Introduction to Media Studies

Ashley Steves, NYU Sophomore and Blogger Extraordinaire.

Posts tagged advertising

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Revisiting Erving Goffman: Commentary on Gender Advertising


Erving Goffman, a pioneer of social theory and humanities, wrote “Gender Advertisements” as an analysis not just of print advertising and gender representation in it but as an analysis of every day life. An advertisement, he argues, can tell us a lot about what we see around us, whether they are prototypes, stereotypes, or actuality. 

Advertising is a short form way of judging somebody or something based on its initial appearance or action. A single movement becomes the indicative behavior for a person’s social identity, for his mood, his expectations, his relation to those who witness him in this version of display. That is what we are given with an advertisement and commercial realism: that single and initial movement that we can look at and form assumptions. Like seeing a woman on a street, we are looking at an advertisement through the same realm as the witness to everyone around said woman: a truncated and abstract look.

While Goffman believes that advertising images “cannot be taken as representative of gender behavior in the real world”, it is the case that “they, as pictures, are not perceived as peculiar and unnatural” (25). When facing a stereotype, advertisers play off what we already subconsciously believe or have been told, stylizing and exaggerating even slight truths.  

It is for this reason that one should take the selection of advertisements seriously.

The job of the advertiser is not like the job of society, infusing its social situations with ceremony and ritual. And it is not only the advertiser doing the advertising. Take for example, somebody who does photography as only a hobby. He or she must create a single shot that captures figures in a moment that epitomizes the entire sequence. And it must be done with the constraints of sense that photography creates. In other words, we only have sight when we look at a photograph, so how do you find away to capture and evoke the other senses? As Goffman states, “social situations are employed as the scenic resource for constructing visually accessible, instantaneous portraits of our claimed human nature” (27). 

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