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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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8 comments

  1. The images show that women can support themselves and can defend themselves when they have to. In the 1930s the man was supposed to support the family. It is not that way in today’s society.


  2. I think that women advertising is changing because of the society becoming more violent. I also believe women’s status roles and values are changing.


  3. In answering the Questions that followed your article I….
    Women have had to take a more prominant position in society since the 1930’s whether it was demanded by them or thrust upon them. I strongly agree that the second caption depicts the overall view of todays women; both strong and rebelious. I clearly shows the ability of women to take charge.
    As far as the second question is concerned, I say both. They reinforce our beliefs and look to force us to reexamine our understandings. They allow what is understood to be expanded upon.
    I feel the impact is minimal at best due to individuals allready having a core understanding of the expectations of women. In order to sumise whether there would be any significant affects I think a more formal study would have to be done.


  4. I believe it is safe to say that the posters above definitely depict the sign of the times as to what women’s roles may have defined as during those times.
    The poster from 1939 shows the woman being carried by the man and for the most part that is what a woman’s role was suppose to be during that time. At a glance it is easy to come to the conclusion that the female in this movie will have to be rescued, taken care of. Even as a pillar of strength there was still the need to show the woman in what was perceived to be a very feminine light: in a dress and in the arms of a handsome gentleman.
    The poster from 2007 however shows a woman alone, strapped and standing tall. This poster shows you at a glance this woman’s strength and gives you an insight as to what you may see from her in the movie.
    At the end of the day image is everything. We believe what we see. What we see most of the time is a reflection of how the world sees itself: then and now.


  5. The poster from 1939 shows the woman as being “fragile”, needing help and support. It also shows as being “hot and sexy” telling the man that she needs him. The poster from 2007 shows the woman as being able to take care of herself and being aggressive. It also tells the man to come and get me if you can handle me.
    I feel they also show that in 1939 the woman was dependent om the man and needed the support of a man, however; the 2007 poster shows that she is able and willing to take care of herself and does not need the support of a man.
    I do not think these idea really affect how we interact with each other in genreal, but in certain aspects of the “real world” such as in business, the military and etc… it has alot to do with how the woman is seen and treated. The woman in the military and in business has to work harded to get higher up in the “change of command” than a man.


  6. The images reflect changing expectations of women by showing how female roles have changed since the 30s.I think ads simply reinforce these roles. I think that in the military women are finding it easier to obtain high ranking positions based on there abilities and not there sex. we live in an ever changing society inwhich roles can change. There are many stay at home dads now.


  7. I agree with some of the other individuals; women’s role in society is changing dramatically. Where women would be barefoot and pregnant, cooking and cleaning for her husband and children, now they are having more buisness type jobs. Women nowadays do not depend on men as much as in the older days. Then again families in general are not the same, fathers aren’t sticking around and the women have to step up and take on both roles and work for their children which was not as common in 1939. The difference in the pictures definetly teach new understandings that women will no longer be pushed to the side or see as the underdog and the picture on the right shows that women are ready to face any challenge that comes their way.


  8. I wonder how America would react if the Resident Evil poster was posted in 1939. I am sure there would have been a “burning” of the actress and anyone who participated in the making of the poster. Todays woman is expected to be strong and able to take charge and kick @..! In 1939, women had to be strong at the home. Times have changed, women are everywhere… not just home “barefoot and pregnant”. Advertising is always pushing to new extremes. If it did not, women would be closer to 1939 than to 2009. So I agree that advertising introduces new ideas for the public to accept, adapt and become.



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