A chocolate cake you won't regret! Examples of choice/regret in mainstream media.
April 26, 2010 4:45 PM   Subscribe

A decadent chocolate cake you won't regret? Help me find examples of choice and regret in popular/mainstream media, including advertising/marketing, but also on the magazine stand, in sitcoms, etc.

Mainstream advertising targeting women is full of examples of, say, a decadent chocolate cake you won't regret, et cetera. I'm looking for examples like that, and at the same time, I'm interested in how the popular rhetoric of choice and regret seems to only target women. (Men's choices, whatever they may be, don't really seem to be part of public discussion nearly so much.) Though the choices are often inconsequential, I'm curious what effect that kind of rhetoric--of women's innate fallibility, even when it comes to dessert decisions--has on larger issues of choice in popular narrative. Of course the most obvious is abortion (e.g. "a woman's right to choose"), and the right-wing anti-choice propaganda that accompanies it, though I'm equally interested in less iconic choices. Plus: what am I totally overlooking in this pretty-rudimentary argument?

I should confess: I'm embarrassingly unaware of popular (and not-so-popular) media/memes, so I imagine anything you have to suggest will be a really helpful start, no matter how dated! (Also, I'm considering turning this into a short essay, but I'm not in school or nothin', so I promise this isn't do-my-homework-for-me filter. I'm just gathering ideas to get an idea of how to move forward & figure out where the holes in my logic are! Finally, I'm sure if I were a total smartypants, I'd already know the amazing feminist social contract theory that dovetails with this idea, but I'm not--suggestions? I'm veering way off topic here, I know!)
posted by soviet sleepover to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in the chapter "Hunger as Ideology" in Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight. She does a bit of analysis of food advertisements directed towards women and the emphasis on "indulgence" without "regret," although as I recall she isn't focusing specifically on the issue of "choice."

I'll think about this a bit more; I'm sure I can come up with some other stuff for you. I will say, though, that I don't think it's that the rhetoric of choice only targets women; it's that women's choices (especially with respect to food) are often moralized in ways that men's aren't. (The thought of a food advertisement directed towards men talking about a "sinful" dessert or "guilt-free indulgence" is absurd. Of course, men's choices are instead seen as reflecting their masculinity -- i.e., if you choose a salad, you're unmanly; if you choose a steak, or better yet something greasy slathered with mayo and bacon, you are manly.)
posted by pluckemin at 5:18 PM on April 26, 2010

(In the Amazon link, if you search inside the book for "indulging" and "indulge" you can see a couple of relevant pages. Bordo isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I think she's swell.)
posted by pluckemin at 5:23 PM on April 26, 2010

Marginally relevant: in the 80s Pepsi billed itself as the choice of a new generation. (YouTube link is to one of a number of ads using that slogan.)

Wayne's World mocked the slogan in the fantastic "product placement" scene.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:27 PM on April 26, 2010

Sarah Haskins' hilarious send-up of yogurt ads for doing just this sprang immediately to mind. See here.
posted by amelioration at 5:48 PM on April 26, 2010

You should check out the blog Sociological Images. They write about things like this pretty frequently, and are awesome.

As an aside, last time I was in New York I noticed an interesting set of ads on the subway, targeted at both women and men and emphasizing the way their lives would be changed by abortion. Though I have serious reservations about their message (all of their materials imply that all they're trying to do is offer help, and not to dissuade anyone from having an abortion, but they certainly do seem to be stigmatizing both the practice and those who choose it, which bothers me immensely), I thought it was interesting that they were targeting both sexes equally. After a cursory glance, it looks like that's true of their website as well. I'm not going to link to it, but you can find it at abortionchangesyou.com.
posted by dizziest at 6:23 PM on April 26, 2010

I'd say "Taster's Choice" instant coffee is pretty gender neutral.

I can't help but think they should start a whole line of beverages with that branding: Taster's Choice Light Beer, Taster's Choice Box Wine, Taster's Choice Powdered Milk...
posted by gueneverey at 6:33 PM on April 26, 2010

Check out the work of Jean Kilbourne. She does a lot of the kind of analysis about advertising that you are looking for.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:07 PM on April 26, 2010

I was coming in here to suggest "Hunger as Ideology". It fits this question beautifully.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:19 PM on April 26, 2010

The classic love triangle (in literature, movies, sitcoms, etc) could fit what you're looking for.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:49 PM on April 26, 2010

I'm having trouble finding good examples right now, but here's one that I think is close, for Yoplait. (I can't currently watch videos so I'm limited to my memory) In general, that site has a pretty comprehensive library of TV ads.

It's funny, just last week, after watching a hair product ad on Hulu.com, I was talking to a friend about how ads geared toward women try to make us feel bad about ourselves, while ads geared toward men try to make them feel good about themselves. (example: every beer commercial ever created) It's no wonder women tend to default to lower self-esteem.
posted by inmediasres at 8:01 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Warm Delights
"You're Just Three Minutes Away From Heaven!"
"Microwave a moment of warm chocolate pleasure. You've earned it!"
posted by xiaolongbao at 8:21 PM on April 26, 2010

This is something which I've also considered here in Australia, so it's not exclusively restricted to American cultural advertising.

I think you're right, there's definately an idea that food is something to be regretted, to be feared and gorged on, then guilty about. I believe this comes from two places:

1. The average person does not care about food beyond a couple of levels of 'good'... Horrible, Boring, Average and Fantastic. Thus a good cake is a GREAT cake and the world's best cake is no better. This is not a failing, just a different emphasis on what's important. In addition, because 'great' food is not something to be overly lauded, it's not something worth putting on kilos over.

2. The idea that luxuries are sinful.

Combined, you get the idea that any food that is better then average is likely fattening, dangerous, immoral and something nice people don't consume. The fact that most cakes, fried food et al are bad for you is just positive re-enforcement.

Then, again, there's another sociological assumption-set going on. Men don't care about their food, Women do. Think Bachelor VS Bachelorette. He is eating fried anything then playing sport to work it off. She is dieting because a fat woman is undesirable, and she spends all her time working on her nails. He is winning a mate with money and charm and wit and cars. She is winning a mate by sitting there looking pretty.

He can eat that cake, but doesn't care too, why would he, he's got BEER! She's eating the cake because it's a 'guilty pleasure', because she deserves it for unspecified reasons that likely have to do with her persecution complex because it's a good excuse for simply not having achieved anything! BUT, if she gets fat she'll be undesirable... Better make it a cake she won't feel guilty about! HE would never buy cake... OR shop at all, that's HER job!

So: Good food is "Bad", Food is marketed to Woman (Primary shopper who needs it to relax), Getting fatter makes you worse as a person, and bang! All nice food is guilty and you will likely regret it.
posted by Quadlex at 9:20 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

@inmediasres It might be similar but different: Perhaps woman react better to ads about avoiding loss rather then obtaining gain? WHY this might be is up in the air.

Over here there's quite a few ads about making woman feel better, usually for very womanly products (Tampon ads with anthropomorphic beavers and their 'owners' having parties, woman eating cereal and then being all athletic, boyfriends being idiots about 'obvious' things) and there are quite a few with men dealing with loss (Of erections, of income for their family, of 'manliness').

But, most of these are aimed at (On the one hand) younger woman, and (on the other), older men. So... that's weird.

@xiaolongbao The idea of 'earning' food makes me angry. SO VERY ANGRY. So, excellent example:P
posted by Quadlex at 10:07 PM on April 26, 2010

I wrote my thesis on this last spring, so I'm probably going to go on too long...

There's a huge link (for women in particular, but also for some men) between sin and food. The Christian ascetics and mystics of the middle ages often didn't eat very much, allegedly in an effort to gain closeness to God. In reality, they often share behaviors displayed by modern-day anorexics: toying with food, claiming that one works or thinks better when they don't eat, etc. St. Francis of Assisi, for example, reportedly dropped much of his food in his lap, then disposed of it when he thought others weren't looking. Some of the mystics even came from chaotic families and backgrounds, and some scholars argue that their attitude toward food was shaped by an effort to obtain some control over their lives.

Even Lent is about food and denial. The Bible says that Jesus fasted for 40 days (but it also states many times that he rejoiced and shared food and wine with others; I think people forget that part).

Some books on this topic that I found really interesting:

Starving for Salvation: The Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Problems among American Girls and Women by Michelle Mary Lelwica. There's a chapter that also talks about advertising that markets exercise as salvation, and dissects an Avia ad in particular.

Lelwica has also recently published The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight, though I haven't yet read it.

There is also a body of diet literature in the Evangelical church that argues that one needs to be thin for Jesus. I wrote more about this in a MeFi comment here.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:16 AM on April 27, 2010

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