Retro Sexism and Uber Ironic Advertising

September 21, 2010

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Author:

Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

Created for and originally posted at Bitch Magazine’s Mad World Virtual Symposium

Marketers are increasingly using Retro Sexism to sell products.  This form of advertising uses irony and humour as a way to distance itself from the sexist and/or racist representations and stereotypes they perpetuate.

Retro Sexism (n.): Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.

Related Links and Articles:

Commercials:

For full video transcript click here >>

Created for and originally posted at Bitch Magazine’s Mad World Virtual Symposium

Marketers are increasingly using Retro Sexism to sell products.  This form of advertising uses irony and humour as a way to distance itself from the sexist and/or racist representations and stereotypes they perpetuate.

Retro Sexism (n.): Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.

Related Links and Articles:

Commercials:

Transcript

*music* and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

Have you noticed this strange trend in TV commercials recently? It’s been bothering me for awhile but I haven’t quite been able to put a name to it. It’s this kinda twisted combination of cynicism and humour with these over the top caricatures and it always ends up being racist and/or sexist. It’s really the normalization of sexism through the use of irony it’s the ‘they know that I know that they know, that they’re being sexist.’ Some terms people have used to describe this is ironic sexism or retro sexism.

Retro Sexism is modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way. Let’s see an example from Carl’s Jr.

CLIP: Carl’s Jr Online Ad *instrumental music*

I know it’s over the top and ridiculous to see women marching in american flags to liberty, cheeseburgers and the American Dream and they know that they’re over the top and ridiculous and objectifying women but because we all know, doesn’t mean it’s not sexist.

Take for example this new marketing campaign by Mike’s Hard Lemonade where they are attempting to rebrand their product as a more ‘manly’ drink and a less ‘girly’ drink.

CLIP: Mike’s Hard Lemonade Commercial

Man #1 “Can you believe some guys never tried Mike’s Hard Lemonade because they’ve seen women drink it?”
Man #2 “We don’t have those kinds of issues”
Woman #1 “Hi there”
Woman #2 “Thank you”
Man #1 “No we don’t”

CLIP: Mike’s Hard Lemonade Commercial
Man #1 “Mike’s is a refreshing change of pace to beer but you should enjoy it responsibly”
Man #2 “For example do you have a designated driver? I could take you home.”
Man #1 “Or I could”
Man #2 “Or I could take you both home. Lots of options”

See how he’s not even pretending to fool us, like we’re all in on this big joke. Look how funny it is that he’s incompetently and obviously trying to take advantage of these women. We’re all supposed to know that this guy is acting like a scum bag and ha ha isn’t it funny. Really they know that I know that they know that they’re being sexist.

Or what about the good old wandering eyed lying husband and naive wife tropes.

CLIP: Twix Commercial

Wife “Do you have the extra pacifier?”
Husband “yes”
Wife “Do we have enough formula?”
Husband “yes” Wife “okay here ya go honey”
Baby Crying
Wife “honey… honey…”
Women laughing
Wife “what are you looking at?
Voice over “Need a moment? Try the chocolate caramel and fresh cookie crunch of twix.”
Husband “I’m looking at potential babysitters, so we could spend more time together”
Wife “Aw, that’s so sweet”
Voice over “when you need a moment chew it over with twix”

See how obviously and transparently he’s lying to his wife. We all recognize that this is ridiculous. This guy is clearly being a jerk and we get to laugh at that but we have the added bonus of being able to laugh at his naive wife whose clearly not seeing his transparent behaviour. Additionally the advertisers get to use pseudo porn stars in a male fantasy sequence so the audience gets to join the man in ogling the women.

And for another example of the naive girlfriend.

Clip: Coor’s Light Commercial

Phone ringing
Man #1 “Who could that be? Oh wow, I’m there for you buddy. That was Brad, he really wants to vent.”
Woman “You should go”
Doorbell Man #1 “Ready to vent?”
Man #2 “Let’s vent”
Man #1 “Let’s vent”
Man #2 “Let’s vent”
Voice over “Introducing the wife mouth can from Coor’s Light, it lets in air for a smooth refreshing pour”
Woman “Is he okay?”
Man #1 “I think we’ll be venting a little longer Sound of sports on TV”

So you see, they know that I know that they know. Women are supposed to laugh at how stupid this girlfriend is while being secure in the knowledge that they’ll never make the same mistake. This commercial is set up so that women are laughing at caricatured, sexist representations of other women.

Ariel Levy describes in her fantastic book Female Chauvinist Pigs how women are being trained to be just as raunchy and objectify other women just like ‘one of the guys.’ We’re coerced into doing this instead of aligning ourselves with one another, one of the reasons might be to impress men and I’m gonna guess that pointing out sexism isn’t exactly popular with the guys.

This next one not only manages to sexist but also racist at the same time. Is there a clio award for that?

CLIP: Carl’s Jr. Commercial Sound of seagulls and ocean

Voice over “When a guy can’t get his wanine to put some hallakahiki all over his morboo then he’s gotta go some place else.” (*transcription note: I don’t actually know the voice over is saying here so I tried to translate it as it sounds)

Not only is this exotifying and sexualizing Hawaiian culture but she’s literally a thing. This brings a whole new meaning to objectifying. Carl’s Jr. is infamous for uber ironic sexism in their commercials.

CLIP: Carl’s Jr. Commerical Song lyrics “In the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles”

Yet somehow women aren’t up in arms, they aren’t organizing protests and boycotts and online campaigns. Some people might try to defend these ads by saying they’re ‘making fun of sexism’ ironically… somehow. Advertisers must believe that the use of irony distances themselves from male chauvinism but that isn’t the case. While we think we are in on the joke, the reality is they aren’t making fun of or pointing out sexism, they’re doing it.

Remember advertisers have one goal and one goal only and that’s to sell you a product. Everything else, all the jokes, humour and imagery and everything else is to get you to buy it. The easiest way to do this is to use sexist representations that replicates the status quo and doesn’t challenge anything. Marketers love the uber ironic sexist style of advertising because they can use all the racist, sexist misogynist imagery they want and simultaneously distance themselves from it with a little wink and a node.

So how many examples of retro sexism have you already seen today? *music* and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think