Monday, June 21, 2004


We all want to be loved, I think that's fair to say.

I think it's just as fair to say that, in spite of how hard the mass media tries to convince us of the unlikelihood, we all want to be loved just the way we are.

Sure, there's always room for improvement, and we all know that. That's why I've been thinking of quiting smoking again, why I've been trying to convince myself to get up early enough in the morning to get onto the treadmill. But the fact that there's room for improvement is simply a factor of the human condition. It isn't a fault in our characters or who we are as a person.

Unless we start listening to the media.

The same media that uses bikini-clad blondes to sell beer. The same media that makes us feel like a lower-class citizen if we don't have the fastest car or the shiniest credit card. The same media that has us convinced that watching a group of average women subject themselves to plastic surgery and personal training so that they can compete against each other is entertainment.

The same media that -- at least locally -- tried to convince female graduates that unless they forked out $70 for their special day, would attend graduation as a plain, ordinary, boring Rageddy Anne doll. And those that did hand over the cash?

They'd be Barbie.

I'm not sure exactly what troubled me more about this advertisement -- the fact that in the 21st century we should be doen with this kind of easy, stereotypical, fear-mongering; or the fact that it was directed at young women, a chunk of population already dealing with enough image and self-esteem issues.

I couldn't get the advertisement out of my head as I watched "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" last week -- a film about anorexia told, quite intentionally, using Barbie dolls as the principal actors. And told quite beautifully and brilliantly.

Statistically, if Barbie were to be blown up to actual size, her measurements would be 39-23-33.

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that those measurements aren't even remotely human.

I was chatting with a friend on ICQ the day after I watched "Superstar" and she pointed out that while, yes, there are certainly plenty of women who have body and self-image issues, there are also plenty of happy, healthy women who grew up playing with Barbie dolls.

This is true.

But I don't think that excuses an advertisement that, by design, implies that unless you're able to walk in Barbie's shoes there's something wrong with you.

Look, I've worked in advertising for more than a decade. And while I'll be the first to confess that it's mostly just stupid, meaningless, $2.00-off-a-bar-of-soap, weekly newspaper kind of advertising, I think the industry is the same wherever you go -- whether you're working at the Chetwynd Echoe or Young and Rubicam. You have a product to sell, and I'm going to do whatever I can to sell it for you.

But there's a responsibility that I think we all have to live up in the media -- again, whether you're at a crappy, small-town newspaper or working Madison Avenue in New York -- and that is to never forget that there are real people on the other side of your words. Real people who react to the message you send. React badly, sometimes.

It's easy to forget about them, and it gets easier as each year slips by, but they're always there. Always reading. Being nudged this way, affected that, formed and changed and manipulated into whatever it is that we, in the media, in the advertising industry, think they should be.

And it's sick. And it's got to stop.

I thought that by leaving cable-television behind and ignoring 99% of Internet advertising, I could keep myself away from most of it, keep it from affecting me. And then it slithers its way into my simple local newspaper. And it sits in the back of my brain, eating at me like a cancer, demanding that I do something, that I say something about it at the very least. Because I can.

So I will.

And this is what I'll say.

There's nothing wrong with being Raggedy-Anne. To the Raggedy-Anne's of the world, you are just as important and valid as the Barbie dolls of the world.

But there is always room for improvement.

The lesson is that you shouldn't strive to make yourself what the media tells you to be, but rather what you know you *should* be. Because you can be anything you want. Raggedy-Anne, Barbie, GI Joe or My Pet Monster.

So quit smoking, get on the treadmill, lift weights, write a novel, paint a picture, eat more vegetables, clean your house more often, cut your toenails, try a new kind of shampoo, call an old friend, buy a drink for a complete stranger, eat something you've never tried before, learn a new operating system, buy a CD instead of downloading music, take a walk in the park at sunset, smell the rain, touch a tree, taste a rock, hug someone, tell someone that you love them, drink hot chocolate on a Sunday in December, drink a Slurpee on a Saturday in July, stop drinking so much, drink a bit too much now and then, live, change, evolve, define yourself, redefine yourself, and then do it two, three, ten more times until you're happy with who you are, then do it some more because, who knows, you might like what you find.

But do it for yourself. And do it following your own heart and your own dreams and your own passions.

Do it because that's what it means to be alive.

And fuck what anyone else tells you. And double-fuck what the TV and newspaper tell you too.

1 comment:

Sheryl-Lynn said...

Go Todd!