When Sparks, and Hair, Fly

Public spaces shape an individual on a subconscious level. Without realizing it, people are bombarded with advertisements that determine the way they see themselves and their place in the world. The American Psychological Association states that, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials per year.” From a young age, the things children see on a daily basis shape who they are, as well as the way they are viewed. This idea haunts many individuals into adulthood, causing them to believe that they have to conform to the social norm in order to be successful. Advertisements, including the ones seen on universities campuses shape every single person who wanders by them on a given day.

Outside the University Student Union at CSULB lies an ad for Elektric Haircut. As a student strolls past this advertisement, assumptions are made about what type of look screams success. Although effects of advertisements are not immediate, the culture and public spaces that one is raised in allows them to make the connections necessary to see that the man in the Elektric Haircut ad oozes success. With his clean haircut, shaved on the sides and longer on the top, separated with a precise part, to the business suit and a sexy amount of stubble, this is the successful man American Society craves.

In order to be successful in American Society, it has been made to believe that you must be a white male. The man in the ad is precisely that. Strikingly, the factor most dominantly displaying sex is his race, white. Living in a racially charged, patriarchal society as anything else is not only demeaning, but can initiate fear. When looking at the man in the ad, there is no fear in his eyes, but a sense of arrogance, knowing that he is the top dog in American consumerist society. Everyone craves this feeling, although not attainable for most races, or non-conforming gendered individuals. Any small change in appearance or color can lead to a difficult road to success. In pursuing that success, one may alter their appearance in the hope of fitting in with the mainstream ideals of the successful white male.

Over time, it has become apparent that the things one sees in public on a daily basis shape our thoughts. In America, and across college campuses there is one strict image of success. This image portrays a young man, appearing with a sense of confidence. Along with this basic ideal: he would be of Caucasian decent, in good shape, with a clean, groomed look about him. Since college campuses are one of the most influential places that a young adult will ever encounter it makes sense to bring to light the insecurities of young men who want to succeed in this day and age.

Success has apparently been left up to interpretation, but how can that be true when things like economic status, race, gender, and sexuality truly determine an individual’s place in this culture. In this society, a man of color must work much harder than a white man in order to accomplish the same things. There is an unfair advantage to those of us who fit in with the social norm. Unfortunately, American culture has cultivated this idea with the ads, commercials, and television shows everyone comes across. Having that certain look of success will not only help you achieve in the workplace, but interpersonal relationships as well. A stereotype lies around all individuals. Whether your stereotype says mature, hardworking, or street thug, you are judged. Every time someone new walks into a room, assumptions are made. Assumptions about race, religion, job status, family, and character are immediately brought about by one’s appearance.

Thanks to America’s convoluted vision of success that is aided by advertisements seen in public spaces it is once again the job of the people to break away these tough barriers. To think of a day where an individual is a judge based off of their accomplishments, versus their appearance in this individualistic society is a long way off. With the help of media and other systems that present information, change is not going to be something easy to come by. Even in this day and age, certain attributes are seen as superior to others. Public spaces shaping kids from a young age into adulthood causes them to carry the burden of stereotyping and prejudice. Look around, when was the last time you saw an advertisement with accurate representation?


“Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children — Introduction.”

American Psychological Association, 2016, http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/advertising-children.aspx. Accessed 14 November 2016.

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