Emerson Waldorf School held their annual Waldorf Education Day this morning, and the theme was "True Connection in a Hyper-Connected World." Waldorf schools have a very cautious view of media and technology, and believe that TV and computers should be introduced to children in a thoughtful, age-appropriate, and conscious way, when they are ready for it. That generally means that they introduce media much later than others schools, but then have a much more conscious engagement with it later. So, for instance, you won't see a computer in most elementary and middle school Waldorf classes, but you might see an eighth grade class start learning about computers by building their own from scratch.
One workshop I attended this morning on teaching media awareness had an interesting demonstration, that I thought I would pass on. (Hat tip to Jerry Stifelman of The Change Creation and Lisa Braden of the Emerson Waldorf School.)
First look at this ad for Axe Body Spray. "This is 100% guaranteed to offend all feminists in the room," says Braden. Clearly, a callous appeal to young men, at the expense of the dignity of women.
Now, look at this interesting pitch, a part of Dove's Real Beauty campaign. "Seems like a nice, wholesome, love-yourself message for young women, right?" Braden asks. "The complete opposite of the Axe ad."
Now for the punchline: both the Axe and the Dove brands are owned by the same company, Unilever.
The moral of the story: advertising is not a reflection of values, or lifestyles, or ideals. Advertising's sole purpose is to sell things -- and companies will use whatever means necessary to make you buy their products. What our children -- and all of us -- need is a greater awareness of how the media manipulates our opinions.
There is something in my brain that just refuses to think in feminism.
What was offensive about the first ad? As I understand it, the point of the ad was that women all love a guy who uses this cologne. That, in itself, sounds like a feminist statement to me, insofar as it reverses the classic trope that "men all love a woman who wears this perfume."
Maybe it was the behavior of the women? No, wait, they were acting like fierce jungle warriors.
Aha! It must be the fact that they were in bikinis! Any attempt to attract young men by showing women in bikinis is sexist. We're all supposed to pretend that men don't like looking at women's bodies, or at least, we're not supposed to cater to it. The feminists and the fundamentalists can agree on that.
Turning to the main point about advertising, I don't get that either. Is the implication that the people behind the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign don't actually care about what they're pitching, but are just cynically trying to tap into feminist sentiment to sell soap? If so, I don't think the world is that simple. Of course they're trying to sell soap. They may fully believe in what they're doing, too. When people rent my Wintergreen house, I give 20% of the rent to poverty-related charities. I make a big deal of this on my Web site. Am I really trying to help the poor, or just trying a publicity gimmick? Well, duh. I'm doing both.
"But wait!" you cry. "Doesn't the fact that the same company makes both ads prove that the second ad is purely cynical?" Nope. Even if we grant that the first ad is horribly sexist--and there's no denying that it plays upon the popular conception of beauty that the second ad decries--that doesn't prove a thing. Completely different people are behind those two campaigns, even if they both ultimately draw their checks from Unilever. This is where we run into trouble when we anthropomorphize companies.