Monday, 26 April 2010

A telling chance encounter

A brief entry while you’re waiting with baited breath for the promised (and by now almost certainly over-hyped!) post on The Room

Yesterday I witnessed a comically stark warning against the smug sense of superiority that can sometimes haunt contemporary responses to older cultural objects. On the website College Humor I came across the following hosted video, labelled ‘Misogynistic Coffee Commercial’:

Fair enough: an amusingly/outrageously dated and embarrassing example of a sexist 50s (or early 60s?) impulse to position women as single-mindedly domestic housewives (the discussion with the friend taking place in the kitchen too, of course – no work, or even life outside the home, for this character).

However, imagine my amazement when this video immediately segued (College Humor being a site funded by advertisements) into the following new commercial for Twix:

The irony, I think you’ll agree, is painful. It’s all too easy to reassure ourselves about the supposedly more enlightened era we live in by sneering at the shortcomings of the past, but we should always remain wary of such complacency. In some ways, the contemporary commercial is even more depressing than its older counterpart: not only does it casually treat the very idea of a woman's political commitment as risible, its point of view also places us firmly within the mind of this chauvinist chump, while the coffee ad’s female focus at least allows us a glimpse into some of the anxieties underlying this marriage's sexual economy (that constant threat of “the girls at the office”!).

What's more, this latest ad appears in a cultural moment when received post-PC knowledge routinely tells us that it is now men who are getting unfairly treated by advertising (as claimed by this typically outraged Daily Mail article). This is certainly a complex issue, but, as this chance meeting across the decades reminds us, we are definitely still a long way from being able to consign institutionalised sexism to Folgers’ anachronistic world of black-and-white film stock and high-neck, floral-patterned shirts.