes place later in life.
  2. This oversexualization has produced real results; teenage eating disorders, pregnancy, and suicide have statistically increased. This can be directly correlated to the lack of self esteem (which can be directly correlated to the lack of self) teens generally have. (If you notice, not ONE teen in any of our commercials is anything but thin, clear faced, white and able bodied.)
  3. While the representation of GLBT youth is much smaller than heterosexual youth, they are represented because they are a marketable group. Advertisers do not create an equal demonstration of all demographics in order to relate to their consumers. They have created the Mecca of teenagers, and dressed it in a pair or tight jeans.
  4. the representation of GLBT people is low, both of commercials existing and them being shown before getting banned (and when it is depicts men not touching and women definatly touching, focusing on heteronormativity and homosexuality as an (ushually strange/weird) exception) BUT they do exist
  5. the representation of teens is low BUT they do exist and some are even bearing positive messages
  6. transgender people don't exist

What Other People are Saying About Teens in Commercials

  1. "What's wrong with this picture? This generation of kids is growing up in what is perhaps the most materialistic society we have ever had. They are surrounded by images of excess and the idea that buying “things” will bring them satisfaction. They are given things easily and rarely have to delay gratification. Worst of all, many of the things that are advertised to teens do not promote healthy development." http://youthdevelopment.suite101.com/article.cfm/advertising_to_teens
  2. Historically young people have fallen into distinct but dependent categories: youth-as-fun and youth-as-trouble. One might ask why any of this is pertinent to the study of television. However in the 1950's consumer boom, youth-as-fun became a major advertising strategy. Once advertisers identified teenagers as a valuable consumer, more and more positive images of youth became evident on TV. Photography of youth has been historically produced out of ideological interests, constructed by new markets in an attempt to gain financial resources young people had gained access to. Even still today it is amazing to view how television views and portrays youth for the benefit of making a sale. Youth-as-trouble have been seen in most aspects of the factual media such as the nightly news. These shows have the major impact of building images, which in turn are taken as examples of how young working- class people generally behave. This leads to an ideological regime of images, which serve to naturalize the media construction of youth-as-trouble (51). http://www.wowessays.com/dbase/ac3/ena166.shtml
  3. Definition of "No Homo" in Urban Dictionary Phrase used after one inadvertently says something that sounds gay.
    "His ass is mine. No homo." http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=no%20homo
  4. comparing network tv on "gay friendliness ratings" FOX, of course, an epic fail
  5. The current teen image and the image of teens in past media representation leaves us with a lot to hope and wish for...and a whole lot to analyze. But what about teenagers who are not exposed to media literacy classes? These teenagers are combated with images of the "typical cool teen" and the only way to fit this mold is to spend spend spend, and diet diet diet. This has serious effects on teenagers especially girls who feel peer pressured to fit in. Susan Douglas described the media as a "sexual super peer" for young girls, telling them how to fit in, what to wear, what to buy, and how to get the guy. The sexualization of girls has been linked by many different researchers to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide, in females as well as males. And although sex is rampant on every television station only 14% of shows with sexual content make any reference to the risks and responsibilities that come with the sexual territory. This article written by 2 teenagers tells of the pitfalls of the teen image in media http://www.frankwbaker.com/teenmedia.htm.