I read/watched this great post at Feminist Frequency about this new trend of intentional, over the top sexism that has popped up in TV and ads yet. You know, the kind of ads that portray women as being ditzy sex bombs and men as being so douchey and sex-crazed that you can’t help but laugh. Silly ad guys, we know you’re exaggerating! We all know it’s on purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less sexist. The use of irony doesn’t distance them from doing it.
They call this retro sexism, and they define it as “Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.” Here, watch the whole vid.
But that’s not even what I want to talk about. Because I see an equally heinous and equally “wink wink nudge nudge” situation going with product placement in TV shows.
It used to be that when a TV show strategically placed cans of soda or types of chips around the apartment set, or put a scene in a Burger King, we would roll our eyes and go “Ugh, gross, like we’re not going to notice that you’re doing this! We’re too smart for this.”
The ad guys heard, because they used the greatest trick in the book on us: convincing us that we’re somehow in on the joke. These days, they make it so obvious and open that product placement is happening that they literally break the fourth wall just to tell us how great a product is. “Ok”, they’re saying, “We get that you don’t like it when we sneak it in, but what about if we do it while looking you full in the face?”
And somehow, that’s become ok.
Seinfeld used Junior Mints and JuJuFruits as major plot points, Curb Your Enthusiasm was constantly doing shows revolving around Larry’s Prius, and let’s not even get started on 30 Rock. This past week featured a Capital One ad during the show, and a lot of the blogs I read about the episode (which was great) talked about them “slamming” product placement with their “scathing use of anti-product placement”. Um, what part of Alec Baldwin turning to the camera and saying “I love my Capital One card, I get double miles every time” was anti? Just because they’re doing it out in the open doesn’t make it any less of an in-show advertisement.
Community did an entire episode about KFC this past week. Again, another brilliant episode, and another brilliant product placement. This one won my respect a bit more, I must say, because rather than just 30-Rock style commenting on how great the product was, like Senor Chang when the press shows up- “I’m trying to buy us some time with these Doublicious sandwiches, but they thought I was doing product integration for KFC.”- they just made the cast interact with someone else’s cheesy idea of product placement, a KFC-themed rocket built in the 80s. The writers still had to work and figure out how to make this product placement a part of the world of the cast, and for that, I applaud them.
I’ve read since then that KFC actually sponsored last week’s episode, and Community is so brilliant that I don’t care what they have to do to keep it on the air. Maybe if product placement is a reality we have to face, let’s not be lazy about it and just go straight to meta fourth wall breakage. Since we all know it’s an obvious thing that’s happening, maybe let’s do like Community did, and ride that extra crispy rocket ship to the next dimension.
But let’s not call it “in your face anti-product placement”. It’s just in your face.