Sunday, August 28, 2011

Playing The Prudes, Then and Now

An ad from the 1950s demonstrates the fate of housewives (most adult women of the time) who did not check coffee for store-freshness, whatever that was. Check out the expression on the wife's face, however. Seems to be having a great time!

The 1950s were a different time. Not that I was around back then, but as an erudite scholar of all things weird, the 1950s are a time of great interest to me, because they were VERY weird times, especially in terms of relations between the sexes.

Can you imagine any ad like the one above getting off the drawing board nowadays without setting off fire alarms, rabid wolverines and flaming nuns in an advertising agency in the U.S.? I think not! But in the 1950s, the sexism was so deeply ingrained in the culture that such an ad would have merited nothing more than a patronizing pat on the tush of the woman who came up with it from the art director who stole it from her, though of course it would have been considered just male prerogative and not theft in those days. It was indeed a “man's world.”

No one would have ever protested such an ad in those days, except for perhaps those few women who were on the leading age of the coming feminist movement, and they had little or no traction in mainstream society and would not have been noticed had they done so. That ad, outre by modern standards, was not done with the intent of irritating or enraging anyone.

Now it is true that MUCH more sexist ads are published nowadays (see below) but the difference here is … the modern sexist advertisers know EXACTLY what they are doing (see my piece on the Roger David ad in Australia for an example). The things that makes the 50s bondage/maledom ads different is that they were oblivious to any sexist content, and to sexual bondage content as well.

A bitgagged model in a modern fashion ad. I'm not sure what she's supposed to be selling, but dammit, you just know it's cool and sexy!

The people who made the image of the bit-gagged model understood the sexual content and they understood that it was going to piss the hell out of some prudo-feminists. And they were perfectly all right with that. Fashion industry advertisers regularly create ads intended to rouse the prudo-feminists in much the same way that fashion advertisers in the 1950s regularly created ads intended to irritate garden-variety prudes.

They do it because it is one of the easiest ways to make your firm/products look cool and sexy is to create products that outrage the uncool and the unsexy. In the 1950s, that would have been garden-variety prudes, and the ads merely had to be sexy or naked or whatever approximation of those were allowable at the time.

In the 2000s outraging garden-variety prudes is passe, because most everybody likes sexy except social conservatives. And it is so fricking easy to outrage a moral conservative of the Christian fundie stripe that you get no points for it. The Christian fundies are correctly perceived as having no influence in the culture in the areas of fashion and art.

The new uncool is prudo-feminists. Feminism still has a little currency, but the brand of it that became prudish and angry about sex and sexual imagery (I refer to them as "prudo-feminists" because I got no beef with feminists generally) well they are a perfect target. And so they become the new way of defining cool ... by being so uncool. Hence all those ads aimed at infuriating them.

And I, for one, am glad! Serves 'em right.

And nowadays, advertisers can use nudity AND bondage in their ads! The best of BOTH worlds!


Anonymous said...

I don't know.. The beloved militant generation were concerned about Elvis movies. I bet that tame ad is only on record because it pissed some of them off.. Modern stuff would drive them around the bend

Jay L

Pat Powers said...

Oh, it does. Some of the prudo-feminist bloggers sound like they are going to explode from sheer outrage.