Monthly Archives: November 2010

What Works On Me

As far as ads are concerned, I like commercials that are witty, funny and cute. I like artistic or avant garde ads, meaning ads that aren’t formulaic and predictable; ads that surprise me with their format (or lack thereof.) Unfortunately, there aren’t many of those around. However, I also succumb to ads that reinforce my preferred self-image (as I once discussed in class: I like Ford trucks because they are FORD TOUGH.) However, I don’t feel as though these ads reach me without my conscious permission. When I’m watching an ad for a Ford truck, most often I’m actually thinking: Wow, these marketing guys are really bent on the demographic who buy trucks in order to feel stronger and more powerful… And then I consciously wonder what other types of people, like myself, are being drawn to these ads… And then I wonder if women – and, perhaps additionally, formerly-abused individuals – are a prime demographic for these ads. Looking around (here in Denver, at least), whenever I see someone in a truck, almost 4 out of 5 times it’s a woman. When I see that, I often wonder to myself if the woman I’m looking at is A) simply driving her husband/boyfriend’s vehicle, B) like me, drawn to the idea of owning a large vehicle to compensate – yes I admit it – for a frustrating inability to be physically/visually intimidating within their own bodies, or C) purchased the vehicle for practical reasons. Or did they succumb to peer pressure? Do they simply like the brand name? Were they looking for something cheap and this Ford tough truck was the first thing that popped up on Craigslist? Did someone well-meaning purchase the vehicle for her and she actually hates it?

I don’t think I’m the only ad-conscious individual in existence, nor do I believe I’m the only one who contemplates such things on a regular basis. I think most of us are conscious of how and why advertising works on us. I like things that make me feel tough. Some people like stuff that makes them feel smart, like a binary clock from thinkgeek.com. Some people like stuff that makes them feel as though they’re part of a certain group, such as iPods or Mac Laptops.

I was actually thinking about this very thing earlier today; I have an Alice in Wonderland purse. Why did I buy it? I think I actually bought it because, deep down inside, I want to let people know that I loved that movie. Maybe I’m really just trying to communicate with others. I want them to ask me if I like that movie, in the hopes that I can connect with someone else who liked it too. Then, once we have something in common, there is potential to engage in further conversation and there’s even the possiblity of a friendship as a result. All because of a $10 bag. Of course, when I’m buying the bag, I’m not thinking all that stuff. I’m just thinking: I really, really like Alice in Wonderland; watching that movie makes me feel all kinds of good and, to me, Alice represents important aspects of feminism and female independence. I want to possess this bag because it makes me feel good about myself as a woman who affiliates with Alice, a strong, smart, independent (however fictional) female character. I guess it goes a little farther than, “I like that bag,” but not much farther… but I feel as though I’m consistently aware of why I buy things – and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Name brands, on the other hand, do absolutely nothing for me. In fact, when I see someone sporting a brand name for the sake of the brand name itself, I feel incredulity at how in the world that person came to see such a thing as interesting or important – especially due to the inflated prices of such items. I, myself, have something of a phobia about it; I take pains to ensure that I do not appear to be one of those individuals by avoiding “prestigous” or well-known name brands altogether.

But I try to consciously avoid passing judgement on those who enjoy name brand items, since we’re actually quite similar creatures; we just ended up with different triggers. They probably think I’m perfectly asanine for believing in the empowering abilities of a pickup.

To each his own, and I think most of us know that we’ve been duped… but it’s the way of the capitalistic world, and most of us don’t seem to mind one bit.

How’s that for a rant?

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A Comic Review

As a result of my exploration through the world of comic books, I came to the conclusion that, although most female leads are depicted as exaggerated stereotypes of the female physique, most are strong and respectable, not needing male assistance to accomplish their goals and defeat their enemies.

For instance, one of my favorite comic book characters is Red Sonja. Her physical attributes aren’t much different than any other leading lady – or minor female character, for that matter. She is always drawn with DD’s or better; she is frequently scantily clad; she sports perpetual, flawless and unsmearable makeup; and she has ridiculously voluminous, long hair. Sonja’s background story is unique; she grew up in a household where she was treated as a second-class citizen. Her brothers were taught the sword by her father while she was forbidden even to watch. She hid herself and observed her father’s teachings anyway, being the independent and strong-willed girl that she was – she was determined to learn the ways of a warrior, with or without daddy’s permission. One day, her family was slaughtered by lots of bad guys – herself being raped and “ravaged” by the lead pillager. After this ordeal, a “vision of a goddess” visited her and bestowed upon her special powers; the goddess told Sonja that she would have invincibility with the sword under the condition that she was never to lie with a man who hadn’t first defeated her in battle. Sonja’s perpetrator came back for more… but this time, she was ready for him. She eviscerated him as well as his entire blood-thirsty army. This background story makes Sonja’s interaction with men very unique; she doesn’t possess the stereotypical desperation for companionship and validation from men that so many female characters are depicted to have.

Her personality is that of a warrior; this component is first and foremost in every action, gesture and statement she makes. She is portrayed similarly to the way a male hero would be; the only marked difference is the reactions of those around her. Sonja is constantly encountering sexism in every nasty form possible. She is either mistakenly considered a sexual object, to be cajoled – or one with which some lead-brained male assumes he will have his way – or she is challenged by perceptions of her inappropriate gender role. For instance, her first comic shows her in a bar setting full of supposed warriors; however, she is the only soul brave enough to fight for the cause she’s been called to. After her voluntary induction into the Lord’s army, patrons of the bar begin to harass her. Some suggest that she is too weak to fight a man, since she is obviously a mere woman. This is proven incorrect immediately, when she slices open the throat of her opponent with barely the blink of a well-mascaraed eye. In addition to being perceived as a member of the “weaker sex” on the one hand, she is simultaneously perceived as being “too” masculine. She obviously never “disproves” this suggestion, nor does she even attempt to, but she is clearly misunderstood from both angles and the comic clearly reinforces the stupidity of the ignorance yielded by these prejudicial zealots.

Once in a while, however – and almost always after being forced to prove her mettle – she is given acknowledgement and treated with respect.

Wonder Woman, a similar breed of heroine, differs from Sonja in several ways. For one thing, she is far more interested in men – she is, in fact, passed around between Superman and Batman as well as having had her initial human male love interest. She encounters similar reactions from men about being too weak, but she doesn’t get hassled much about being “too manly.” As a sexual icon, she is repeatedly represented as a seductive temptress, irresistible to fellow heroes, evil villains and hapless humans alike. It is my opinion that Wonder Woman is more sex symbol than hero, in stark contrast to Sonja, whose life solely revolves around her combative lifestyle.

In general, most leading women are shown to be somewhere between Sonja and Wonder Woman, most displaying strength, independence and intelligence despite their ridiculously exaggerated appearance. I believe that the exaggeration of the female appearance in these comics, though overall harmful to society, is a palatable  enough trade-off for depictions of strong women at this current point and time, but I hold out hope that these stereotypes might change in the future.

In the words of infamous Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way.”

 

No News is Bad News

I had no idea that picking up a newspaper every day would start an addiction to USA Today. The USA Today?? Really? I never even looked at that paper before this assignment, but I am now a strong believer that they have some of the truly strongest writers out there. It remains informative with detailed descriptions and intriguing headlines. I believe that this publication is one of the better readables in print. Even throughout controversial material, most of these journalists are able to put on a convincing role of objective reporting while – amazingly – making the material interesting through colorful articulation. With one creative hand on the pen, they slowly wrap the other around the reader’s neck. Eager for circulation, the audience is helplessly rapt. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, has – in my opinion – a dry, musty and formulaic “style” which in no way captured my attention. And I tried. I really did. A newspaper revered for its credibility and popular throughout the nation ought to be a bit more engaging… and I couldn’t even complete a single article. But everything is a matter of taste, is it not? And I prefer my Vanilla Chai Latte, my plain bagel with Garden Vegetable Shmear, and my USA Today. After reading The Denver Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post (online), Yahoo! News and The Onion, my ink-stained fingers devoured the delectable and recycled the unpalatable.

One thing I noticed right away was that the inverted pyramid is somewhat rare – or, at least, most papers don’t stick to the “strictly facts” format for which the inverted pyramid was intended. On matters of controversy, one can almost always find leanings of subjectivity where there pretends to be none. Why? Because journalists are human beings, not computers. As a writer myself, I am aware that there are ways to make the other side seem weaker, even as you are reporting “strictly facts.” Creative verbage can lean your audience one way or another without betraying your own bias.

For instance, action words vs. intention words… if I want to lend credibility to Obama and take it away from George Bush, I’d use words in this way: “Obama asserted… Obama achieved… Obama completed work on… Obama ended the… Obama realizes… Obama DID,” – or any other awesome word for “did.” But with Bush, I’d use words that indicated speculation and inactivity or that show room for doubt: “Bush believes… Bush thinks… Bush might (do something)… Bush feels that…” In this way, I’m casting doubt on the effectiveness of Bush’s behavior or possible future actions. This technique is all over the papers, especially the Denver Post.

Also, when quoting the other side (for “balanced reporting” – haha), be sure to use the dumbest quote. Go heavy on the credentials for the side you’re on while downplaying credentials for the other side – like this:

“Global warming isn’t just a problem for America; it’s a problem for the whole world,” affirmed Dr. John Clyde, UNCOMG Scientist and Harvard graduate. Dr. Clyde is the head of the Board of Scientists at UCLA and has dedicated his life to investigating the possibility of global warming prevention ever since he found evidence of the hypothesis four years ago. He says it will…. (Make it professional, using tight argumentative logic… then move on to your opponent and say): George Phunky, a 3rd grade teacher in Louisiana, protests the possibility. He says the concept is ridiculous. “I think if it’s not in the Bible, this stuff just can’t be right. I think it’s a bunch of hooey.”

Did you see what I did? Well, that’s how it works in the papers. Typically, the stuff I’ve been reading in the post has been liberal, but they switch it up. However, if you look for the persuasive techniques I described above, you can find them. What I like about USA Today is that it’s much harder to find that type of partisan journalism between the lines. Here is an example of a front page article in the post, clearly written by a right-leaning dude: Dems, GOP make final push. It’s designed to appear more like a scientific analysis of polling trends, but it’s pretty obvious that the whole point of this article was to push the idea of widespread republicanism and lack of faith in the democratic party. It was on  the front page, where people don’t expect to see opinion, so it might go right under the radar and people might swallow this as fact. Another tricky way to get people to believe you is to mix up fact with opinions. That technique was also implemented in this case.

Even though this USA Today front pag-er is still right-leaning, it isn’t as obvious: 5 ways the election will change washington.

Hilariously, the Onion is the number one user of the inverted pyramid. Unfortunately, the idea is to mock its use in order to show how funny it sounds to mass produce formulaic journalism. The great thing is, it’s almost all opinion, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint it; since it’s a sardonic, witty, humorous, for-entertainment-only rag, it’s practically impossible to nail down an agenda half the time. Are they saying this to prove how ridiculous it is, or are they saying this to make us think about it? Hmm. Maybe the Onion – with utterly unpolitical headlines such as, “***hole With $12,000 In Checking Account Leaves Receipt at ATM,” – has the sneakiest technique of subjective reporting ever. Mix it up; confuse the reader about your intentions. Is this article just a joke? What should I think about this? Am I thinking too hard? Well, anyway, it’s funny.

At the end of the day, does the Onion inspire more individuals to form their own conclusions than the “objective” news itself?

Who can say? I guess we’d have to take a poll… but then we’d have to have someone interpret the results for us so that we can form an opinion about the results of our opinions.