Fools Will Be Fools With The Best Book: Pam Anderson, the Advertising Standards Authority, and Censoring Art To Protect the Ignorant and Lazy

Pam Anderson, former star of Bay Watch.

Pam Anderson, former star of ‘Baywatch‘.

Pam Anderson has a new endorsement deal.  Crazydomains.com has signed Anderson to star in a recent ad promoting their site.  The problem?  Great Britain‘s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned the commercial after having received four complaints that the ad is “sexist and degrading to women”.  The irony: it’s actually sexist and degrading to men.

In the video, Anderson is seen as the head of the boardroom, leading a brainstorming session to help improve an unnamed company’s online portfolio.  She is dressed professionally, albeit somewhat provocatively.  This in and of itself is not overtly sexist.  I have worked in professional settings and have seen women dress in a manner that is not far removed from the way in which Anderson is dressed, though this is by no means the standard approach, nor is it the approach of a large percentage of women.  The scenario, however, is actually empowering for women as the group of men is led by a female who is assertive and successful.

 

 

Pam Anderson, formerly the star of V.I.P.

Pam Anderson, formerly the star of V.I.P.

Where does it get sexist?  Well, Anderson’s assistant, dressed in a similar fashion, asks Anderson if she would like cream in her coffee, to which Anderson replies affirmatively.  A male employee observes, leering at the two women and looking down their tops (and yes, cleavage is also commonplace in a typical work environment).  The man then has a daydream or fantasy in which the two women are dressed in bikinis and cream is being poured all over them.  For the man, the women become, at the very least, sexual fantasies, and, at the worst, sexual objects (though the commercial doesn’t explicitly objectify women, merely presenting one man’s fantasy).  The problem here is that the man is incapable of separating work from sex.  He is easily distracted from work as his mind wanders into a sexual daydream, implying that men cannot control themselves and are inclined to dwell on sexual fantasies when they should be focusing on work.  Not a particularly flattering portrait of men, to say the least.  The women, on the other hand, are portrayed as confident, articulate, assertive and professional, a far cry from the insights we get into the only male whose perspective is addressed during the commercial.

 

Pam Anderson, the voice of the protagonist in Stan Lee's "Stripperella".

Pam Anderson, the voice of the protagonist in Stan Lee’s “Stripperella“.

In response to the ad, the ASA has released the following statement: “Although the fantasy scene, which we considered to be sexually suggestive, was limited to Adam’s imagination, we considered it gave the impression that he viewed his female colleagues as sexual objects to be lusted after. Because of that, we considered the ad was likely to cause serious offense to some viewers on the basis that it was sexist and degrading to women.”  Actually, the ad isn’t degrading to women; it is degrading to men.  The women in the commercial are respectable.  It is the man who is degraded and ridiculed.  It is the man who is portrayed as a sex fiend who cannot prioritize – a stereotype that, while many may find it humorous, is actually degrading.  He is contrasted against women who appear professional and from whose behaviour we may infer a good work ethic. Meanwhile, he is portrayed as immature, foolish and unrealistic at the very least, and as a sexist who objectifies women at worst. The narrative does not present the women in the workplace as sexual objects.  They are only viewed sexually by a flawed male character whose unflattering portrayal actually reinforces negative stereotypes of men.

John Milton was opposed to censorship.  He would not be impressed with the ASA banning this commercial!

John Milton was opposed to censorship. He would not be impressed with the ASA banning this commercial!

Is the work offensive?  As is the case with many works, that depends on the view of the person interpreting the work.  The advertising world is seen by many as the cutting edge of the art world, which is a reasonable argument.  This piece is a fine example of this idea.  It satirizes how men must struggle in the work place to separate their sexual desires from their working responsibilities and how they also struggle to adapt to women in the workplace.  It is a lampoon of the patriarchal stereotypes and mentalities.  Is it sexist?  If it is, it is sexist toward men, but since this is clearly a satire, it may be unfair to suggest that.  I present it here as a polemic argument.  The problem is that short-sighted people look only at the surface of the material and not at the layers beneath it, and therefore come away from the commercial with a skewed view that is uninformed and ignorant to the intent of the piece (much like those who come away from the ‘Be My Slave’ photo-shoot from Aamna Aqeel claiming that her work is racist).  The ASA is censoring the work because people who do not have the intellectual tools to dissect the work may be offended as a result of their ignorance and/or laziness.  One is reminded of John Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’ where he writes “that a wise man, like a good refiner, cangather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a foolwith the best book”.  This commercial is a satire where patriarchal sexism is lampooned.  To censor this commercial for fools is an insult to the intelligent minds out there.  Ironically, the censorship of the video actually has made people more aware of the commercial and therefore worked counter-intuitively in regards to the goals of the ASA who sought to limit the viewership of the ad, which further demonstrates who the real fools are in this situation.

 

On a side note, the commercial should be credited for stepping outside the cliche of sexualizing young women by using a woman who is in her mid-forties as an example of beauty. This is in contrast to the tactic used in most commercials, where women over thirty are reserved for maternal roles exclusively. Beauty is ageless, as this commercial suggests.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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