15 July 2011

Another take on the milk campaign: Lying to women is also wrong

Don't we already have an article on that bizarre new milk ad? The one that claims, "milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS?" Well, yeah. Our own Stephanie DeBalko already published a piece that explores how true the face-value product claim really is. But that's not where this story ends, no-siree.

What I want to do is really pick this ad apart and there's this easy-to-use analysis framework that can help. The framework, which you can follow along with, is cribbed off of Katherine Firth's Undressing The Ad, and works on three levels of meaning: surface meaning (literal stuff in the ad), the intended meaning (the advertiser's message), and the cultural meaning (the fun part).

So, let's take a look at one of these ads. As I physically am unable to resist irony, I must run with "I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying." (Is the statement a preemptive attempt at deflecting feminist criticism? Or is it an example of the unintentional breed of stupidity?)

Let's get literal: The ad centers around this picture of a man shielding himself with two cartons of milk while offering a third to the camera, with a forced smile and a look of utter terror on his face. He is in front of a blue radial gradient background. The text above his head says, "I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying." The text under the "everything I do is wrong.org" banner reads, "milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS."

The advertiser's intended message: "Heterosexual boyfriends, if you're tired of your girlfriends getting angry at you for no reason then make them drink milk! It will reduce their PMS symptoms and they will stop acting like crazy bitches!" (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Cultural meaning (or "grab your pitchforks!"): This is an ad about PMS and it's aimed at men?! The figure in the ad is a man and he's not apologizing because he's wrong but because his irrational PMS-ridden girlfriend misinterpreted what he said. (The only symptom of PMS: irrationality?)

The assumption is that men are rational, reasonable creatures; Women are irrational, crazy bitches. The implication of the ad is that the only way a man can deal with a woman (made irrational through PMS) is to medicate her with 6 liters of cow secretion, while lying to appease her. The scary thing is, this "it's okay to lie to women" trope isn't uncommon. It's in everything from commercials for beer and candy bars.

So it's an ad with a sexist message. "So what?" You may say, "what about PETA's anti-fur campaign? These huge publicity stunts where women get naked to grab headlines. Isn't that sexist? How is this any different?" At least, that's my most charitable version of a troll chatroom argument I heard while discussing the ad.

The difference, whether I approve of PETA's nude campaigns or not, is the message. Even sensationalist nudity doesn't tell us, "lie to women, they are irrational."

Michael Schnier
Michael went vegan in May of 2010 while shopping for his weekly groceries. Michael is a communications studies undergrad at Carleton University and spends too much of his time arguing on the internet. When not butting heads, Michael can be found reading Vertigo comics, listening to the Smiths, and writing bad poetry. Follow Michael on his Tumblr blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/tambako