Which kid doesn’t enjoy Saturday morning cartoons? My kid is no exception and I join him often enough, but this Saturday I am annoyed by Pin Pop’s very obviously sexist TV commercial on e.tv. Why is it being screened at a time when toddlers are bound to be tuning in? Does the answer lie in the fact that young people’s ability to filter and analyse commercial media messages is relatively limited?
Pin Pop makes lollypops and their most recent advertising campaign seems to employ the latest marketing ”flavour of the month”, hip-hop, to market the cool of its products. There is already quite a bit of research on the commercial co-option of youth cultures, like hip-hop, and so this is no surprise. But the latest Pin Pop ad raises an issue that we really should have dealt with constructively by now. Their latest commercial does not seem to be on their website or YouTube yet, but I spotted it twice on Saturday just after Bob the Builder and in an ad break during Dora the Explorer.
The ad starts with two male teens parking off on a couch in front of the TV, probably playing a game. One guy opens up his Pin Pop lollypop and ”cool things” begin to happen. You might say that a hallucinogenic effect kicks in: his friend on the couch becomes muscular, he takes a look outside and his car becomes a hot SUV. His female friend then walks into the lounge, he puts the lollypop in his mouth and concentrates on her chest. A mid-shot of her reveals her following his eye line and she looks down at her breasts. The camera tilts downwards as she drops her focus to her chest.
The implied narrative is clear: his lollypop makes ”cool things” happen. When he stares at things, they transform into ”cool things”. His female friend’s chest will transform into a ”cool thing”. Her breasts will become enlarged and her dress will pop — clearly a pun on the ”pop” in lollypop and the brand name. This is a troubling marketing message to direct at children during Saturday morning TV cartoons on a free-to-air broadcaster, particularly at a time when the country is debating gender politics and gender-based violence after a number of horrific news events.
The advertisement is problematic because it fetishes the female character’s breasts. It’s an example of how metonymy works in media and cinema: the part stands in for the whole. The young woman is reduced to her body parts — breasts, which become fetish objects that need to be enlarged. The problem with this reduction is that it dehumanises women: it reduces women to body parts; they become objects and are no longer presented as full subjects with intellect and a will of their own. Of course many may dismiss this reading by saying that it’s just a bit of fun, or that boys will be boys. This is the kind of thing they might say when boys are caught bullying younger boys or harassing girls on the playground. I would argue that this kind of metonymical representation of women legitimises patriarchy and that they make sexist ideas appear everyday and natural.
The implied narrative in the commercial is that it would be ”cool” to have a female friend with big breasts and, more importantly, a female who is sexually available to him. The lollypop therefore promises to give him ”special powers” — these are patriarchal powers. The young woman in the ad is now a trophy in his fantasy (like the hot SUV). What happens when this woman does not acquiesce to his ”special powers”? What if she objects to his reductive focus on her body? Does he even care what she thinks?
Once in a while a big and shocking news event captures national attention. Sometimes it is a gang rape. Sometimes it is the brutal murder of a woman or child. Sometimes it is both these unspeakable things at once. Such a big news event provokes a great deal of outrage for a while and then it subsides until the next big thing ignites anger and righteous indignation.
But if we want to make a real change in the ongoing problem of sexism and misogynist violence, we have to address everyday modes of speech and media representations that normalise sexist ideas about women. We need to address media messages that socialise our boys and girls into sexism. It is time for advertisers and commercial media to take responsibility for the messages that they convey to our children. Otherwise media noise about gender-based violence comes across as somewhat insincere.