Tag Archives: Collective Shout

What Kind of Film Do You Want to Be In? Combatting Media Brainwashing

Lynne Murray says:

Sometimes I feel like I’m in one of those horror films where the entire population is increasingly infected by an incurable Body Hating Zombie Virus. Only instead of eating other people’s brains this sickness forces one to eat one’s own and pay for the privilege.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s film,Miss Representation, and the website/movement that goes with it, aim at a different goal for women: not purchasing power, but real power. The goal is to bring women together in dialogue, action and mentoring to break the advertising trance and redirect women’s energy away from buying the message and the products–and into running the store, and running for public office.

Miss Representation … exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades,, the site points out, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

On getting to the website, a visitor is immediately offered the opportunity to sign a pledge “to challenge the media’s limiting portrayal of women and girls.” I did this, got on their mailing list, and begin to receive weekly ideas of “actions you can take immediately to make a difference…” For example:

…Remember your actions influence others. Mothers, aunts and loved ones- don’t downgrade or judge yourself by your looks. Fathers, uncles and loved ones—treat women around you with respect. Remember children in your life are watching and learning from you.

…Use your consumer power. Stop buying tabloid magazines and watching shows that degrade women. Go see movies that are written and directed by women (especially on opening weekend to boost the box office ratings). Avoid products that resort to sexism in their advertising.
…Mentor others! It’s as easy as taking a young woman to lunch. Start by having open and honest conversations with a young person in your life.

When I first planned to write about Miss Representation , someone pointed out that it seemed similar to Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly so I checked that out. It’s available in segments on YouTube

Miss Representation, as a film and as a nudge toward collective action, stands on the shoulders of Kilbourne’s pioneering work on media brainwashing. These films have some equally activist siblings, all of them addressing the insidious invisibility of the advertisers’ message. Kilbourne points it out clearly in the fourth revision of Killing Us Softly:

Advertising is more sophisticated and more influential than ever before but still just about everyone feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising.

I asked the first four people I spoke to after hearing this, and all of them confirmed her observation, saying they were not much influenced by ads because they seldom or never watch television.

Kilborne counters this mindset by listing some of the innumerable, half-invisible entry points through which ads can infect your mind:

The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day…. The ads, as you know, are everywhere. Our schools, the sides of buildings, sports stadiums, billboards, bus stops, busses themselves, cars, elevators, doctors’ offices, airplanes, even on food items like eggs. Almost every aspect of popular culture is really about marketing. (Killing Us Softly 4, part 1 of 2 on YouTube)

Watching Kilbourne’s YouTube slide show, I suddenly realized I had bought and read her paperback book a few years earlier. Seeing the ads in video format brought home to me how much more intense the film medium can be.

Images from film versions of books stick in our mind even when we reread the books. Harry Potter will always resemble Daniel Radcliffe in our minds. Even a documentary film is simplified and streamlined compared to a book; the visual nature of images and movies bypasses the forebrain and goes directly for the gut.

Advertisers know this better than anyone. The cultural goals that have been carved out for women in particular have sneaked into our brains and become an abnormal “normal” that needs to constantly be questioned.

Author Amy Ahlers expresses frustration at how advertising’s toxic self-assessments creep into our minds and color our self-worth in her essay “Big Fat Lies Women Tell Themselves: Ditch Your Inner Critic and Wake Up Your Inner Superstar”:

Studies show that only 8 percent of the images we consume are registered by our conscious mind. That means that 92 percent of the airbrushed, stick-thin, perfectly proportioned images infiltrate our subconscious minds, influencing the way we feel about ourselves. It’s an onslaught of insanity: all these unattainable bodies put before us as an ideal to strive for. As the supermodel Cindy Crawford once said when looking at her airbrushed, Photoshopped pictures, “I don’t even look like Cindy Crawford.”

We need to consciously work to win back our thoughts about how we are supposed to look. We need to overcome the Big Fat Lies about our bodies and our self-care. We need to tune in to our Inner Wisdom on a deep level and to practice, practice, practice, so that we can model a healthy relationship with ourselves.

It is refreshing to see independent and dedicated filmmakers fighting back.

One such is Darryl Roberts, whose America the Beautiful, targeting the unwholesome “beauty” standards Debbie reviewed in Body Impolitic in 2009.

Roberts aimed his cameras at the now $65 billion weight loss industry in a follow-up America the Beautiful 2, The Thin Commandments,

The Australian feminist group Collective Shout, which I wrote about here last year, is also aiming to raise awareness of the toxic and dangerous definitions being forced down our throats, and of course there are dozens (if not hundreds) of others.

Each group’s focus is slightly different, but they are all trying to help us shake free of the hypnotic media-induced trance and each invites to examine the advertising industry’s vision of womanhood:

Kilbourne remarks,

The ads decrees that women should be polished, perfect indeed flawless. She has no blemishes, indeed, she has no pores.” Such a woman also need not concern herself with ideas, as she is made to be seen and not heard. Her mission is to devote most of her energy into the quest for an unnatural, truly impossible beauty standard, which will supposedly result in the heavens opening up and showering her with all that she desires.

Sadly, the hook that the advertisers are setting is baited with an almost real, physiologically based experience of power that many people have, briefly, during their prime reproductive years, when nature heightens every hormone in humans to ensure the continuation of the species. The myth advertisers are selling is that this attractiveness can be captured, distilled and sold as a product and used to help the consumer stay young, powerful and vital.

Also highly disturbing is the advertisers’ use of shocking images to grab attention in this morass of advertising, particularly of shocking violence toward women. The advertiser’s “normal” world, where “all the women are flawless and men are Alpha” is also one where battering, gang rape and stalking are presented as appealing courtship modes.

Newsom, Kilbourne, Roberts, Collective Shout, and their allies are engaged in a fight to wake all of us up from the consumer ad dream/nightmare and energize our lives for real. It can benefit every one of us.

Sometimes I wake up from the Body Hating Zombie Virus film and get the much more positive feeling that I’m in one of those sci-fi movies where we’ve managed to contact The Resistance and there is still hope to save the planet. May the Force for Self-Empowerment be with you!

Fighting the Pornification of Christmas (and Almost Everything Else)

Lynne Murray says:

Collective Shout is a small group of activists in Australia who got together about a year ago aiming to:

…name, shame and expose corporations, advertisers, marketers and media engaging in practices which are offensive and harmful especially to women and girls, but also to men and boys. Collective Shout is for anyone concerned about the increasing pornification of culture and the way its messages have become entrenched in mainstream society, presenting distorted and dishonest ideas about women and girls, sexuality and relationships.

Collective Shout’s latest target is the pornification of Christmas. Advertising has increasingly tried to grab customers by the lapels and in the last decade or so it has aimed with more and more precision at both stimulating and raising anxiety around sexuality.

Another Australian commenter, Steve Kryger, points out that the MTV videos he sees during workouts at the gym amount to soft core pornography

Sex has been so shamelessly and thoroughly grafted into video clips, that it’s hard to find a clip without highly sexualized imagery.… “It’s just video clips”, I hear you say. But for me, this is just the straw that’s broken the weary camel’s back. I’m sick of turning to the left and to the right and at every turn to be confronted with the same depiction of women – they are sexual playthings, who exist to live out my fantasies and satisfy my desires. Women need to be given far more respect, and men need to stop being manipulated. Our sexuality is far too precious to be treated with such widespread contempt.

As Collective Shout points out, unrealistic body images and videos framing sexuality as a predatory activity do genuine damage. Anyone who watches can be influenced, but the most vulnerable viewers, young girls and boys, absorb the distorted messages with few real world experiences to contradict them. Along with the products, viewers learn to buy into a damaging model of human behavior that guarantees them body anxiety, unrealistic social expectations and, oh yeah, a miserable sex life.

If consumers swallow this distorted presentation of reality without protest, the advertisers will have succeeded in grooming another generation of anxious buyers, stimulated by toxic fantasies that only find release in hapless spending.

It’s been a successful year for Collective Shout, gaining 2,000 supporters and joining forces with other groups to expose, for example, the way Unilever Corporation goes after the “empowering women” market with their Dove “real beauty” campaign and simultaneously goes after the “women as sexy prey” market with their commercials for Lynx, known in the US as Axe, a men’s deodorant. (Body Impolitic has been writing about the Campaign for Real Beauty for many years: a couple of key posts are here and here.

Collective Shout counts among their successes

• “Getting Bonds to withdraw bras for 6-year-old girls
• Getting supermarket chain Woolworths to disassociate itself with a sexist Lynx promotion
• Getting Calvin Klein billboards suggestive of sexual assault removed

We’ve reminded companies of the importance of corporate social responsibility. We have put them on notice that if they do the wrong thing, they will be exposed and boycotted. The bodies of women and girls should not be seen as fodder for companies to exploit for profit. We’ve had great media coverage. Just this month, we’ve appeared in everything from Harper’s Bazaar to the Tumbarumba Times.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” was paired with the company’s charitable sponsorship of self-esteem programs through the Girl Scouts,, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Girls Inc.

Some people see a a moral dilemma because Unilever’s Dove “healthy self image for girls and women” campaign is contradicted by its Lynx/Axe “hunt those bikini-clad wenches through the jungle” ad campaign. But we live in the real world and charitable sponsorships come and go. Personally, I think the Girl Scouts, etc. should take the money while it’s offered (which is unlikely to be forever, since charitable campaigns are regularly rotated by large corporations) and keep their eyes open.

Speaking of partnerships, I’m encouraged by the way that Collective Shout has joined forces with other organizations such as the Women’s Media Center: