Gender Roles & Toys

Within Roland Barthes’ various “mythologies essays,” he narrows his focus in one of his essays, on the idea of gender roles related to toys within French culture. “French toys always mean something, and this something is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life.”(53) This type of gender oriented aim for the production of toys reflects across many cultures. I’d like to relate Barthes’ essay to the gender specific toy production through the Japanese industry. Even In japan you see toys specific to gender, preparing these kids, and conditioning them, for these various future  gender specific roles. Girl toys include the stereotypical baking and cooking sets, as well as realistic baby toys where you take care of the baby as you would if it were your own. Boys receive the more masculine, and once again stereotypical, gun toys, doctor/police kits, and many more career conditioning ideological toys. It’s no secret that these toys are made with a purpose, and that purpose is to engineer children at a young age for their imminent gender roles in society as they grow up.

I would like to compare two Japanese toy commercials, which illustrate just how gender focused the toy industry really is, even overseas. The first commercial demonstrates a fully equipped doctors office within an ambulance. This toy comes with a “baby alive”girl doll as well, and the purpose of the toy is to condition young girls to begin practicing taking care of children. The more female generated color schemes within the toy itself combined with the girl doll, only add to the underlying conditioning process.

 

The second video illustrates a “space ray gun” toy from the 60’s, which includes real sparks that come out of the barrel, loud noises, and “lots of action.” This toy conditions boys to begin practicing violence, and become geared towards these sort of ideologies. It’s hard to believe this sort of toy was sold to children. Barthes writes how, “French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all.”(53) These toys have more of an impact on children then companies realize.

The striking difference in ideological representations through the gender specific toys, is obvious in it’s intentions, but striking. I would like to include a picture of a girls toy in Japan that actually DEMONSTRATES child birth for young girls. Following that photo I want to include a more recent Japanese toy for young boys, which although extremely manly and incredible In my opinion, a very gender specific toy targeting the masculinity of young boys, furthermore conditioning them for violence and images of authority, and power.

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The first toy is extremely shocking, in the fact that it is obviously too graphic, and realistic for young girls. For the picture below it, former president Barack Obama, can be seen wielding a pistol, katana, rapping into a microphone, and even fighting off Darth Vader. These are two polar extremes of the ideological conditioning amongst gender and toys, but if these pictures don’t demonstrate gender conditioning, I’m not sure what can. Despite the fact that gender specific toys are on the decline, and more gender neutral toys are being produced, the overhanging affect children’s toys have on children’s subconscious, and in this case Japanese children’s toys, is still very much an issue in subconsciously conditioning young children for their stereotypical adult roles. I want to provide an example as to how gender assumed roles and toys are drastically changing as the globe conforms to more accepting and universal ideologies. I think the picture will speak for itself so I will leave it without further explanation.

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I want to conclude my post by including what I believe to be the most important quote in Barthes’ essay. “However, faced with this world of faithful and complicated objects, the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it:there are, prepared for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without joy.”(54) Barthes is onto something deeper here, outlining how toys today, are not only conditioning our children, but are setting them up for a lack of creativity. The real emotions, and experiences children should be undergoing are being stripped from them, and replaced by plastic toys cheaply made toys conditioning the minds of our adolescence.

 

 

Roland Barthes “Toys” and Gender

In Roland Barthes essay Toys, he discusses the way in which toys are made to reflect the adult world, conditioning children to become accustomed to their expected roles and responsibilities as adults. “The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all…” (53). He goes on to talk about gender roles in toys, using the example of the baby doll geared toward girls:

There exist, for instance, dolls which urinate; they have an oesophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies… This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her to her future role as mother (53).

By conditioning children to find joy in or adapt to certain activities at a young age, they are likely to continue to conform to these roles as adults. To further study toys directed toward girls, I’ve looked more closely at ads for the Easy Bake Oven from the 60’s,  ”Poochie”, a toy line from the 80’s, and current ads from Toys R Us.

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Beginning with the 80s toy, the slogan reads, “A Poochie girl says what’s on her mind.” A Poochie girl, however, can only say what’s on her mind with the use of her cute, pink and purple puppy stamps with sassy lines like , “You drive me crazy.” Although the ad appears to be a progressive attempt to enforce little girls to be comfortable with “saying how she feels”, it seems to actually enforce the idea that she must still somehow be contained. Not only does this exhibit the obvious gendering of toys and how they relate to adult life, but it exemplifies the other piece of Barthes argument:

He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him ready-made: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish (54).

In regards to this particular toy, the girl is not communicating what’s on her mind on her own, and learning how make her voice heard through her own discovery. She is instead given a pre-packaged set of “feelings”. This implies that she needs some kind of aid or excuse for speaking her mind.

Moving to the Easy-Bake Oven from the 60’s, this product sets the tone for the duties little girls are expected to have as women. The Easy-Bake Oven is the perfect example of a “ready-made”. It’s teaching girls to enjoy baking at a young age in a way that is simple, decorative, and fun. The cakes and brownies come in little packets that are as easy as add water, pour into the pan, and pop it into the miniature oven, then decorate.

The ad ends with a little boy coming along and eating the cakes and brownies which fill the table, replicating gender roles still common in the home at this time. The woman cooks and bakes, the man eats.

In regards to more current toys on the market, Lego Friends is a specific Lego line made for little girls. While they are advertising a toy which allows the child to build and create, the obvious differences between typical Legos, and these specific “girly” Legos, still creates division between genders. The set does not allow the little girl to build a car, a ship, a building, a plane, or super heroes, like Legos advertised to boys, but instead the pieces build a pink café. The main colors on the boxes designed for girls are pink and purple, while the boxes for boys are mainly blue. The significance of the café is that we are again brought back to a toy that prepares girls for tasks which require them to take care of others. The idea of serving is built into girls’ lives at a young age.

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Wine, Beer and their Idealogies

I think there are interesting comparisons to be had between the ideologies presented in Barthes “Mythologies” and how they are used to associate France and wine and America and beer. In both sets of ideologies they are portrayed as the ultimate drink for refreshment. Again similarly, between ideologies is the image of masculinity tied to it. The connection between drunkenness and inability to hold their liquor is the same in both countries. It’s a consequence of the drinker’s lack of strength. As Barthes says, “an award of good integration is given to whoever is a practicing wine-drinker: knowing how to drink is a national technique which serves to qualify the French-man, to demonstrate at once his performance, his control and his sociability.” This is where the ideology differs slightly from American, we drink to show or highlight our sociability but in the most competitive way possible. If you think of any movie that includes a frat party of any sorts, people are drinking to be social but they are typically competitive and drinking with the point of getting drunk. It’s not considered so much a consequence of drinking but the end game.    But the biggest similarity between the two ideologies is how it is so intertwined with the drinker’s national identity. This is can be seen in the Coors Light commercial from 2016, called “Born in the Rockies.”

Starting off with the question “Where were you born?” immediately insinuates the commercial about nationalism. He asks the viewer to consider how their place has shaped them and made them who they are. This connection seems to mark Beer as the drink of choice for any real patriot. In his essay on Wine and Milk, Barthes says “The mythology of wine can in fact help us to understand the usual ambiguity of our daily life. For it is true that wine is a good and fine substance, but it is no less true that its production is deeply involved in French Capitalism,”. This can also be applied to Beer and American Capitalism. The Coors commercial clears up the ambiguity by making it clear that what shapes you can also shape a great, refreshing beer, but at the end of the day, patriotism set aside it’s about selling beer. I think the point that Barthes is trying to make is that all of the national identity placed on beer and wine, respectively, is to boost sales.

Another point that Barthes makes in Mythologies is that wine “exalts all climates” basically saying that no matter what the occasion is, wine is the appropriate drink of choice. This can also be seen in this Budweiser ad, splashed with the phrase. “Where there’s life…there’s bud.” This ad in itself, speaks volumes to what Barthes is saying.

 

Possibly, unlike France, in American seems to always be marketed to the male gaze, using females or masculinity as a platter on which to serve the capitalistic identity that is ingrained in many Americans. In conclusion, I think that American Ideology on beer is important because of the reasoning behind it’s societal ties. That it “is a part of the society because it provides a basis not only for a morality but also for an environment; it is an ornament in the slightest ceremonials of French daily life.”

Sources:

Barthes, Roland. “Mythologies.” Handout. Critical Concepts: ENG 300. (Professor Michael Johnson.) University of Maine at Farmington.  Feb. 2017. Print

Images: www.taverntrove.com/beerpics/Budweiser-Lager-Beer-Paper-Ads-Anheuser-Busch-inc_16892-1.jpg

Wine vs. Milk vs. Beer

Roland Barthes’s chapter on wine and milk, describes wine in the French nation as, “. . . the most efficient of thirst-quenchers, or at least this serves as the major alibi for it’s consumption” (58). Milk is consider

 

ed to be the American ‘alternative’ to wine, Barthes saying, “. . . Milk is cosmetic, it joins, covers, restores. Moreover, its purity, associated with the innocence of the child, is a token of strength, or a strength which is not revulsive, not congestive, but calm, white, lucid, the equal of reality” (60).

These two beverages are important to their respected nation, actually being a symbol of their culture. Being someone who is lactose-intolerant, when I am at a dinner, it is very common for people to ask me if I would like milk with my meal. When I say no, more than half the time, the response back is, “are you even American if you don’t like milk?” I am going to Italy in May, and almost all of the research I have done about what to expect on my adventure says to be prepared to drink wine with each meal, and in downtime. (Good thing I love wine). It actually baffles me how something as simple as a beverage can be so definitive of a nation’s culture.

Wine in France is interesting, because as Barthes says, “other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an attention” (59). This is obviously different than alcohol in the United States, where people do typically drink to get drunk/feel some sort of numbness.

 

 

Even looking at the difference in advertisements between beer and wine, it is clear that the intention of drinking them is different. The wine advertisement is elegant (even saying the word), with a nature background. It gives off the image that drinking wine is elegant and calming. There is no sense of drunkenness, craziness, but instead, calmness. The beer advertisement, however, shows the exact opposite. It has people partying on some kind of raft, and shows a DJ, a ship sinking, a shark, and women in bikinis. The beer advertisement definitely gives off the idea that if you drink this product, you’ll live a wild, adventurous life. The idea of a party lifestyle is conveyed.

I decided to conduct a poll to see which drink people my age associate with drunkenness. I posted the poll on my private twitter and the results are:

 

 

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The people who voted are anonymous, but since all of my followers are pre-approved by me, I know that all of them are between the ages of 15-21. I believe at an early age, teenagers and even children who are associated with any sort of alcohol, will form ideas about them. As a child, I was surrounded with adults who drank beer/other alcoholic beverages almost every day. I immediately formed an opinion about it, which revolved around my opinions of drunkenness. I wasn’t exposed to wine until my early teenage years, and I immediately noticed the difference between wine and beer. I’ve experimented with both, and I’ve found that I drink with intention. If I’m in the mood to relax, I go for wine. If I’m in the mood to get drunk and forget about my problems, I go for alcohol. Considering I’m tiny, both probably have the same effect: I, just like everyone else in the world, have a preconceived notion that beer is to get drunk, while wine is to feel elegant.

 

Toys and Gender Roles

        In Roland Barthes’ Mythologies he addresses the topic of toys in French societies, and how they are “reduced copies of human objects” to form a “microcosm of the adult world”(53). In other words what Barthes is saying is that toys are modeled after real world jobs so as to train and prepare the child for a career once they enter the workforce. This is a trend that is also seen in America. In America the toys are often gender specific so as to condition the child for the jobs typically associated with their gender. In other words we often see cooking sets or baby dolls being advertised for girls, so as to“ ‘condition’ her [for] her future role as [a] mother” or as a homemaker; both of which are stereotypical positions often held by women (53). With boys we often see science labs or toy guns being advertised for them, which will prepare the boy for a career in math or science or as an officer of the law or soldier. These are also career fields that have been primarily dominated by men for generations.

        While gender marketing seems to be becoming less prominent, especially as more gender diverse toys flood the market, there are still some toys that are advertised as gender specific. Compare and contrast these two lego commercials, both advertising a toy set. This first video is advertising for a lego café set, though it mentions two more sets, and is clearly targeting girls. The second commercial is advertising a lego fire station and is targeting boys.

“Café” LEGO Friends

“Fire Station” LEGO City

        The first commercial is filled with bright colors-like greens, pinks and purples- and has a backdrop of a beautiful sunny day. These colors are often affiliated with products targeting a female audience as bright colors are interpreted as being feminine. The person advertising and narrating the commercial is also clearly a woman, who is speaking in a clear voice with positive tone. The second commercial has a dark backdrop, the scene being set during night instead of during the day like in the café commercial. These dark colors- blues, reds, and blacks- are often associated with masculinity, as darker colors are perceived as dangerous, mysterious, and, in some cases, erotic. A man who is speaking with a “scratchy” sounding voice and what appears to be some form of an accent is also narrating this commercial. The bright feminine colors evoke feelings of positivity and happiness; especially when combined with the upbeat narration done by a woman. The dark masculine colors, combined with the excited and scratchy voice of the male narrator, evoke feelings of danger or thrill, and power.

        Next, all the lego figurines that are advertised in the café commercial appear to be girls, as they possess the stereotypical feminine features: such as large eyes, colorful attire, and long stylish hair. In the fire station commercial all of the advertised figurines- at least the firefighters- are perceived as being men due to their lack of hair, face stubble, and dark clothing.

        These commercials are communicating to viewers that baking, socializing at a friend’s house, and being a vet are all jobs for women. We can hypothesize that the reasoning behind this is due to women often having the role of being a homemaker who cares for the family members. Being a firefighter, however, is a job for men as the job calls for bravery and strength as well as protecting and saving people, all of which is affiliated with masculinity.

Cultural Masculinity through the lens of “Steak and Chips”

In this essay, Barthes writes that steak is “the heart of meat”; something that is “the very flesh of the French soldier”; something that the aforementioned soldier “feels nostalgia for” when he is abroad. In short, steak is the classic, “nostalgic and patriotic” meat which a man eats to feel at home, and, subliminally, to feel like a man. The imagery Barthes puts forth while writing about the “bull-like strength” of men who partake of steak is both visceral and raw. The repetition of the word “blood” and all the verbs immediately associated with it — bleeding, tearing, ripping, gouging, etc — provides a sort of raw, violent, masculine image of steak, one that makes a man feel at his manliest. The imagery hearkens back to a time when men ripped the flesh from conquered creatures for sustenance, letting the blood drip down his chest as his teeth gnash through muscle and sinew. The cultural message of steak is clear and unforgettable: this is the food of the man’s man. The Steak-Man, if you will. If you like to hunt, drink, fight, fuck, and live, then steak is your food.

This idea of masculinity is ubiquitous in American culture, and has leaked into literature, film, television, advertising and more. Let’s examine a couple of examples of how men are meant to act based on this idea of the Steak-Man.

First, we have television character and cultural icon Ronald Ulysses Swanson. Portrayed by Nick Offerman on Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson is the archetype of the Steak-Man. He hunts, he explores, he despises the federal government, he drinks Lagavulin whisky, he has a thick, glorious mustache and, of course, he eats steak. Lots and lots of steak.

The character is allowed to exist because of the widespread cultural fetishism surrounding steak. Steak is a sign of masculinity; of toughness of both body and mind. By making their macho, headstrong, whisky-drinking man’s man an avid lover of steak, the writers of this show confirm his personality to a viewer. Your average American sees a burly, mustachioed man eating a steak, and their mind goes exactly where yours just went: to the manly man. You think “this guy is a real tough mudda”. Steak speaks to that without saying a word. Steak is a ubiquitous symbol for the raw and masculine, and creators of television, literature and advertisement know that.

This rugged masculinity in our culture is not limited to steak, of course. Consider Hemingway’s Cap, that most absurd item from the J. Peterman Catalog, which paints a picture of a customer who can feel the same sense of danger and adventure Hemingway himself felt so many times during his life simply by buying this cap. The blurb mentions material which is “unaffected by repeated rain squalls” and a color that is the “same as scalding espresso”. These images suggest that the wearer might find himself in a situation where a rugged, durable cap is absolutely necessary to his adventuring. The man who might buy this cap is the man who fancies himself a real man’s man; the kind of guy who would knock somebody out at a bar for looking at him funny, then proceed to crush his beer and ravage his woman before riding his motorcycle into the sticky Moroccan night. The Steak-Man. While this sort of masculinity is toxic to say the least, it has appealed to many men throughout history, and, once again, those who create content like this know it.

As a little cap to this post, I wanted to share a clip of a fictionalized J. Peterman from Seinfeld, the writers of which recognized and poked fun at the almost comical masculinity characteristic of the Peterman catalog.

The Norse in Films: An Extrapolation of Roland Barthes’ THE ROMANS IN FILMS (by Chris Forest)

Throughout his essay, The Romans in Films, Roland Barthes addresses the tendency for cinema, especially in his times, to fall back on symbols and tropes that are neither fully artificial, nor fully grounded in the reality beyond the silver screen. Specifically, he sites how Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar tends to fall back on the use of the roman fringe haircut, so as to help cast his mostly non-roman actors in a more convincing light. In fact, Barthes considers this use of the hair-cut a bit excessive, citing that “some of them [are] curly, some straggly, some tufted, some oily, all have them well combed, and the bald are not admitted, although there are plenty to be found in Roman history,” (26.2-4). In so discussing this recurring symbol, along with the excessive sweating attributed to the “violent, cataclysmic operation” of thought, as Barthes so sarcastically words it, he helps to address the silliness, even deceitfulness, of these depictions of ancient antiquity (27.40-28.1). In relying on these visual cues, they help to infuse falsehood into the truth of what was Rome, muddying our perceptions of the great civilization until we’re left with an artifice bearing only aesthetic similarities to the original. In effect, “they postulate a ‘nature’ which they have not even the courage to acknowledge fully,” (27.17). In such a way, the film becomes devalued, for it brings to the table something that is neither new and invented, nor something grounded in time-tested truth. It’s an empty depiction of the source material, which lies in a dissonant grey area between overt superficiality and an honest attempt at accuracy, which, especially by modern standards, only helps to take away from the film.

Of course, Barthes assertions need not be limited to the Hollywood depictions of Rome, either, for there are many other ethnic groups and civilizations that cinema has half-heartedly depicted for the sake of art. Consider, for example, the many depictions of medieval Scandinavia, with it’s blood-thirsty Vikings, wearing their horn-crowned helms as they pillage, plunder and make merry through pop-culture. To the casual onlooker, these things are so normalized that they’ve been taken for granted, to the point that even the most modern depictions of them hold to these tropes, as historically inaccurate as they’ve been found to be. Consider, for example, how they’re shown in this trailer for For Honor, a new and highly anticipated fighting game where Vikings are pitted against Knights and Samurai after a great calamity:

Strong, stoic, and raring for battle. They’re the height of Anglo-Saxon virility, some might say. This is the symbol we’ve crafted in the Viking’s wake. This is the inner warrior many men wish to breed within themselves. And yet, it could never speak for the full depth of who they really were. Even the term “Viking,” we’ve found, refers not to the whole of Scandinavian civilization, but to the smaller percentage of pirates and raiders who came out of a larger, far more colorful people than the common movie goer (or, in the above case, gamer) would care to believe.

To begin deconstructing this symbol, consider the iconic helmet, with it’s animal horns. They’ve come to represent a certain inner animosity, epitomizing the inner animal the Scandinavians unleashed in battle. However, no historical evidence exists to suggest such helms were ever worn into battle. In fact, overwhelming evidence suggests that it’s an invention of Germanic operas, during a time of German nationalism around the time of the eighteenth century.

Furthermore, they weren’t all brutes and thugs. Quite the contrary, many were proficient sailors and traders, able to make it to North America at a time when modern compasses weren’t even a thing.

Overall, like Mankiewicz’s Romans, how we depict the Vikings today is largely a hybrid between the truth of what happened in those days and an invention by those cultures that preceded them, seeding lies into the public consciousness as if they were truths. That said, though, what is true is the fact that these terrifying, fascinating raiders have come to symbolize everything we fear, and yet also everything many male individuals aspire to. Free, strong, stoic and proud, the symbol of the Vikings have mustered men together in the name of virility, as a token of Germanic nationalism, an avatar for a gamer’s fiery determination to succeed, and many other facets of manliness across the ages. In effect, they say more about us than they do about the historical Scandinavians themselves. So, even if they help to paint a deceitful picture of the way things were long ago, they still speak to us on a deep, visceral level. Perhaps such is why the myth of the Norsemen still survives, even in the wake of the truth.

 

Mythologies: The Romans in Films

In his “The Romans in Films” chapter of Mythologies, Ronald Barthes claims that in Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar, “no matter, everyone is reassured, installed in the quiet certainty of a universe without duplicity, where Romans are Romans thanks to the most legible of signs: hair on the forehead” (26). Basically, the viewer of the film is reassured that a Roman is a Roman because he is wearing fringe on his head. “The frontal lock overwhelms one with evidence, no one can doubt that he is in Ancient Rome” (26). This is Barthes’ way of saying that he is critical of the cheesy way of showing one particular aspect of a character in a movie because that’s all it is. There isn’t anything intellectual or deep about it.

“the sign is ambiguous: it remains on the surface, yet does not for all that give up the attempt to pass itself off as depth” (28).

In many young adult movies and TV shows there is a character, often a girl, who is seen as unattractive and/or awkward. That character is classified as a loser by her peers and usually only has a few friends. Many times, the way to spot such a character is that she is wearing glasses. Glasses have become a symbol of unpopularity in such movies and TV shows.  

In the movie The Princess Diaries, Mia Thermopolis, the protagonist, is seen as a nobody with frizzy hair and glasses. After she finds out that she is going to be a princess, she needs to go through a physical transformation. This involves that she wear contacts instead of her glasses. A character even breaks the glasses so that they are unwearable. The transformation goes as such:

When she gets rid of her glasses and brushes her hair, Mia is suddenly viewed as a beautiful young woman fit to be Princess of Genovia. Even though she is still the same person she was before, her physical transformation is what shows the viewer, and the other characters in the story, that she’s ready to rule a country, not her intelligence or personality.

A similar event takes place in the teen show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. The character Lisa Zemo has a crush on one of the main characters of the show, but he does not return her affections because she wears glasses and has a bad haircut. However, when she returns to school after a summer vacation, she has gone through a physical transformation and is no longer wearing, you guessed it, glasses. After her glasses are gone, the main character tries everything in his power to win her love, not because she’s changed as a person, but because she is more beautiful now and less uncool.

Even in Superman, when Clark Kent takes off his glasses, he is no longer a nobody who works at The Daily Planet newspaper; he is a superhero who has fantastic powers and saves the city of Metropolis from dangerous super villains. 

Glasses have a similar effect as the Roman fringe. They show the viewer one aspect of a character in a cheesy way, that aspect being their lack of coolness. It does not change their personality or their ability to preform tasks, such as saving a city or being a good princess. All it does is show the viewer that with their glasses on, they are seen as losers, and when the glasses are gone, they become a better looking version of themselves. It lacks depth and literally and figuratively remains on the surface. 

Ornamental Mad Men

The meat of the argument Roland Barthes makes in “Ornamental Cookery” is that the poor readers of Elle are not entitled to “real dishes,” which is why the magazine whose audience is primarily “small income groups” showcases such pretty, impractical dishes like partridges with cherries.

Like pink chicken, Barthes thinks that something isn’t quite right with the food presented in Elle. The food has a “smooth coating” that hides an unimportant “interdeterminate bedrock.” There are glazed, rounded surfaces, sauces, creams, icing, jellies, and a penchant for a pink theme throughout the tableau. It’s what’s on the outside that matters. The final presentation is the important part of the dish – the dish must show the “working class” public gentility through sight, not attainability. They’re poor, so they can’t actually buy a partridge, and even cherries are expensive. The chef puts a little sauce over the fowl and just like that, the “brutality of meat” is disguised. The meal is made respectable, what the masses want to be. Here, the practical and primary use of food is secondary to the myth of ornamental cookery. The consumption that’s happening is of pictures of the food, not the actual food.

If you’re thinking of pictures in a magazine that are good enough for consumption, then you might think of AMC’s Mad Men. The aesthetic is like a polished version of history far enough back that most of us only have hand-me-down memories of it, but close enough that it seems somehow attainable. Nearly every scene in the series is perfectly framed, the colors are coordinated, and it is all just pleasing. Even mundane settings like driving in a car or taking a meeting in a conference room seem to be a study in composition. The characters themselves are works of art, there is no detail spared. It always seems that the characters are frequently lost in thought, holding a smoking cigarette, which adds to the “cool” vibe.

Don Draper makes millions of dollars, has beautiful wives and girlfriends, and is considered to be one of the brightest stars of the advertising agencies where he is a partner. He has fine suits, a stream of new, nice cars, and (later) a fancy apartment. On the outside, he has everything and is massively successful. Everything always works out in the end for Don Draper.

His job and lifestyle is enviable – but unattainable to nearly everyone around him. He is thought of as a genius, effortlessly coming up with ideas that blow away clients with little to no preparation while it seems Pete and Ken are always working. His love life isn’t always happy but he always has hope for a romantic encounter, unlike Harry Crane (or most of the men at one time or another). Much like the boring or savage part of the meal under the glazing or glacé, he is made better with the ornamentation of all his achievements. The audience is able to overlook his flaws to consume his life as a whole.

Even though Don has a few terrible qualities, somehow a good mind and lots of luck let him coast through life, doing everything right even though he never seems to do anything and at times seems to sabotage himself. He is the artistically composed cherry covered partridge. He came from nothing, though, so isn’t he more attainable to the average working man? Not quite. When his past is revealed, it isn’t in the form of an inspiring come-up to where he is now but something that is terrible and needs to be repressed. An average man could never do the same, even the characters that come from money aren’t as successful as Don Draper. Are we not worthy of someone who has a smaller degree of success but who achieves it in a more natural, human manner? Would that be as interesting?

Anyway, what are the chances you get the chance to switch dog tags with your commander in Korea so that you can simultaneously fake your death and get a new identity? I wouldn’t count on it.

Detergents and… Dental Strips?

In Roland Barthes’ “Soap-powders and Detergents” from Mythologies, we learn about the dynamic of advertising campaigns that different companies use. In his particular example, he talks about the different connotations that are associated with products that serve the same purpose, but are of a different form of product. Two quarreling brands of laundry cleaners showcase advertisements differently. The brand “Omo”, a detergent, is noted for being able to overcome the negative connotation that detergent is harmful to the skin and clothing. To combat the “Persil” soap-powder brand, Omo’s commercials “indicate the effect of the product (and in superlative fashion, incidentally), but they chiefly reveal its mode of action; in doing so, they involve the consumer in a kind of direct experience with the substance” (37). They show exactly what their product does, which effectively neutralizes the myth of detergent being harmful.

In the vein of materials that clean, we turn our attention to whitening strips and toothpaste. We live in a world where cleanliness is equivalent to class and how presentable one is. Everyone knows the rule of brushing at least twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash to ensure proper dental hygiene. However, that’s not enough. Even with this method, there is still the possibility of something awful occurring in your mouth: yellow teeth. Enter whitening toothpaste. Just like nobody wants stains on their clothes, nobody wants stains on their teeth. There is a similar connotation with whitening ingredients in toothpaste as with the harmful chemicals in detergents. However, this Crest 3D White Deluxe Diamond Strong (which, by the way, is quite an impressive array of superficial titles to grant to a toothpaste) shows us, in a similar way to Omo’s detergent, the benefits of whitening:

Stronger enamel. Whitens your teeth. It has benefits! You can take selfies and not delete them because of your off-white teeth. The visual shows us exactly how the toothpaste will better the teeth. Like with the description of Omo’s detergent advertisement, we are walked through the effects of the toothpaste. Not only that, but the women change from a casual setting (where it’s okay not to necessarily look your best) to a party, where everyone can see you. This shows us that Crest 3D White Luxe Diamond Strong is going to allow us to go out into public without fear of tooth humiliation.

Now, if toothpaste weren’t enough, we also have whitening strips. Whitening toothpaste alone is so 2015. The fear here that has to be overcome is the issue of enamel removal. Everyone knows that enamel protects the teeth, and it’s dangerous to damage it. What’s interesting is that whitening strips seem to do a deeper clean, meaning that you’re able to be more confident with your smile. Let’s take a look at these two ladies enjoying a pleasant brunch in a 2016 commercial:

So, we see dilemma of not passing the tissue test. The issue is highly superficial, yes, but it remains in the same realm of advertising at Omo. If you consider Crest’s other product, just the toothpaste as the Persil of the Omo vs Persil dilemma, Crest Whitening Strips would be the Omo. Not only is it safe, but it’s better than just using whitening toothpaste. Just as Omo detergent is not only safe, but it does a deep clean. We see that by the contrast in the blonde woman’s teeth in either setting. There’s also a social aspect at play here: the women were previously outdoors, but now they are in a clearly elegant restaurant, where one is supposed to show that they are a cut above the rest. An upper crust wouldn’t have white teeth, would they?

As far the competitive teeth whitening industry goes, it’s clear that there’s a relation to maintaining safety, while assuring cleanliness. As Omo mastered the “art of having disguised the abrasive function of the detergent under the delicious image of a substance at once deep and airy” (37-38), Crest shows that their whitening toothpaste (and eventually, the better whitening strips) are safe and won’t harm teeth to get the deep cleaning, whitening effects. The stigma of chemical whitening, then the stigma of accidental enamel removal, are neutralized in these commercials.