An interesting presentation of advertising to children.
An interesting presentation of advertising to children.
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Kilbourn The Critic: Killing us Softly
Obsession with thinness, belief in an ideal image of beauty, and violence against women are Kilbourn’s three main talking points. Everything she says in Killing us Softly she can relate back to one of these three ideas. Two of which seem to be the same thing to me, but that is I guess, beside the point. The realities are that Kilbourn’s arguments and criticisms, while seemingly raising valid points, are slightly outdated, not supported, biased showy opinions, not in anyway proving that any specific ad has inflicted harm on any one person and essentially not useful.
Kilbourn herself said she had collected most of her ads many years ago. Also, that she was a model, as the saying goes, way back in the day. I think it is naive to think that things have not changed since then. I have come across many resources that indicate a slow and steady change in the modeling/fashion industry in the last decade. More and more designers desire a filled out model versus a skeletal model. Models now are starting to look healthy. Now, that doesn’t go to say they are living healthy lifestyles, but that is a different essay. Sure, pictures in magazines are over photoshopped, but would it look as appealing to read and look at if the pictures weren’t pretty?
Killing us Softly is a documentary of opinion. Sure, Kilbourn has many numbers supporting her claims, but she doesn’t have the numbers for the other side that would support said claims. A well articulated argument based off of statistics or facts, should always present the other side’s statistics and show that their argument is still supported by it. She correlates things that are not scientifically proven. You can not take two facts such as 1) aggressive depiction of men in advertising and 2) high levels of violence against women in society, and just deduct that the only reason men are violent against women is because they are depicted to be aggressive in general in advertising. Correlation does not imply causation. You can not state two facts such as 1) All murderers drink water and 2) levels of murders are on the rise, and deduct that drinking water causes murders.
Kilbourn simply presents her perception and opinion. As Sheehen says, “Criticism can be speculative, based on an intuitive assessment that is literal minded and based on a previously developed conviction that adv is manipulative and dangerous.” This perspective on criticism fits perfectly with Kilbourn given her past experiences and general presentation.
Harm, as defined in the context of advertising, means the consumer is deceived and is losing money on a bad product. Taking this definition into consideration, Kilbourn’s criticism of advertising inflicting harm on our society is false. I don’t disagree that may be true when taking advertising to children into consideration, but again, that is a different essay. The harm she states is occurring in our society is very unlikely to happen as a result of advertising. The harm being inflicted is from each individual. Research has been found according to Sheehen that each person is fully in control, they pay attention to and process what they so choose, and equally are able to choose what to avoid. People make their own decisions, they aren’t forced into things by advertising.
Kilbourn also seems to assume that society is one collective conscious, that everyone is effected and perceiving things the same way. This is not true, there is never one universal message to society from an ad. We interpret things such as ads based on our own experiences and minds. This goes against her proposed solution, ironically. At the end of Killing us softly, Kilbourn says that we need to start seeing ourselves as citizens and not as consumers. First of all, in my opinion, the very definition of being a citizen of the world is being a consumer in it. No matter what every citizen is a consumer of their location. Second, Kilbourn can’t reasonably claim that we need to be viewed not as consumer but as citizens while summing up an hour long argument on how we are all a collectively manipulated consumer base. But, I’m aware, maybe that is just me.
After all if that, it might seem harsh to say Kilbourn’s criticisms are useless. But they are, she does not provide any tangible or real solutions to the problems she pointed out. You can not reasonably criticize something and not show any thought into a better way. It is far too easy to just criticize. It takes real thought and consideration to help fix something you see as broken or flawed. If Kilbourn is so adamant about her criticisms then why has she not proposed actual ways to fix it, that won’t in turn create more problems? To quote Dr. Suess, “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.”
All of this taken into consideration brings me to a thought from Sheehen, that criticism is based on taste, and on taste we can not argue. All I’m trying to say about Killing us Softly and Kilbourn’s criticisms is that it is all too easy to be swept up in a convincing argument when it is articulated in such a way as Kilbourn’s is. After putting on my critical thinking cap and picking apart the video, I found it was not so compelling after all.
I’ve decided to focus this reflection on Kilbourne’s video we viewed in class. While she had many compelling and reasonable points, I found that I had many counter arguments to her vast assortment of claims. That being said, I realize this woman is well versed in her expertise and has many years of experience and research behind her. So these are maybe more along the lines of responses and questions, rather than rebuttals.
The first thing Kilbourne said that peaked my questioning curiosity was the idea that advertising sends a message to all women that they need to care most about how they look. This makes me wonder how exactly she would propose making an ad with a human being in it that somehow doesn’t send a message like that. However, I don’t dispute that pictures are over photoshopped.
Kilbourne claimed that you never see men objectified in ads, I beg to differ. I mean, a simple Google search or flip of a magazine page will show you that just is not true. It is ideas and claims such as this one that get thrown around that only perpetuate the sexist idea that women are weak powerless sex objects, that need protection of others. And as a related less important side note, if they are advertising shoes or bras, and only show their prospective body parts, what’s wrong with that?
Kilbourne said, “Men basically don’t live in a world which their bodies are routinely scrutinized.” Yes, I do realize it is more so for women, but if that is actually true to the extent Kilbourne said in the video, why has male cosmetic surgery increased at as consistent of a rate as their female counterparts? In 2012 more men were having liposuction, rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast reduction, and facelifts than ever before. We live in a superficial and self-conscious society that effects everyone, not just women. Again, this idea being thrown around is still perpetuating sexist ideas about women.
I also find it funny, that Kilbourne talks about the influences to be skinny from advertising and media, and in the same breathe talks about obesity running rampant in our country. If skinny girls in ads are seen as unhealthy, and bigger girls are seen as obese, then what are we supposed to do? There is no middle. If popular culture and media influence us so much then why is the influence to be healthier a bad thing? To this Kilbourne would probably point out the channels people are told to use by advertising are unhealthy. To this I’d like to point out that, no matter the amount of ads with skinny women and unhealthy diet pills there are, it is still the consumer’s personal choice to be unhealthy.
Now, there were a few small statements and claims Kilbourne made that I just thought were hilarious and made me actually laugh out loud. The first, that women only wear thongs to be sexy like porn stars. That is the most untrue statement I’ve heard in a long time. Women wear thongs originally to minimize pantie lines in certain types of clothing such as pocketless dress pants and skirts. Second, she said the thing responsible for teen pregnancy and std contraction is advertising. I’d venture to say the parents and teen’s themselves are at fault in those particular situations. Third, that when adults act like children in commercials, it’s bad. Since when is it bad to embrace your inner child? As adults, we always sort of long for the fun and carelessness of being a child, if a product is offering a small sliver of that longing, I don’t see a problem with it.
All in all, like I said before, she had many good points. I just feel that she took things to drastic extremes in order to try and prove her point to her audience. I agreed with a lot of what she said, I know she knows what she is talking about, and respect that aspect. I would like to see her in a debate capacity, I would find that very interesting.
Dear Future Advertising Executives,
Despite what our recently viewed documentaries have suggested, society in fact, is what shapes this world that we find ourselves in, not the media. I realize this is cutting it close to the chicken and the egg argument, but as advertisers we play to the consumer, not the other way around. We sit down for long nights eating take out Chinese, racking our brains in search of how to reach our target audience. How to compel them, inspire them, reach out to them and how to inform them. We should set out to create the most beautiful, funny, compelling, or intelligent ads that we can, that will do those things with flawless elegance. We do this because it has been proven time and time again that advertising promotes social change, is a form of free speech, as well as a supporting pillar of our economy.
We have a unique opportunity as advertisers to be a guiding light to society. Advertising as a form of free speech, for example, is a beacon in other countries who don’t have freedom of speech as we do. In the US, it serves as a source of information, showing people options, advantages and disadvantages. As well as showing people ways of life that are different than their own, and even connecting these people with vast differences to each other.
Advertising supports economic growth by creating brand and company competitiveness. It creates a far more diverse spectrum of products and brands for consumers to choose from. Allowing them to find something that suits their personal identity, lifestyles, beliefs, or even their pocketbooks. We were shown in Big Pharma that the advertising in the pharmaceutical industry has played a part in creating more drug options. Without this, we wouldn’t have generic brands that fit our budgets or variations in name brands that fit our unique bodies. I realize at this point, you are thinking that I must have missed the whole point of that film. Fret not, I got the drift. I just choose to be a critical thinker, to realize that there is more than one side to each story, and I know that an industry must learn to adapt and thrive. It is not the industry that is at fault, it is the consumer. We are all responsible for our own actions and decision making.
The most important role of advertising to me though, is the effect it has for social change. Over the summer of 2012 mainstream brands and companies started a movement of integrating lesbian and gay story lines into their commercials and advertising campaigns. This started a nationwide conversation. More and more states were pushed by consumers to start articulating LGBT rights within their legislation. This then lead to amendments, changes, and more importantly put a national light on the movement for equality. Creating more visibility in media for lesbian and gay individuals was a small push for big change. It took only a few ads to change hundreds and thousands of lives and to get an entire nation talking.
This doesn’t only apply to LGBT rights. Advertising has had it’s hand in historical timeline since the beginning. It is the reason I am so passionate about adverting. We get to shape our culture, to write our history through the art of advertising, and to be able to look back and know that we were on the right side of history.
In Spartan Spirit,