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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2003 / 4 Adar I, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports


Testy TV riles feminists


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Glad to see they're on it. Someone's gotta watch out for the women. As if that Miller Lite "Catfight" bit -- where hotties mud wrestle over the tastes-great-less-filling debate -- weren't enough, those Super Bowl commercials come along and add to the gender-biased, exploitative and completely insensitive portrayal of women.

That's why we have "feminist monitors" -- volunteers who rated Super Bowl commercials for "Watch Out, Listen Up! 2003 Feminist Super Bowl AdWatch." It's the first such report for the National Organization for Women Foundation and its sister, NOW, so presumably this will become a breathlessly awaited annual event.

As NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy said in a pre-release press release, this season's football ads have been pulling in the complaints, so "we thought it was about time that we brought a woman's perspective to the Monday-morning-quarterbacking on the ads."

Sure! How else would we know that "men were again the big winners" in Super Bowl ads, that more men than women were featured, and content was largely directed at male viewers?

Really? During the Super Bowl? That's football, right? The testy-rush game with huge men knocking down other equally huge men? That's a kicker. Also stunning is that humor was aimed primarily at men; no female sports stars appeared, as compared to six -- six! -- male athletes; and male celebrity spokesmen -- sorry, spokespeople -- outnumbered women, although by a smaller margin. Not good.

But at least one Feminist Monitor -- FMs watched 75 ads and rated diversity, sexual exploitation, violence and social responsibility -- wasn't bothered by all this maleness: "I don't mind the number of male-oriented ads. In fact, I will get worried when the ads are more female-oriented. I prefer to think that not many women care about the Super Bowl."

Rock on! The event is all based on patriarchal forms of human interaction anyway. In fact, football and other male brutality are probably the reason female crime is increasing.

And violence is a concern. As one FM commented, "The movie ads were all violent. Even though I want to and will probably see a few of them, looking at them as a whole, I was disturbed by the amount of violence contained in the ads." Watching violent movies despite the violence is probably research. Need to know what the enemy is up to.

Fifteen commercials made it into the best-ads category. Included was the FedEx "Cast Away" spoof, which one FM liked because it depicted a woman showing a man he should have been smarter. Man as idiot while woman knows best sells well these days.

Also at the top was the bison stampeding a city street as a Levi's-wearing man and woman withstand the onslaught. While the duo were noticed for their thin frames and pretty faces, the girl-power message was applauded, because the two both "stood their ground, instead of the woman clinging on to the man." See, pop culture that annoys with its grating hipness ain't all bad -- even if the chosen model wouldn't survive a strong wind. Perhaps the Levi's would hold her up.

Beer ads populated the worst 15, because, well, they're known for realism and targeting a female demographic -- during the Super Bowl. The beer spot with guys trying to pick up girls with a conch shell offended, not because it was stupid, but because men do most of the talking in football-time commercials when lots of men watch. (Do men saturate commercials on Lifetime?) And another beer ad in which a man's mind wanders while his girlfriend talks was noted as "disrespectful," because women need more respect. Deriving humor from women who yack too much isn't politically correct.

NOW isn't new to rating television content, and some points are valid, such as the prevalence of unrealistically tiny women and an objection to reality programming. Because commercials are often a reflection of us, they're not immune to criticism.

But they're also not literal. Every commerical with a less-than-bright blond is not an affront to the modern woman. The man who chuckles at ads mocking fantasies that won't come true for 99.9 percent of men probably isn't secretly aching to shuttle women back into the kitchen. In fact, the guy most likely to laugh is the one who grew up with a working mother, has a sister in graduate school and listens to his wife talk about her workday.

So, how 'bout we lighten up? And if we really want to talk commercials, I've got some female-oriented ads I'd like to discuss.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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10/09/02: Little monsters
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08/08/02: Why women will remain the at-risk gender
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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times