Two Posts on The Gruen Transfer

We are lucky to have the blogger from Fuck Politeness as a guest Hoyden this week.
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Look, I should say up front I am a little grouchy of late over feeling like as a woman I am being ‘locked out’ of certain cultural experiences. Since it’s acceptable to slip in slaps in the face to the idea that a woman might be more than a decoration or the focus of desire into songs, ads, movies, television, office banter etc etc ad infinitum, I am feeling a little like I am continually being sent the message that misogyny is funny and my opinion doesn’t count. So…perhaps I am being mildy uncharitable but I really think not.

The Gruen Transfer [triumphant horn music heralding the arrival of an ALL NEW type of television show…intelligent debate, insight, critical thinking and ‘clever’ humour].

Don’t get me wrong…there’s space for all this, and a show about advertising, a show which ‘bites back’, talks back, debates, unpacks, pokes fun at, subverts is more than welcome, it’s a necessity. Except that this show stops short almost every single time. The best one liner? From a woman. In response to the question “What’s wrong with this ad?” the prompt delivery “There’s no brown people”. Which is great. Except The Gruen Transfer is there for the quick hit one liner, not to actually engage with these issues.

Episode One I think (which of course featured scantily clad young hotties): One panelist observes in horror that only one percent of Australian women think they are beautiful!!! Does anyone take up the invitation to intelligently discuss the role of advertising in this mindset? Oh no, Wil (as ever) goes for the cheap gag, quipping that that one percent are “up ’emselves!”.

I thought, Hmm, the guy who made this point might make another…no. In response to an ad in which a disembodied tongue goes off on a frolic of its own [the Tooheys Extra Dry “The Quest” ad], he expounds on how great this would be…you’d never have to ‘attend’ to foreplay again. You could watch tele, and say “Give me a call when she’s ready”. Oh yeah, this is new and clever!

You know, it isn’t that I can’t see the humour in the one liners, it isn’t that I haven’t laughed. It can be fun and entertaining…it’s just that…well Wil in show two shows an ad featuring Kylie Minogue writhing and bucking on a mechanical bull in sexy underwear. She then defies the men in the audience to stand up. The discussion is about sexualisation in ads…Wil’s response “I know I can’t”. Yep, good mate, we got it. Hot chick=boner. I’m seeing who your audience is and it is not me. It isn’t that I can’t relate to the ‘hotness’ of Kylie – she’s gorgeous, the absolute pinnacle in that ad of heteronormative feminine sexiness…but ok…you tell me you’re gonna be critiquing, you display the perfect mastabatory fantasy scenario (go amuse yourselves for a while women who object/feel uncomfortable/are annoyed at the objectification and glorification of the Impossible Attainment of the Clean and Proper Body – cos it’s BOYZ TIME!!!) you crack a funny about cracking wood, and I’m supposed to applaud your intelligent subversive humour? I think not.

Look, it’s slick, it’s amusing, I laugh at some of the remarks, I enjoy some of the challenges, it facilitates a surface level discussion (but it always STAYS surface level, the bottom line is a succesful ad is a good ad needs no critiquing or further discussion) and is better than lots of other stuff on tele. BUT. It’s SOOOOOooooo heteronormative, so white privilege, so misogynist…so the invitation for the average man who fancies himself a cut above the rest intellectually to ogle objectified, perfected, sanitised women’s bodies…and call it an intellectual exercise, an invitation for us all to feel part of something clever and new, when really women are reduced to misogynist cliches – and now we’re expected to laugh along.

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So dredgirl has again taken the axe to the Gruen Transfer…it’s a great post and well worth reading.

One further point for me though: where dredgirl says that it comes off as simply a chance for bigshot ad execs to tell us what works and what doesn’t, I wholeheartedly agree…except that they don’t even engage in this properly. Their answers as to why a particular ad works/doesn’t work are glib, smug, devoid of much in the way of content and far too short and self congratulatory: “because it does” is delivered with a smug-cocky-aren’t-I-so-very-very-urbane-in-my-lime-green-shirt look (so urbane that I don’t need to answer the question). Well fantastic insights! We know it does work…any punter could have told us that…and if it didn’t we wouldn’t need the show in the first place. But your JOB on the panel is to delve into how or why…

I mean even leaving aside the expectation that it might *actually* ‘take a scalpel to the advertising industry’, even accepting the limitation that they will not engage in the social implications of their ads and the images they use, the fears, prejudices and desires they play into…just talk to us about responses to colours, surveys that show *what* people respond to that make you pick particular things ton include in an ad to make sure it works. Even in their evading of any critical engagement with the *effects* of their craft they come off as condesceding twats too important to discuss anything in any detail.

To discuss semiotics in advertising need not mean dirtying their hands with political discussion or context…they could, if they so chose, discuss but it only got a two second mention! In one single ad in one single episode…

So…if they’re going to *avoid* acknowledging political implications by simply discussing what *is* at work in advertising…well do that, and do it properly.

It actually feels like what is going on is an attempt to present this panel as ‘objective neutral experts’ with all the heft such a stance grants in this society: I’m the rich white expert, mostly male, token female just to prove to you if you’ve got a problem, it’s all yours and nothing to do with me: “I’m just stating facts honey pie, get in the kitchen and cook me a pie – in your undies in front of my mates…and don’t eat any tub-o-lard” .

Are they ‘experts’ in advertising? Sure. Are they sharing this expertise? Nope. Are they enlightening us? Nope. Are they discussing the tricks of the trade in any meaningful way? Nope.

And by presenting themselves and their opinions as neutral and objective (when in actual fact their viewpoints are vested, political and context specific in the extreme) by noting and glossing over the sexism in ads, and then cracking funnies about it…it’s reinforcing that this shit *is* funny, is not to be taken seriously, has no ‘real’ political implications, is not to be engaged with and critiqued, it’s entertainment, it’s fodder for money making, and now it’s apparently smart and anyone who takes offence is a whiney snivelling little pussy who needs to harden the fuck up. If you’re offended, that’s your personal psychological affliction, cos we are *not *here to discuss that pansy left wing crap…this is the real world…of advertising, cocaine and designer clothing.

On the one hand they’re not going into the social implications of what they make a *packet *doing…cos OHNOES that would be a political act/boring/not funny…but they are erasing the politics of making ads that sell us images of what femininity is, what sexuality should be, who is allowed to have it and how, ads with no racial diversity, ads which sell certain attitudes and make disrespect ‘funny’…erasing the politics of the act of them making sexist, homophobic, racist jokes and expecting that we’ll sit here and take it since our opinion doesn’t count anyway. Gaarghh!



Categories: media

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3 replies

  1. While it might be over simplistic, I think these difficulties could be solved with a longer time slot. Presently they’re trying to work all that wit and indepth conversation and delving into 26 minutes. Its simply not going to happen.
    I DO think that they could do less segments in a program, I would hazard a guess that they’re currently trying to squeeze in 6-8? BUT if they switch to 4-5 then they run the risk of losing part of the audience which simply isn’t interested in an in-depth conversation on the issues.
    I think its got teething problems, yes, but overall I think its a good program, and perhaps its intent is simply to make people think slightly more about what they’re being fed every day. If that is the objective, well then they’re achieiving that aren’t they?
    What changes would you propose to actually change the format of the show in a meaningful way, to make it more palatable, while still marketable as an ABC program?
    Dataceptionists last blog post..Let’s just say….

  2. In short, advertisers sell products to men by suggesting they will give them fun and/or a hard-on, they sell products to women by suggesting they will stop them from being a failure, but to say so would be a major Ratner’s moment: a potentially fatal faux pas, even if everyone knows it already.
    Does the ABC still do Backchat?

  3. Hmm…I don’t know if in order to be critical of the politics at play I need to be able to produce a better tv show. As I said it’s slick and entertaining…but I’m a bit fed up of being expected to stand back and applaud the razor sharp wit of ‘women jokes’.
    I do enjoy some things about the show, and last nights was much more enjoyable.