When I do my HTML and css work, I often have episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report streaming on my laptop. Typically the design has already been done for me, so putting it into code doesn’t require a lot of active thought – perfect chance to catch up on last night’s episodes. I’m a fan of both shows, but since Hulu stopped co-streaming them and they moved exclusively back to Comedy Central’s domain, watching the episodes online has become increasingly painful. Core problem? Comedy Central’s horrible online advertising. The ad content is so male-centric that I feel like Comedy Central is telling me to stop watching their programs, even though The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, while suffering from some of the same problems as most of the entertainment industry, aren’t particularly gendered shows. I understand market demographics, but it’s almost as if, in their choice of advertising, the network is operating like women don’t understand humor and therefore have no interest in Comedy Central’s content.
I remember the first week after switching from Hulu back to the Comedy-Central hosted streaming that I was bombarded with tacky Axe ads. The one that repelled me the most was the Clean Your Balls ad. Axe has taken this line with their advertising from the get-go, and has continued to cross new lines over the years. I suppose that’s been a successful tactic because it’s gotten them brand recognition (I’ve bought Axe products as a joke for male friends and family a couple times just because the ads are so ridiculous: “Let’s see the ladies throw themselves at you.”) That said, their ads have left no ambiguity about their intended audience, which sends the message to me as a woman that even if I were capable of appreciating the humor, I’m not welcome. And I am capable of appreciating the humor – I can be as immature as the best of them about sexual humor, from double entendres to taking statements out of context to inadvertent phallic / vulvic imagery – but if I’m being sent the message that “You, as a woman, aren’t supposed to be in on the joke” from the get-go, it stops being funny right there. That’s pretty much the gist of the Comedy Central’s streaming ads. There are exceptions, but the onslaught of the gendered stuff, when it comes on (if I’m watching a week’s worth of episodes at once, they’ll typically all have the same sponsor and set of ads), is so strong that it’s hard to bear.
I’ve been seeing a lot of Intel ads on both The Daily Show and Comedy Central’s streams lately, and for the most part their ads are gender-inclusive, whimsical, and paint the company as a futuristic innovator, where robots and 3D creatures work amongst the humans (two examples.) Among those ads, though, is the “Generations” ad, which takes an entirely different tone. Here it is:
On its own, an ad with two stereotypical geeks getting rhapsodic over the latest technology seems totally harmless, but it’s the clearly intentional placement of a woman walking by in the background in each case that started to bother me. I remember my reaction the first time watching the ad – the consistent placement of the woman struck so oddly that I thought I hadn’t watched closely enough and she must have been placed there to react to the guys in a “your enthusiasm is abnormal” way – because why else would they put her there every time, moving exactly the same way, except to provide some sort of contrast? It turns out, she’s not participating at all, whether positively or negatively, and to me this is even worse than her portraying the stereotypical “I don’t understand you geeks” that I was obviously expecting the first time through.
Grabbing this video off of YouTube, I noticed just in the first few pages of comments that this gender weirdness was a huge part of the discussion. And the comments affirmed all the problematic societal assumptions and attitudes that this ad only served to reinforce:
Commenter inflorire captures my sentiments pretty well:
Does anybody else find it weird/annoying that the little sister/girl/hot girl is always walking behind the guys who are talking about TECH STUFF. It’s like the dudes are involved in all the advancements in technology while the girls just hang around in the background passively absorbing the change.. I liked the other commercials alright, but this bugged me.
But these are YouTube comments, and Kohltonc responds to inflorire in a way that reaffirms exactly why ads like this are such a problem:
nahh its like your two typical nerdy guys who are more interested in technology than girls lol
And holmap009 inadvertently reveals the only reason these women were probably even included:
the girl grows up with them……..and get’s hotter!
To round out how the comments summed up everything for me, here’s LaurLive:
This video relates well to all of us geeks out here.
All of us geeks? Because I’m a geek, and I was getting a strong “THIS IS NOT YOU” vibe from the ad (see also: any incidents in the tech community where a guy tries to make a joke by calling on a shared experience that he does not realize reflects only a subset of the community – something that usually says “we’re all dudes here” when we, in fact, are not). I suspect a lot of female geeks – and probably some male geeks, too – would feel the same when watching this. I’m sure not all – some probably saw no issue with it or did relate based on the stereotyped portrayal – but if you have the ad on in the background often enough, like I have lately, it just gets to be too much. Thus this blog post.
Intel has another recent ad with two stereotypically geeky males that I can actually relate to a lot and really love. There are no women in the ad, but that’s not a problem here because the message of the ad isn’t gendered. It’s one of those cases where lack of portrayal leaves room for possibility, versus “Generations” where the women are merely background scenery for the shared experience of geeky friends.
Problematic media, like “Generations”, isn’t unique to Intel and certainly isn’t unique to advertising, which as a rule seems to get great pleasure out of grabbing hold of unpleasant stereotypes in character portrayals and running wild with them. I actually get a huge kick out of analyzing the enormous societal problems that seep into pretty much all of the entertainment we ingest (s.e. smith and my good friend Mindy are two favorites to read for this kind of critical analysis). But an ad like “Generations”, which portrays a major part of my own identity in a way that actively excludes me, stops being entertaining food for thought and really starts to piss me off, especially after the nth run.
A small postscript – these ads heavily rely on the fictional experiences of Intel employees as a storytelling device. When I think “Intel employees” I think about my fellow Code-N-Sploder Sarah Sharp, who does Linux kernel work for the company. She’s a classic example of how interesting and well-rounded geeks can be, and as a real-life example she would fit the “our employees are doing great, geeky stuff” theme of these ads. So, lucky for me, I have a real-life example of what an Intel technologist (and by proxy, any modern technologist) looks like, but for anybody who doesn’t spend their days reading Geek Feminism, and trying to surround themselves with these sort of awesome people, they’re absorbing a far more problematic portrayal.