This is a blog post on good advertising and bad internet-related habits. But it needs context, so bear with me. I used to be a big fan of a lot of things. Now I am a reasonably enthusiastic and critical fan of a handful of things and a passionate advocate of a very restricted number of things. And people. Today I found myself in vehement disagreement with the contents of a video by a Jaclyn Glenn, whose input I normally enjoy and appreciate. Now there’s a phenomenon that really irks me on the internet: the pervasiveness of partisan behaviours. If someone is in your general sphere of values, in the grand scheme of things, it would be reasonable to assume that you could politely disagree with them on individual issues, while reserving your most forceful responses for those whose views you oppose entirely, right? Wrong. The currently approved practice is to either agree completely with someone or rage at them for being traitors to a supposedly shared ideal. The video in question commented on the mixed reactions to an Audi commercial aired during the Superbowl, in which the value of gender equality is upheld and in which Audi declares its commitment to “equal pay for equal work”. Glenn’s take on that is not that the message is wrong, but that it is unnecessary and it perpetuates the idea that sexism and the wage gap still exist, when in fact they do not. So, today I am in complete disagreement with Glenn’s views and I’m committing to not being ruthlessly partisan therefore, instead of posting heated comments on her latest Youtube video, I will say positive things about the Audi commercial itself, which you can see below.
This commercial, which is receiving its own tidal wave of negative feedback, is, in my reasonably biased opinion, absolutely stunning. Its aim is obviously not the promotion of a line or model – indeed, an actual Audi car is visible for a grand total of 7 not consecutive seconds and we have about 2 seconds to realise that it is an S5. The ad is meant to increase brand awareness among a specific target audience and it does that brilliantly, using a positive message that is extremely uncharacteristic in the average language used by automotive brands. Unless I have missed the memo, the customary place for the owners of ovaries in car commercials is just about anywhere other than the driver’s seat, unless they are driving their progeny to school or unless the director is going for the Thelma&Lousie vibe. Even in those cases, the female being featured needs to be sexualised to some degree, just to remind the potential male heterosexual driver that acquiring an attractive female is among the chief reasons to acquire an expensive car. Because the two totally go together and we are notoriously willing to climb in with anyone as long as his ride is big, long and sleek. Even the BMW short film directed by Guy Ritchie and featuring Madonna as the ultimate power-bitch is not remotely empowering. In this commercial, the insufferably arrogant female is eventually overwhelmed and floored – to the point where she literally wets herself – by Clive Owen’s astounding and uniquely manly ability to… drive a car. Gee, thanks Guy, we needed you to remind us that it takes a real man to teach a bitch her place (WTF, Madonna?). See for yourselves.
This new Audi commercial is a much needed breath of fresh air on so many levels.
- It features an empowered young girl, rather than a sexualised adult female.
- The male voice narrating the scene shows us a man taking responsibility for sexism and actively fighting it.
- The girl is shown racing against boys and winning, which you would need to be very thin-skinned to find anti-man.
- The commercial also contains a message from the brand itself, explaining how it is actually embracing the values expressed in the video, by committing to equal pay for equal work.
Now, having just spent two days facepalming over a seriously lame and misjudged (if well-meaning) pro-equal-marriage ad that is currently circulating in Italy, I found myself applauding internally upon seeing the Audi commercial, and smashing down the like button with Thor’s hammer. We need more of this. We need heaps more.
So, my next question is: why would an intelligent, liberal and politically active young woman dismiss it and the whole idea of sexism as paranoid, victimising snowflakery?
The first flaw that I find in her reasoning is the same that I have encountered in the vast majority of American commentators on social issues: her perspective is not only entirely USA-centric (which would be understandable, since she is American, lives in the USA and is commenting on a commercial by Audi America that aired during a major American sporting event), but it also fails to take into account how everything that happens in the North-American media industry causes massive ripples in that blurred out section of Google Maps that is commonly known as not-the-USA. And while I find it difficult to believe that sexism has been completely eradicated in the USA, I can definitely and confidently state that it is alive and kicking on our side of the pond (and so is the wage gap). Is a white, conventionally attractive and relatively successful young woman – the kind that can probably rebuke harassers without turning a hair – more likely to think that sexism is no longer a thing, simply because she is so well equipped to deal with it that she fails to see how other women might still think it’s a problem? This would be my guess. Together with the fact that mainstream feminism (and, to an extent, fringe feminism), like all mass movements, tends to alienate individuals that object to even minor aspects of the accepted credo. This often results in free-thinkers drifting away from movements and embracing individual positions that might differ from the approved rulebook, while retaining a general agreement on the core philosophy. As I have stated at the beginning of this post, I refuse to reject someone entirely because I have disagreed with them on one issue out of an entire body of work that I generally appreciate and can get behind. I apply this rationale to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and I will apply it to Jaclyn Glenn too, confident that this is not the first time she gets bundled up with Dawkins in this kind of mixed judgment, nor will it be the last.
I’ll wrap this up by offering another car commercial for comparison. You draw the conclusions on this one. This is the Mercedes commercial aired during the very same Superbowl. How’s that for stereotyping?