On-Campus
Exhibits
Industry
About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
 
Print Version

Social Categories in Advertising Images

In this issue, four original articles investigate the changes and overlaps that occur across the representation of social categories in advertising images.

In the first piece, "Deconstructing Hegemonic Masculinity," Kevin Thomas sets out a theoretical framework for understanding representations of masculinity as an intersection between race and gender. He begins with a long historical lens that opens on the slave period in American history and its attendant ideologies of black masculinity and femininity, then works forward to an analysis of contemporary print advertising aimed at young black and white readers.

Next, Jessamyn Neuhaus works through the product history of disposable diapers to trace the interaction between gender norms for child care and the advertisers' attempts to reach and represent nonwhite parents. In "Dad Test," Neuhaus documents the ways that gender norms were filtered through white, African-American, and Latin-American fathers represented in the ads, giving further credence to the notion that such figures must be understood in intersectional terms. In the end, however, changing gender norms for parents in contemporary times cause a Huggies spot to backfire: the traditional manner of poking fun at fathers' attempts to take care of babies did not sit well with today's parents. Thus, the need to adopt a dynamic view, even of advertising stereotypes, is underscored.

In "Selling American Beauty to Teen Girls," Chung-kue Jennifer Hsu analyses the celebrity ads that populate Seventeen magazine today. Hsu's analysis implicitly adds three dimensions of social life that would further complicate the notion of "ideals" for either gender or race: celebrity, age, and lifestyle. While celebrity emulation is often treated as a monolithic influence in research, the fact is that celebrities come in a range of characters that individuate social classes. Consider, for instance, the very different notions of black femininity represented by Halle Berry and Queen Latifah or the range of ideals suggested by, say, Lindsay Lohan, Diane Keaton, and Maggie Gyllenhall. Or between Pink and Penelope Cruz and Pamela Anderson? These are not variations easily captured by brute social categories like race, class, and gender.or even by typical research categories like sexy, athletic, and demure.

Our Classic Campaign entry for this issue, by Catherine Coleman, looks at the Nike campaign that featured Michael Jordan and Spike Lee: the 1990s run that said "It's gotta be the shoes." Here we see two highly admired, but very different ideals of black masculinity, Spike Lee's intellectual irony and Michael Jordan's athletic virtuosity, come together in a brilliant campaign. This stylish set of spots challenged a century of advertising practice that had excluded blacks from roles inspiring admiration, denying black youth positive role models in mainstream media. Yet the alleged impact was to create dangerous patterns of covetous violence in the streets.

Though these articles each contribute to our understanding of the workings of race, gender, and age representations in advertising, we are left with the unavoidable conclusion that this is a more subtle, various, and unpredictable phenomenon than most research treatments have thus far approached.

Linda M. Scott
Editor

 

Advertising & Society Review

Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.