“Butt out!” followed by the photograph of a girl who is literally standing in a ‘butt out’ position is what I chanced upon as I was walking down the road one night. this was a hoarding of the jeans brand ‘Jealous 21’ put up by a shop which sells ladies outfit in the city.
Our public and private spaces are encroached upon by advertisements like these. One can find them everywhere – on the rooftop, on buses, on walls. Through newspapers, internet and TVs they have infiltrated our private spaces too. And where not? The spaces around us are stifled and suffocated by these ads, which seem ‘harmless’ and to whose existence we do not give much attention. But are they as harmless as they seem to be?
Not many are aware of the unimaginable ways in which these ads act on our psyche. One is not aware of a secret spell they cast on us as we unsuspectingly walk down the road – consumerist spells that bewitch us very subtly. Advertisements do not just flaunt their products. No, they sell ideas instead, planting in our heads our aspirations, our desires and our dreams which we so dearly fight for. Perpetuating these ideas is what keeps consumerism going. It is these ideas which bewitch us; that creates a sense of deep dissatisfaction among us as we can never get the ‘ideal’ lifestyle these advertisements portray. Ideas of beauty, ideas of being healthy, ideas of being pretty, ideas of being sexy. As they say in V for Vendetta movie, “…behind this mask there is an idea. and ideas are bulletproof” and this is very true with advertisements. One must know the idea behind the mask of every advertisement to know how penetrating and profound these are in our social psyche.
Taking a closer look at the Jealous 21 advertisement: It was the image of a ‘sexy size-zero girl’ asking us to buy her jeans. One can ask what is wrong with being sexy? In fact, there is nothing wrong. But the idea that the advertisement sells can be harmful as it proclaims explicitly that being sexy is the ultimate thing to achieve in life. It is asking us to become jealous of that girl for her stunning looks. But the notion of being ‘sexy’ may not work out for every girl in the city. People are naturally endowed with different body shapes and tone, but these ads are forcing a stereotypical image upon us silently asking us to seek it, lust after it and be more like it. It spreads like wildfire among people like me and you, making us aspire to achieve what we see, with our subconscious telling us that our looks are not good enough, therefore, toppling the last traces of confidence from our minds. They make people perpetually obsessed with that notion of beauty and encourages them to do everything that would give them that look. To take care of one’s appearance, to want to look their best is one thing, but to want to be someone else, to look a different body type and different skin tone is another thing. It is ghastly to think that we have forgotten how to celebrate our own bodies, respect and cherish the way we are endowed naturally without feeling embarrassment or displeasure.
Right from a young age our minds are exposed to such ‘artful deception’ and such constant propaganda (as though everyone is out to sell something or the other) that these ideas get normalised in our minds and form a benchmark based on which we compare ourselves.
One can also see how patriarchy subtly operates in these fronts. Women are mostly featured as stereotypical figures of an ideal housewife who is confined to the kitchen. Most advertisements show women as a homemaker or as one waiting for the husband to come from work or worrying about feeding their children the right amount of nutrients. On the contrary, men are shown indulged in adventurous activities, or in the office meeting room, or returning home with a headache (if it’s a disprin ad). But these days we have a new age version of this. With women emerging as the economic decision makers, we have jewellery advertisements portraying the independent woman who doesn’t need the man to buy her the diamonds. Whatever works. If making women feel empowered is helping sell those products, then so be it. That same woman will sell pressure cooker in her next commercial but who cares.
One doesn’t need a degree in rocket science to figure out the mechanisms on which the advertisement industry thrives. Selling aspirations, making us dream of the ‘perfect dream life’, one can never find an advertisement which tries to instil confidence in us – telling us ‘Oh! You are good the way you are.’ No, you aren’t. If we are to believe these commercials we are way too dark, way too fat, way too short, way too poor and way too dumb to live happy lives. Thus, we must keep buying. Because that’s out only penance. Our only way out of a miserable life. Instead of celebrating the goodness of heart and the worth of people we celebrate the flaws, the shortcomings. However, these ideas are not only confined to ads anymore; they are sold to us by all forms of media and communication that reach people: movies, radio, viral videos etc. Everyone’s brainwashing us no matter what their agenda might be. Our world is suffocated by stereotypical portrayals and such skewed notions of beauty. It’s high time we learnt how to see through the bulletproof masks of such propaganda that we call advertisements.