Jean Kilbourne's pioneering work helped develop and popularize the study of gender representation in advertising. Her award-winning Killing us Softly films have influenced millions of ... See full summary »
This is an awesome intro to a broad range of ads. While the film is now a little dated (see Killing Us Softly 3), the fact that much of the analysis still applies after 25 years underscores her point: advertising continually reinforces the idea that women are to be regarded for their appearance - young, thin and white is good, breasts need to be the right shape - and nobody measures up to the standards
presented in advertising. Further, these many ads continually emphasize
women as objects, as dehumanized - which means that they can be treated as
less than fully human.
"Killing Us Softly" also underscores the point that the ads do this on purpose: advertising is an expensive proposition, and every little moment, every nuance in image and wording is carefully planned and constructed. This encourages
sales - "buy something to take care of your shortcomings."
Kilbourne connects the consequences of this advertising to American social
issues as diverse as anorexia, violence against women, pornography, the
eroticizing of little girls, the infantilizing of adult women, the demeaning of older women, and the special case of the portraying of non-white women as wild
animals (although this last issue gets little attention in this first film in the series). "Sex is more important and less important than what we see in these ads."
My (college) students sometimes tell me that they believe she occasionally
overstates her case on a few of her examples, but I think their quibbles are few and minor (I find that it's males who are more reluctant to accept her evidence, by the way - females generally agree with Kilbourne's analysis).
The film is a recording distilled from public lectures before live audiences. Her data draws on ads collected from tv, magazines, newspapers, bus signs,
billboards, album covers. The audience appreciates both her abundant
examples, her insights and her humor - and I did, too.
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