Archive for carls jr

Equal Opportunity Knocks

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, British Shows on American TV, Reality TV, TV advertising with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2015 by Tom Steward

If there’s one thing Dancing with the Stars is in dire need of – apart from a decent house band, a competent co-host and, y’know, stars – it’s an equal opportunities seminar. I don’t know how many sensitivity courses you’ve been on, but they’ll all tell you (and if they don’t you should) that equality isn’t about treating everyone the same. One of the best teachers I ever had, the film writer and sociologist Richard Dyer, once explained equality to me using male and female public toilets. Men rush in and out, while women take longer. So while giving men and women a bathroom each with the same number of facilities might superficially seem to be giving them identical resources, the sexes are not being treated equally.

I'll give it 5.

I’ll give it 5.

This struck me two seasons ago when Judge Len Goodman told contestant Amy Purdy, who has prosthetic limbs below both knees, that he was going to score her like everyone else in the competition, and that she’d prefer it that way. For the entire competition, Purdy was judged against able-bodied dancers (and Billy Dee Williams) rather than on a scale of achievement that befitted her unique body type. It wouldn’t have been easy for the judges, especially as Purdy herself kept changing the rules of what was possible with her body week by week, but they never had any intention of taking her different abilities into account. To not even attempt this, and to assume Purdy wanted this kind of judging, is to ignore equality.

The Judges have continued to score disabled contestants in this fashion, even when they are physically prevented from competing at the same level as the other dancers. This season features Noah Galloway, who has both his left leg and arm missing. While the Judges are happy to gush and cry for the cameras over Galloway’s overcoming of the odds (and he’s a veteran too, so nothing but conspicuous sentimentality will do), they give him decidedly average scores, reminding us that that they are painting two more limbs on his body in their minds. The Judges’ rhetoric seems to have some idea of how equality works. Carrie Ann Inaba talked of how Galloway ‘challenged’ her judging. But there’s no evidence of this in the competition itself.

But Dancing with the Stars is already a show that seems designed to give Shami Chakrabarti nightmares. It asks people of different ages, genders, bodies and professional dance experience to compete against each other, with no consideration given to how there should be different judging criteria for each group. Doubtless there is some ideological undercurrent of the cream rising to the top regardless of adversity here and whoever said entertainment was a level playing field? However, if the show wishes to bask in the glory of giving a national TV platform to minorities and a diverse range of people (as it has referred to itself doing on several occasions) it cannot simply work around the fact that democracy is just as much about positive discrimination.

I’ve talked about the show’s objectification of female bodies before – and it’s getting no better – but in recent weeks we’ve actually seen feminist perspectives on Dancing with the Stars being written off live on air as ‘cyber-bullying’. Contestant Charlotte McKinney received harsh criticism and, let’s face it, personal abuse from social media after the star of sexist Carl’s Jr. commercials appeared in the season premiere. Her experience was the basis of the pre-dance ‘package’ (although why we have to all use the industry term here, I don’t know) in Week 2 and following her dance, the negative Twitter comments read-out on air were all dismissed as body jealousy by the judges Julianna Hough and Bruno Tonioli and then as body fascism by co-host Erin Andrews.

Benny Hill guest-judges on DWTS!

Benny Hill guest-judges on DWTS!

Now, I’m not saying that the sinister forces of the internet comments feed weren’t at work here and I don’t approve of targeting someone who is as much a victim of the sexist culture as the women it leaves out (as opposed to, say, the people who sit down and write the Carl’s Jr ads). That said, it’s clear to me that many of those comments, however personally directed they were, were aimed at McKinney’s participation in advertising that demeans and degrades women, and to disregard all the criticism directed at her as troll-grudge is to silence a protest against television’s ongoing celebration of women as sexual objects. Dancing with the Stars cannot continue to swim in these choppy waters without changing its body politics.

Advertisements

Bonus Ball

Posted in American TV (General), TV advertising, TV channels, TV Sports, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by Tom Steward

I’m sure most of you are over The Super Bowl for another year (this really should be called ‘Watching TV after Americans’) but I’m far more interested in an aspect of the event that doesn’t change each year – although even for someone to whom ‘football’ means round balls and bad pies it was a pretty great game – which is the TV generated around it. The Super Bowl on TV seems never to start or end, making it the perfect metaphor for the medium. As it’s assumed that large portions of the nation are watching, which is no mean feat these days, The Super Bowl is a bat-signal for advertising. For the same reason, counter-programming decides to take one for the team, but those networks that try to take on The Super Bowl must do so in the most ruthless ways possible to even get noticed. This year, however, there were some added satirical bonuses.

I’m used to televised sporting events starting a few minutes later than advertised to sneak in a commercial break while everyone’s watching, but I was not prepared to be sitting on the couch at 3.30 still waiting for the game to begin. And for what? John Travolta’s Adele Dazi trying to break Bleedin’ Gums Murphy’s record for the longest rendition of ‘Star Spangled Banner’? The presentation of the NFL’s annual ‘didn’t rape or hit anyone’ award? Don’t we have a pre-show for this? The mechanics of modern television have manoeuvred themselves so that we are continually watching prelude. The Super Bowl goes one better and expects we will enjoy it. It’s moments like this which remind us that commercial television form is an integral part of the way that a game of American football is structured, rather than the British kind which is merely pricked around the edges by commercial interruption.

Commercials broadcast during The Super Bowl are notorious for being sexist, portentous and counter-intuitive. Half-time act Katy Perry clearly wanted to take some of the heat off the sexist commercials, but they were out in full force, not as well-disguised by nob gags as the advertisers clearly thought. Carl’s Jr. has even managed to turn gender discrimination into a branding mechanism for its Super Bowl ads. But this year they didn’t go unchallenged. Feminine health company Always ran a semantic deconstruction of the gender assumptions and discourses behind the phrase ‘Like a Girl’ while Saturday Night Live staged a fake Totino’s ad exposing the unbelievably narrow gender stereotypes and chauvinistic divisions of Super Bowl ads, particularly the archetypal representation of women as child-minded homemakers. Somewhere in the middle was Fiat’s ‘Viagra’ campaign which unironically presented pumped-up virility and machismo as a draw but also satirised male sexual prowess and the idealised feminine body.

Part of the fun of watching Super Bowl commercials is trying to figure out what product the pretentious pre-amble will eventually advertise (clue: anything combining ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ is deodorant). But sometimes the logic of ad writers is beyond even those who dissect media images for a living. A ghost-child commercial is the perfect vehicle for a leukaemia or cancer charity, but it does nothing to ameliorate the ghoulish undertones of an insurance company. Another insurance company, Esurance, seems intent on using circular logic and specious reasoning similar to the Johnny Cochran O.J. glove defence to convince consumers of its superiority to established rival Geico, but as long as that involves Walter White as a drugstore pharmacist I don’t much mind. If you tire of the commercials, you can switch over to The Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet’s re-imagining of The Super Bowl through the imagery of illegal competitive dog-fighting. For cute read irresponsible.

As with SNL, the most authentic example of Super Bowl television was the least genuine. Key & Peele have always satirized American sport and its coverage, but with their simulated Super Bowl pre-show staged as a real network broadcast, it was far more than a send-up. There was plenty to ridicule: the ill-fitting suits of the former-pro presenters, the passive-aggressive banter, the live-action footer trails of network sitcoms always starring ‘Alison Janney’, and of course the beyond-hyperreal graphics with overly phallic connotations. But the real-time flow and denouement in which the digital robot mascot achieves self-awareness and propels humanity into a state of oblivion identifies The Super Bowl and its live, ongoing broadcast with a dystopian terror effect that reminded me of another piece of faked factual horror television, the one-off BBC drama Ghostwatch. There is something inherently wrong and otherworldly about TV’s broadcast of The Super Bowl, the same something as television itself.

The Second Sets

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, TV advertising, TV Criticism with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by Tom Steward

When it comes to certain aspects of American popular culture, I feel I’m in a Twilight Zone of opinion. The stark commercialism, gross sentimentality and tasteless sensationalism that many Americans take for granted remain horribly apparent to me. And so it is with the casual objectification and sexual mapping of women’s bodies in American media. Watching David Fincher’s Gone Girl at the weekend, it occurred to me than even in a movie about how women suffer under men female bodies are still routinely exploited. What alarms me just as much as its ubiquity is how little it is commented on. There are many similarly horrific depictions of women in the British media (The Sun’s ‘Page 3’ for example). But whereas in Britain I felt the right people said it was wrong and the wrong people said it was right, when it happens here I’m not even sure if anyone cares!

Who's the commodity?

Who’s the commodity?

On television there are a number of ad campaigns that are content merely to have semi-nude women comporting in erotic poses and engaging pseudo-sexually with the objects around them. They are pornography in the raw, images of pure titillation designed to elicit perverted gazing and deployed without a hint of irony or subversion. Some of these are for businesses like Hooters where female objectification is ingrained in the brand, and would be somewhat expected, but others such as fast-food chain Carl’s Jr and electronics outlet Radio Shack have taken it upon themselves to invent this associative imagery. I’ve seen clips from these commercials appear in articles and videos attacking the media’s treatment of women – and I don’t discount those as notable protests – but what I don’t see is a recognition in everyday discourse of how problematic these campaigns are but rather a blind eye to or complicit acceptance of them.

I’d like to believe that the pornographic impulses of advertising account for the way that women appears in these commercials but looking at the programming around them, television must shoulder some of the responsibility. On the ABC ballroom reality competition Dancing with The Stars, group numbers featuring the female dancers invariably call upon the imagery of the strip club and the peep show, turning each of their bodies into platforms of sexual consumption for the cameras rather than a medium of artistic expression. Two recent TV awards shows even thematically incorporated the treatment of women’s bodies as sexualised objects. The Emmys had actress Sofia Vergara exhibit her body on a revolving pedestal for the sake of a half-baked pun about ‘giving viewers something compelling to watch’. The MTV Video Music Awards united female performers Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea by having them each ‘twerk’ during their respective performances.

The turn in American media towards over-sexualisation is not lost on everyone in television. On their eponymous Comedy Central show, sketch comics Key & Peele recently featured a razor-sharp piece of pop satire in which a Minaj-like artist is confronted by young female fans on a cable music television show who are confused as to how her feminist polemic equates to her lyrics, which all revolve around women demeaning themselves sexually for men. The artist is then revealed to be a man in a wig (which, of course, he already is!) who is embarking on a dastardly scheme to convince women that overt sexualisation is the same thing as empowerment. The skit reveals a sad truth about how the attractive façade of feminine authority and independence attached to the most successful women in the media offers not sexual freedom but further bondage, and might as well be from a man.

Key & Peele have a real knack for unearthing the contradictions in mainstream American culture, so we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised that they pick up on these gender problems. Vergara and The Academy got roundly panned, as did Seth MacFarlane two years ago for a song about female star nudity when presenting The Oscars. It fascinates me that criticism is reserved for the higher end of television – like awards shows celebrating the best in the popular arts – and directed at instances that have some level of play and self-knowledge about them, while the same when done in the name of entertainment and spectacle, like the VMAs, does not warrant reproach. Of course, a knowing objectification of women is not much better than an oblivious one, but by dwelling on the more self-conscious examples, we threaten to leave the habitual exploitation of female bodies unchecked and trickling down into the mainstream.

%d bloggers like this: