Monday, April 09, 2012

The pond tries to think of the children, but somehow manages to fail ...

(Above: Helen Lovejoy, as if you didn't know already).

Whenever the pond's in search of a laugh, reading the latest outburst from Melinda Tankard Reist does the job.

Yes sex sells, and how better to sell a story about sex selling than to sell the sex story with a sexy shot of Dakota Fanning using sex to sell a perfume, which in the process doesn't just sell Dakota or her perfume but sells Reist ranting about how sex sells ...

Somewhere in Fairfax there's a subbie ironist or satirist with a wicked sense of humour. True, in the physical rag, Dakoka is absent, but on line anything and Reist goes ...

But really fair dibs, if you're going to rip off a Dakota Fanning ad to sell your own story about how sex sells, you really should give the full advertisement, and the plug it contains:

(Above: gentlemen readers, and women who like women, may click to enlarge, but we will be taking notes).

The Dakota image of course is from an old controversy, way back in 2011, when the ad got pulled in Britain, which you can read about here, and - it almost goes without saying, in the tut tutting Mail Online here - and speaking of the Daily Mail, there's an excellent profile of the rag by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, in Mail Supremacy The newspaper that rules Britain, at the time of writing happily outside the paywall.

Okay, now we've all done our best to revive almost forgotten sexualised images and controversies, what else can Reist do for us?

It turns out not very much. Oh sure there's an opening evocation of the world as a giant porn theme park, as if somehow an interest in sex and sexuality and couples and coupling and fucks and fucking and bodies grasping and groping in the sweaty fetid humid atmosphere of a Sydney summer is somehow strange and alien:

Ever feel like you're living in a giant porn theme park? Billboards dominate public space with hyper-sexualised messages. Buses are painted with semi-naked women. There are pole-dancing themes in shopfronts, porn mags next to the lollies at the petrol station counter, T-shirts in youth surf shops depicting S&M and Playboy bunnies on everything from girls' jewellery to doona covers.

Oh no, sex is all around, and the coupling and the grunting and the moaning and the panting and the mating like animals and the hyper-sexuality and the semi-nakedness and the pole-dancing classes on Parramatta road, and the porn mags everywhere rubs of on children (What's that you say? Publisher pulls plug on ailing FHM magazine? You mean the time for cocksure bloke-culture, sex, gags, grog and gadgets magazines has passed? Strange, the pond thought you only had to mention sex and you were guaranteed to sell a squillion)

Oh yes it's hysteria time, as if there's something wrong with being semi-naked (what to make of being fully naked, as if clothed by god?) And it so happens that the pond has a T-shirt with an S&M theme, but really it doesn't compare to the pond's favourite T-shirt showing Christ as an alien ...

The line has to be drawn at Playboy and Hooters of course, but going fully naked takes away any unsavoury implications or suggestions that there's a need to support the trade-marked brand of professional dirty old man Hugh Hefner, who was quaint when he exploded in the nineteen fifties.

But where is all this hand-wringing and hysteria leading us? Why it's that good old Helen Lovejoy mantra, Will someone please think of the children?

Devotees of The Simpsons will know that the show relentlessly sexualises children, shown most clearly in the episode where Bart, voiced by a woman, is beguiled by ten year old Jessica Lovejoy, voiced by Meryl Streep. And they were doing that in 1994!

There's simply no end to the gender confusion or sexualisation involved in the episode. Jessica is bad to the bone, and she loves Bart when he's a bad boy, and yes, it's another insight into the way wicked girl women lead innocent boys into a life of sin and crime ...

But enough of The Simpsons. We almost forgot Tankard Reist:

Children are absorbing distorted messages about their bodies, sexuality and gender roles because the Advertising Standards Board does not consider objectification of women contrary to prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.

Indeed. And we haven't even begun to think about the objectification of men, or Jessica Lovejoy objectifying Bart, or come to think of it, Bart objectifying Jessica:

The solution is obvious. We must allow the Taliban to invade the country, and begin to impose strict moral standards on advertising, and The Simpsons, and television and perhaps even Santa's Little Helper. Only then will the purity of our bodily essences be strictly preserved.

It turns out that the AMA is on Reist's side, and now the AMA calls for action on ads sexualising children.

Indeed. How might we illustrate a story showing that very thing in action?

Yes, by showing the advertisement Roger David was asked to withdraw.

Fortunately children don't read the Herald, or pay any attention to the AMA, or attend the pond, so no harm has been done at all.

It seems that showing images of sexualised children is now a public health issue, though in the days the pond was growing up, the anxiety that came from sex and sexuality was the refusal of anyone to acknowledge that it existed in any form. Pimples were about as close as anyone came to acknowledging that sex might produce some kind of eruption, and sexual anxiety came from an understanding that there was something not quite right if Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree series was the final word on boy and girl sexuality.

But now it seems there's a new understanding that in those long lost days there was no anxiety about physical appearance and sexuality in pre-teen and mid-teen girls, because that's only arise as the result of disturbing and sexually exploitative images in current advertising:

As psychologist Steve Biddulph, who is writing a book on girls, says: ''There is an erosion of self-image by the corporate media sector … the creation of anxiety about physical appearance and sexuality in pre-teen and mid-teen girls.''

Indeed. But what about the creation of anxiety about the creation of anxiety by advertising?

What a relief that the pond never experienced any sexual confusion in the good old days when reading Wonder Woman:

(And there's plenty more confusing comic book cover action to be found here).

Oh we almost forgot Tankard Reist again, but there's a lot more than Wonder Woman that's getting her agitated, and so she ends up demanding a regulatory system independent of the vested interests of marketers and drawing on the expertise of child health professionals. There'll probably be a few plum board seats for expert members of the AMA.

But really there's an alternative message, one that might be addressed to Reist and to the American Republican party.

Get out of the lives and minds and bodies of women and men and let them determine for themselves how they will live their lives and understand their sexuality, without the constant yammering on about pornography and the need to regulate, and without hysteria about children being used as the thin edge of the legislative wedge.

We've already been down that path, and now we've even reached the point where children are turning up on permanent child offender registers (Youth sexting and the law). Yep, a law designed to address power imbalances and the exploitation of children by adults has been turned on children, allegedly exploiting children.

Instead of getting anxious about the world being a porn paradise - there's always Iran if you feel it's too much - and using adult images and activities to pummel advertising, how about a few alternative strategies.

If people don't like a marketing strategy, let them boycott the product and the company and the strategy. If you want to tackle a real obscenity, have a go at child beauty pageants (Ban tot 'terror' in baby beauty pageants).

But please don't dress it up in a general rant about sexuality and nudity, as if there's something wrong with these concepts, and they're sure to introduce anxiety in the young, when actually sex should be a source of pleasure as long as you're living (well so the pond hopes, and it's working thus far).

Heck, let people refuse to read stories raising a ruckus about sexualised advertising if the stories feature advertising pulled for featuring sexualised imagery (and let's not wander down the path of whether children are sexualised naturally, because then there'll be Freudian mayhem).

The last thing we need is yet another re-run of Taliban-type purists assuring us that lives and sexuality are being ruined by comic books, by movies, by television, and by advertising.

By all means, use opportunities provided by advertising to explain just how fucked up all advertising is, as it plays with our secret fears and insecurities, our desires and our dreams, and our lust for an enhanced, sexuality active lifestyle with bonus internet-connected refrigerator ... but how about a little sex and advertising education, instead of over-zealous regulation and censorship?

People (and hard as it is, if you think of them as people, advertisers) will push at the edges.

They always have and they always will. Paying attention to them gives them the edge that they seek, that they think they need.

It was all summed up a long time ago by Monty Python in The Meaning of Life:


Lady Presenter: [briskly] Well, that's the End of the Film, now
here's the Meaning of Life.

[An envelope is handed to her. She opens it in a
business-like way.]

Thank you Brigitte. [She reads.]... Well, it's nothing
special. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a
good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and
live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds
and nations. And finally, here are some completely gratuitous
pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully
spark some sort of controversy which it seems is the only way
these days to get the jaded video-sated public off their
fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family
entertainment bollocks! What they want is filth, people doing
things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties,
babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay
presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens,
armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats -
where's the fun in pictures? Oh well, there we are - here's
the theme music. Goodnight.

However you cut it, the image we started out with of Dakota Fanning isn't as bad as vigilante groups strangling chickens.

Hmm, now there's a reminder. It's a holiday Monday. Speaking of the gratuitous exploitation of women, men, and audiences, must round the weekend off with a viewing of One Million Years B.C.

Down gentlemen readers down. No, not the one featuring Raquel Welch and made in 1966 and warping images of sexuality until the twelfth of never.

The one with Carole Landis and Victor Mature, churned out by Hal Roach Jr. in 1940:

Now there was a truly classic set of highly sexualised images.

What's that you say, we need to regulate this offal, and couples must be shown retiring to single beds, and men must keep a leg touching the floor if they dare to kiss a woman lying in bed? For fear of upsetting the children and giving them dangerous ideas?

Oh go watch Lolita. No, not the Adrian Lyne version, which is much too explicit and leaden.

Try Stanley Kubrick's version, flawed, but which understands how even a hula hoop can inflame the senses of a wayward man. And yet there's not a hint of nudity in sight.

How strange. But we do look forward to Tankard Reist crusading to ban the hula hoop for the way it highly sexualises children ...

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