Thursday, August 10, 2006

A preemptive p.s. (re Friendly's etc.)

And please, spare me any rebuttals along the lines of, "Steve, you're imagining things. Friendly's is just trying to give women 'equal time.' A woman can catch a baseball, too, you know." If that were the case, why is it necessary to have the boy say first that his dad dropped it? Why not just have the kid reply, "Actually, my mom caught it"? And leave it at that?

No, I am not imagining the deprecating tenor of the ads in this category. It's there. And it was put there intentionally.


Rodger Johnson said...

That Friendly's ad seems to be a great study in framing...

Wish I could see it, but us Mid-westerners don't have Friendly's in the heartland.

Steve Salerno said...

You may not have Friendly's, Rodg, but you do have newscasts, and let me underscore that this happens on network news, too. Bernie Goldberg describes an incident where a CBS producer was sent to the South to do a report on a prison that still believes in chain gangs. The producer went to the prison, filed the report, figured he'd done his job. When the footage arrived in NY, though, higher-ups were horrified: Every single convict on the chain gang was black. "We can't run this," they told the producer. "It's inflammatory." The report eventually did run, but the network editors wrote a carefully worded set-up that--speaking of "framing"--made it sound as if the prison were to blame for incarcerating so many blacks.

My friends in broadcast tell me that networks continue to do this all the time. If a given night's news happens to feature a number of stories in which black felons play a central role, story editors and their overseers will try to find "offsetting" images depicting blacks in do-good roles, or, alternatively, may scramble to put together a feature on white-collar crime (which of course tends to be perpetrated, for the most part, by white people). The whole thing is silly. And when it gets to the point where the images are used to distort reality, the news business has abandoned its mission of providing viewers with an accurate lens on life.

Steve Salerno said...

Oh, and do you know that when women first began using PMS as a defense in criminal trials, there were (female) network execs who didn't want to give coverage (or demanded that newscasts give only cursory coverage) to those trials, because they felt that such coverage might set back women's causes by portraying them as raging hormonal beasts (thus reinforcing all the old, unfortunate stereotypes about women and PMS). So in effect, and if you'll pardon the awful word-play, women got to have their period and eat it too: They were allowed to use their hormones in an attempt to beat the rap in murder cases--and yet, by engineering minimal coverage of such defenses (at least for a time), they didn't have to suffer the public perception of being "out of control" at certain times of the month. And again, I feel the need to be clear: I'M NOT SAYING that women are out of control at certain times of the month. I'm just saying that because of the nation's PC-mania, women got to have it both ways.

Rodger Johnson said...

Point well made. The newscasts are PC. So are newspapers. I learned that when I wrote for two of them. It wasn't the most pleasant two years of my life.

I think the news -- advertisments too -- should reflect reality. It's that reality which is so ellusive, however, because it's defined by how we process information as information consumers. (Sorry for using so many buzz words).

In fact, I'm reading research that supports the reality issue I just mentioned.

Research has shown that the hyper-PC stance of newscasts and the way advertisments present a message are becoming less creditable.

I wrote an editorial about two years ago about a sudden spike in violent crimes in Indianapolis. The spike was preceived my the people because the media -- newscasts -- protrayed the same story about a violent act several different ways.

The research by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which was coroberated by a criminal justice researcher at IU, indicated the violent crime was down.

My point was that the media are hyper-sensative to making a buck, by exploiting a a story and catering to a viewer's lowest common denomenator. The preveraval, if it bleeds it leads.

THey do this and skirt their obligation to educate.

Well the same goes for advertising. People, research says, are tired of be pandered too, can see through the "dumb white boy" protrayal that pissed you off.

That's one reason why blogs and bloggers have, are and will become huge thought leaders.

The research I've seen overwhelming supports the notion that whether that people want to be educated, not entertained any more.

Unfortunately, I've learned that research takes about three to five years, sometimes longer to affect main street America, whether that's American news organizations or advertising and marketing.

Note: I was going to hold out on this topic. But you always seem to engage me somehow.

You know, the best thing I've found to get past these advertisments and hyper-PC newscasts, is to stop watching them.

But if you're like me -- it's addicting and you can't get enough.

Is there a pill for that yet?

Cosmic Connie said...

Excellent insights, Rodg.

Here in Houston, aka New Orleans West, we've had a spike in violent crimes in areas where there was a large influx of Katrina refugees. And that phenomenon has actually been covered fairly well on our local news. It has at times been presented as a controversial matter with racial overtones, but at least it has been covered.

OTOH, I remember some of the distorted news reports that were coming out of New Orleans, exaggerating the barbaric behavior of some of the stranded victims. I have to believe that, notwithstanding normal "PC" policies and practices, there was some racism involved in these reports. Also in the wake of Katrina, several racist urban legends have been recycled and spread around the Net.

But in no way do these unfortunate examples invalidate the points Steve has been trying to make.

RevRon's Rants said...

I don't doubt that recent polls/research indicate that most people want to be educated by the media, rather than entertained. Unfortunately, such polls probably lack the honesty indicators evident in personality tests such as the old MMPI.

Perhaps a more telling analysis is provided by surveys of participants' actual viewing habits. When an insightful documentary on PBS gets higher viewership numbers than "reality" television and shows centering around titillation, I'll believe that the public's tastes have evolved. Until then, I'll have a pretty skeptical view of claims that the voewing public seeks meaningful programming. And you can count on the fact that news organizations - and their advertisers - pay close attention to what viewers respond to, and structure their offerings accordingly.

Rodger Johnson said...


I totally agree with your perspective. The research I speak of is academic, so there's supposed objectivity that goes with that territory.

But what people say and what they do are two different things. Hence web design usability research -- a topic that I'll gloss quickly for an example.

In the 1990s research on people using the Internet was done using surveys. What the surveys said and what observation showed didn't jive.

Now, tactics have changed, and researchers observe how people interact with the Internet and devise ways to make it easier to use.

Such is the case -- I think with surveying people about their tastes in programming they enjoy watching.

What they say they want and what they consume are two different things.

If, say, producers of documentaries that air on PBS observe what people watch, understand what entertains them, keeps their attention, and produce documentaries using that framework as a guideline, then I think people -- slowly -- would begin to turn away from what is being produced now.

Let me give you an example of how that works. When I taught remedial writing to beginning students at a community college, over three semesters I observed how they consumed information and what types of information they consummed.

Given that information, I began using the medium that suited the class best to convey the information I had to teach them.

For example, I had a predominately black class of young men and women who listened to rap music.

That's poetry in it's very basic form. So, I changed my routine and taught them the fundamentals of writing using poetry and rap.

I even contacted a local rap artist to be a guest speaker, to show my students that even rappers have to know our languages basics.

The point is, you fit the content of whatever into the preception frames of individuals -- voila! You've increased you chances of communicating and changing behavior. which is what those documentary producers would be doing.

RevRon's Rants said...

Agreed. That's the reason that so many examples of "holy" music from the '60s and '70s is being used to hawk mainstream products nowadays.

I wonder how many ex-hippies are buying into the financial advisory chain that is so blatant in their pitches to their sense of nostalgia. Quite a few, I'm sure... bit I'd be willing to bet that even those who respond to the marketing roll their eyes as their old favorite songs show up in pitches for cars, muni bonds, and vitamins. How long before Hendrix provides the musical score for Depends or a chain of nursing homes? The mind boggles!

Steve Salerno said...

RevRon, I laughed out loud at the image of Hendrix-as-theme-music for Depends. Or how 'bout that other thing "they" like to do nowadays, where they take some old footage and digitally tweak it to deliver some updated message (as I believe is being done with Herve Villechaize and those new dwarf-dominated fast food spots: "The meat! The meat!"): Then you could have Jimi actually on-stage ENDORSING Depends. Or maybe TAFKAP would be better: Purple Rain indeed....

RevRon's Rants said...

The only ones that actually irritate me anymore are the Cadillac commercials. No matter how much they infuse them with screaming guitar riffs or rock falsetto proclamations of, "Ooh, Yeah," I continue to observe the fact that most of their vehicles are piloted by blue-hairs, rather than ex-long hairs.

Perhaps the "Ooh, Yeah" is actually a celebration of the Metamucil kicking in. Hope the Depends does its job!