Sunday, August 20, 2006

HSBC : a study in dangerous stereotyping

seen the HSBC ad that's on TV now? a breath-takingly bad one. i was chatting with someone recently about how pervasive media stereotyping is,and why it IS a big deal, and this seems to me a prime example of the same.

at surface level, the HSBC ad is totally banal.

the opening scene is of a stereotypical geek (yes, down to the glasses) peering through a telescope at planets. i guess he is generally supposed to make us draw the brilliant conclusions that :

1. he has no social life and therefore presumably no social skills
2. he is weak - he's sniffling and has poor eyesight, and therefore an object of contempt
3. he is unattractive for the above reasons and incapable of being liked or socially accepted.

our geek makes way for the Cool Dude by lamely retiring to the loo. enter cool dude. he checks his watch, swivels the telescope around to watch his idea of a heavenly body - the next door Babe (who, surprise surprise, happens to be stripping). hmmm. the last time i checked, a guy's spying on a woman like that and noting her movements and daily schedule was called "Stalking". or "Obsessive psychologically unbalanced behaviour".

i wonder if HSBC really meant to say "HSBC : the friendly neighbourhood bank for voyeurs". i wonder if they really meant to create a stereotype for stalkers to normalise them and make their actions seem commonplace and acceptable. i shall magnanimously doubt it, and just think them absolute blankety-blanks.

the more you dig below surface level, the more the ad stinks.

for one thing, it strongly upholds the supremacy of the male gaze. male gaze is a feature of patriarchy wherein the male has the right to stare at and objectify the female. the male has the right to intrusively behold the female, to mentally unclothe her and to "assess" her as merely the sum of physical features, and to subject her to evaluation according to stereotyped notions of beauty and attractiveness. the female, as the subject of the gaze, anxiously tries to come through the evaluation as best as she can, and is under pressure to try and make herself as attractive as possible since her evaluator is more executioner than judge in spirit.

and HSBC upholds this? interesting. not only that, but it announces its eagerness to serve such "different" people better. so what if the person being pampered is a stalker or a voyeur. so what if the service is at the cost of a woman being harassed and stalked.

even if i were a man watching the ad, i would still feel furious. the ad comprehensively insults male sexuality. it reduces the entire complex range of sexual reactions, stimuli, sensations and emotions to one trigger - the sight of some random female body. at which cue, men are supposed to mechanically have an erection, and there ends the sexual experience. what are they are supposed to be, zombies with a penile knee-jerk reaction?

again, one wonders if HSBC really meant to imply these attitudes. what were they thinking?

(pictures of the storyboard from aqencyfaqs)


brownskinspeak, feminist issues

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31 Comments:

Blogger Senthil said...

What really pissed me off was that they showed the guys focussing the telescope using an adjustment screw on the tripod! What do they think we are, morons?

-stereotypical geek

10:37 pm  
Blogger Krish said...

@senthil: Hats off!! Same here!! Was wondering for a long time...

@m:the other ad which shows a mom n a girl is much better...

8:13 pm  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Someday, I would like the opportunity to listen to a comprehensive presentation of your views on feminism, patriarchy, and everything that's wrong with world (or am I repeating myself?). That would be most enlightening. I hope.

9:18 pm  
Blogger Falstaff said...

I can't believe you missed the phallic symbolism of the telescope. I mean guy takes long cylindrical object and points it at woman. How obvious can you get.

Also, I think you're wrong about the ad comprehensively insulting male sexuality. At most, it insults the sexuality of heterosexual men; there are plenty of sensitive, intellectual men around, it suggests, they're just not interested in women. :-).

9:31 pm  
Blogger m. said...

senthil: lol... cut you up badly, did it :p

krish: aint seen it. have seen the HDFC ad though : its much, much better!

witnwisdumb: that's what the blog is for :)

falstaff: LOL... touche!

10:28 pm  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

I'd typed out a slightly long comment, and then thought that it may not be very appropriate. So I refrain from posting it here, however I do want to ask that question of you. So uhm... if you have the time on your hands, and if you would deign to have a conversation, my yahoo id is 'witnwisdumb'.

2:22 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ witnwisdumb: hmm. frankly, im a little puzzled - if the question is inappropriate, id think that that would hold good wherever you asked me!
anyway, whatever it is, i'd prefer email to chat. so if you want to - help yourself: basicallyblah@gmail.com.
maybe i should add an NB about being wary of "academic" discussions and demands for self - justification :)

8:57 am  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Ah. Well, in that case, chuck it :P

PS: It wasn't really 'inappropriate', but it's just that most people don't like it when their beliefs are questioned publicly, and take it as some sort of personal affront, rather than a rational discussion of the belief system's merits and demerits. But then, I suppose, rational and belief hardly ever go together.

8:37 pm  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Ah. Well, in that case, chuck it :P

PS: It wasn't really 'inappropriate', but it's just that most people don't like it when their beliefs are questioned publicly, and take it as some sort of personal affront, rather than a rational discussion of the belief system's merits and demerits. But then, I suppose, rational and belief hardly ever go together.

8:37 pm  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Oops. Sorry. The operation timed out midway, so I had to refresh it. Didn't realize the comment had already been submitted.

8:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about Brylcream ad(an old one;I am not sure, I got the name of the product correct, some hair gel for men) and some pop album where 3 gals dream of becoming the next door guy's girlfriend.Does it mean the above said ads "strongly uphold the supremacy of the female gaze"?? I am not saying whether its morally good or bad. Attraction towards opposite sex is natural and not to be so biased.


Perspective, thats what I would say, when I see the "GEEK" as you say, it didn't strike me,that, he is a nerd. He is just another guy who is researching,who is keenly concentrating. Neither did it strike me the second one as "COOL".It is the way YOU(ONE) interpret/LABEL things.The tone in your statement, "the next door Babe (who, surprise surprise, happens to be stripping)" makes me assume, you are being biased. From your usage of the words "BABE", "surprise", "stripping",I perceive that ,you are biased against the gal who isn't at fault at all.. I dont see a reason why she should be insulted. (BTW, who says, the "geek" is not apprealing, I think he is smart. he is more appealing :0))


--Who is saying "BABE"? If its you, on what basis did you say babe?Considering,Babe as a word used for "young woman", why is hte stress on "surprise" part, and fyi, she is not stripping as you said it, she is changing her clothes.--

--How did you arrive that the "geek" you said, is not having social life? assumption?who are we to decide what sort of a life one wants, trying to categorise?"who goes out in the evening has a social life"?--

And falstaff, you rocked, when you talk about the phallic symbolism. I wonder if you see some symbolism if a guy rolls paper/book into cylindrical form and points to a gal while talking. Don't go around with magnifying glass to find meanings that are not conveyed.

All I'm saying is "it is all in perception".The way YOU look at things and try to draw the meaning. I agree when you talk about knee jerk reaction yada yada...This ad, doesnt talk about all that, it just states, one uses telescope to watch planets, the other uses for some other purpose. The mother/daughter ad for HSBC is good as well. if I call myself as a person who is keen on latest trends, I can say, the ad is making fun of new fashion, by showing the mother consider her daughter's new stylist outfit as ragged one and trying to stictch blah blah.

what should bother other, if he/she wants to look attractive to the opposite sex.Or one prefers to listen,to read than to go out.why should one try to categorise. As long as we believe and try to categorise people,LOT of them try to FIT into the system or try to go OUT of the system. In either case, they are not what they are, they are just trying to do somethjing that is NOT REQUIRED at all.
Most importtantly, let "individual/individual's ideas" be alive and lets not force them into labels, groups based on what WE perceive of them.


Instead of cribbing and finding faults from nothing, talk about movies, magazines which are openly insulting women(you must be kidding me if you say, you didn't come across stuff of that sort in chennai), the traditions and customs that tie down women. Don't try to create an impression that feminism is a biased concept that draws irrational meanings out of everything.


comments on the post regardign evolution.
sorry for postign here, like somebody else rightly pointed out, your post missed the very key point rather.It assumed survival as a mere physical survival which is not the case.

-varshini

10:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for the size of comment here.BTW,the discussion here is a perfect example of what HSBC ad's stresses on, different requirements, different perceptions :0)
-Varshini

10:10 pm  
Anonymous icarus said...

Hallo! My two centences...

I find it really hard to believe that people are influenced by advertisements like these... I think stereotypes are created and nourished by peer-pressure and the prejudices of one's parents, more than anything else.

I was rather taken aback by Falstaff's observation. It seems, if I may be ever so judgemental, to stem from a dangerously jaundiced perspective.It is exaggerated and rather unscientific, in the sense that one gets - as opposed to an impartial analysis - an impression of the 'obvious' being twisted to support one's fantastic point of view.

Anyhoo, I wholeheartedly concur on the 'voyeurism' angle (142 degrees, is it? :P). What were they thinking?

6:32 am  
Blogger Harjee Kapur said...

dont tell me you guys are talking advertising here ?

*banga head on wall*

ps- i agree, it is a bad bad ad. have any of you guys seen the happydent ad by the way?

12:32 pm  
Blogger R.E.B.E.L said...

Well, am not getting into the whole feminism argument, but the ad tried to bring about the concept of 'different requirements, different perceptions.' But, it was the most cliched and stereotyped ad that I ve seen in recent times. It looks like someone thought of this 'brilliant concept' which has been used numerous times before and tried to fit it in for HSBC's requirements. In fact I only remember the ad and did not even realise that the product advertised was HSBC. It was only after reading this post did I notice the fact. Which pretty obviously proves that it is a badle carried out concept for an advertisement.

12:48 am  
Blogger m. said...

varshini: since when did doing two things badly make either not rotten?! do be reasonable! as for the rest... two words. "patriarchal conditioning".

icarus: i dont see why. the world over, whether its jayalalitha or schwarzenegger, we're busy electing actors and actresses to power because we buy their screen image so completely. a classic case of missing the trees for the 'Woods wouldnt you say? ;)

@harjee kapur: god, yes! i saw it last week... pathetic!

rebel: hey-lo. welcome to the turf... though its almost all of it about feminism :D

9:07 pm  
Anonymous Varshini said...

my 2 words here!!biased mind! I believe its too much to expect here?God be with ye.
-Varshini

2:24 am  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

"since when did doing two things badly make either not rotten?!"

In all fairness, if what you are really after is gender equality, then the one should bother you just as much as the other. But I don't find a whole lot of posts that bemoan that side of it, here. This is either because (a) you have no problem with it if males are 'objectified', or (b) you figure you'll let somebody else talk about that.

Or is there something I'm forgetting?

12:25 am  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Varshini is right. The womens' rights movements is losing credibility because of 'feminists' who spend all their time nit-picking. That sort of thing just gives feminism a bad reputation, and completely sidelines the real goals of achieving equality.

Please do read this article. It's an example of how a movement can get totally derailed by the habit of going off on tangents and making a big deal of non issues.

12:38 am  
Blogger IdeaSmith said...

I don't think HSBC thinks. Period. They're not in the business of thinking of social good...they're in the business of ripping people off their money.

- A disgruntled customer.

3:20 am  
Blogger Falstaff said...

I have to say I'm a little bewildered by all this talk about "what should bother other, if he/she wants to look attractive to the opposite sex" (and not just because of the questionable grammar). There is no question here of anyone wanting to look attractive to the opposite sex. The girl our friendly neighbourhood voyeur is spying on has no idea she's being watched, so there's no question of her wanting to look attractive for him. Nor does it seem likely that he will tell her that he is watching her, thereby creating the opportunity for him to look attractive (or not) to her.

The point is that the ad suggests that it's legitimate for one person to invade the other privacy in this way. And it's horrifying that a major national bank (and the agency serving it) should feel that it's okay to say this. Largely because they might actually be right - which is a distressing thought. And makes this ad a complicit ally of the "movies, magazines that are openly insulting to women" and "the customs and traditions that tie down women"

Think about it this way - if the ad showed the same guy sexually attacking a woman, forcing himself on her physically, would we still sit back and say 'well, men and women are attracted to each other, what's wrong with that?'. Arrogating the right to invade someone's privacy is an act of mental violence every bit as heinous as physical assault - the pathology is the same. Watching someone undress without his / her consent is not the same thing as wanting to be his / her girlfriend / boyfriend.

m: To be fair, though, there's nothing in the ad to suggest that

"the female, as the subject of the gaze, anxiously tries to come through the evaluation as best as she can, and is under pressure to try and make herself as attractive as possible since her evaluator is more executioner than judge in spirit"

because again, she's not aware of being the subject of the gaze. There's no reason to believe that if she were aware of being watched she would, far from trying to make herself attractive, tell this guy exactly where he could go. The ad certainly celebrates 'the supremacy of the male gaze' in saying that watching a woman undress without her knowledge is both acceptable and a valid form of male pleasure, but it doesn't go quite as far as you suggest.

Also, while I am being this serious (I assure you it won't last) I'm intrigued by your assumption that a man watching the ad would only object if the ad was insulting to men in some way and, implicitly, that you need to establish that this ad attacks male sexuality in order to garner male support. I'd like to think that I'm capable of finding an ad objectionable purely because it's insulting to women. And personally, I'm not insecure enough to care what HSBC or its advertising agency have to say about my sexuality.

4:29 am  
Blogger Falstaff said...

P.S. Varshini is right about the changing vs. stripping bit though. If the girl genuinely was stripping - if she was aware of being watched and was willingly taking off her clothes (if this were, say, some bizarre ritual between the two of them, agreed upon beforehand) - then the ad would, frankly, be a lot less objectionable, consensual sexual interplay between adults being relatively harmless. But that interpretation seems a little far-fetched, doesn't it?

4:54 am  
Anonymous icarus said...

Quite confused... shall return to the Tee and attempt to analyse this from scratch. :)

2:12 am  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

"And personally, I'm not insecure enough to care what HSBC or its advertising agency have to say about my sexuality."

Well said, Falstaff. Couldn't have put it better :)

2:41 am  
Blogger Sriharsha Salagrama said...

(to Falstaff): On the phallic symbolism: Nice tone. I do presume you're only kidding about the telescope and...
(turning to Varshini albiet from a safe distance): you may not realise it but your idea of rolled up newspaper isnt too hard to recognise as a phallic symbol.

My point essentially, is this. "Communication is as much receiver-defined as sender-defined". What is said is not always the same as what is meant. More importantly, what is heard is not always the same as what is understood.

Hence the most basic needs of a language are that it be consistent and exhaustive: (This is NOT the time to bring up Godel's Incompleteness theorem here. Icarus, please note) Essentially, that words and symbols should have meanings that are consistent and that the language should have the words needed to convey the idea.

If 0.01% of the sample space were to interpret a certain symbol as discriminating, it is ignored. (I'm not saying it should be.) If 30% of the sample space interpret a certain symbol as being discriminating, then it really doesn't matter that the user of the symbol did not mean to discriminate. The word "randi" in telugu is an expression used to welcome someone with respect. Its homophone in hindi would mean a prostitute. I would have liked to say "I rest my case". But i still feel that some people would not care to think for themselves. It is for them that i spell it out. Whether a symbol is offensive or not is something that is to be decided by the recipient... not by the sender.

To witandwisdumb (with a slightly amused look): If I believe in rationality, is that rational or is it a belief? (tapping witandwisdumb's head affectionately with a newspaper rolled into a shape that is neither cylindrical nor spherical) Please TRY to make more sense. (sweet CONDESCENDING smile)

to m.: about stripping: One of the meanings of "stripping" is "to remove one's clothes." Another is, "to perform a striptease". When you intend to say "undressing" please do use a word that would best suited!

to varshini: I dont remember the ad well enough, but I do not remember that the woman had worn another set of clothes. Ergo, as far as my memory this ad is concerned, the woman was "undressing", not "changing".

(and as an afterthought) to varshini: I did NOT say that m.'s error was about cnfusing "survival" with "physical survival". Please do not attribute stuff to me. I say enough controversial things on my own. I do not need you to drag me. If you care to quote me, please take the trouble to copy-paste. You might still be quoting me out of context, but atleast you will use my words exactly as i wrote them.

4:51 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

Wonder if you've seen the other HSBC ad, this time a print ad. It appeared over a month or two ago, showing Satyajit Ray with Harindranath Chattopadhyay. The caption said something like: Satyajit Ray with a friend. The ad is not only an insult to Chattopadhyay but also assumes that the readers are some dimwits, with pathetically low awareness levels.

I actually doubt if the people who created the ad know who Chattopadhyay is!

5:18 am  
Blogger m. said...

witnwisdumb: i dont really expect everyone who drops in to avidly read every post ive ever written. i also however dont expect to have them inform me of what i think and fight for! you asked for this! :))

ideasmith : hello smithy! i was in your neck of the woods recently :) how are you doing?

falstaff: i was explaining the concept of the male gaze, since i didnt (and still dont) think that its a concept that *everyone* is familiar with. also, because something is derogatory to masculinity, it doesnt automatically not concern me.

icarus : :)

sriharsha (& others who seem to think this): "stripping" merely means to remove the covering/ trappings. it speaks for our sexually loaded lingual politics that most of us seem to thinking "stripping" = "performing a striptease".

ghostoftomjoad: hello. no i havent seen that one, and really, by now im ready to believe most things of that company! btw,welcome here.

6:27 am  
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Alright, you made your point. Due apologies for that comment, although it was really supposed to be a question, it was a stupid way of asking it.

But I persist. The post you linked to does not answer my question. And my question is - clearly stated, as you see it, what is women's liberation? Imagining that X is a liberated woman in a world where women are liberated, how will X's life be different from how it would have otherwsise been?

9:33 pm  
Blogger Sriharsha Salagrama said...

Time to focus on the fundamentals.
Icarus, rebel, and a few others... It does not matter to me that the ad is an old idea rehashed. It doesn't matter to me, how many people get influenced by it.
One thing that DOES matter is this: The ad shows one person stalking another person. (That is a legal definition, so don't even bother trying a "different people - different interpretations" line here.) It is a form of harassment. Would you react in the same manner if HSBC showed someone using a hsbc credit card to buy a nuke? Or a chainsaw so that he/she/it could start a chennai chainsaw massacre? "different people - different requirements" my foot!

Frankly if you are 'cool' with the idea that HSBC is willing to listen to, understand and help out the stalker; I'd like to see how you would react to me stalking the people in your family. I prefer cameras to telescopes. And i promise to use an HSBC credit card to buy the camera and the film.

It is a disgrace that the ad was designed in this manner in the first place. It is worse that the ad got through a censor board. It is most painful that there are people who don't seem to find this ad objectionable.

12:28 am  
Blogger m. said...

witnwisdumb: to make it extremely simple and straight forward an answer: a woman would not be murdered, raped, assaulted, abused, discriminated against or belittled because of the fact of her femaleness.

10:26 am  
Anonymous pegasus said...

i really love ad... though did not like the jeans on

4:27 am  

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