Archive for October, 2008


What’s in an Advertising Image?

October 30, 2008

Posted by Wes Abercrombie
Advertising images are one form of social communication—explored by sociologists for decades. These images can communicate complex social understandings, such as roles, values, political beliefs, laws, courting rituals, and religious dogma. Sociologists have studied how these pictures are used to reinforce, destroy, and teach social understandings—like the idea of gender—that can unite people or separate them.

Gender isn’t sex. Sex is a biological characteristic. Gender refers to people’s understandings of masculinity and femininity; what society thinks is proper behavior for men or women. These ideas can change from society to society and over time, while being male or female is normally static. For example, look at the classic film poster below and compare it to the recent DVD cover next to it.

The poster for “Gone with the Wind” was produced in 1939. The DVD  “Resident Evil: Extinction” was released in 2007. Both movies, in part, deal with massive, abrupt social change and how “strong” women adapt to those changes. Some sociologists believe the depiction of women in these films offers some insights into gender expectations when the films were made. What do you think?

Look closely at the images and consider these questions:

  • How do the images in these advertisements reflect changing expectations of American women since 1939?
  • Do you think these advertisements reinforce existing understandings or teach new ones?
  • How do you think such ideas affect how people interact with each other in the “real world”—in families or the military, for example?

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