A Structuralist Look on Biscolata Commercials
When we were born, we were born into a language and since then we have been shaped by this language. All of our conceptions, perceptions, discourses and values are shaped unconsciously by the language that we are exposed to. Because, language carries value judgments of social structure. Our language is also an inseparable part of the culture that we belong to because, language has been fed by the practices inside our culture. In fact, culture is also learnt like we learn a language. If we do not learn the codes and language of the culture, we do not fit in that society.
As we mentioned above, this learning process occurs in an unconscious way. From structuralist point of view, there are some structures in our society that proceed out of our control, that we are unaware of and shape our world of thought. According to Claude Levi-Strauss, in every society there are universal and underlying structures which emerge from subconscious to maintain social order and avoid anarchy. (Strinati, 2004: 87–90) For structuralism, language and culture constitute structures. When we look into a society from outside, we can predict the structures of this society through observable social phenomenon. For instance, when we look into the social structure of Turkey, we can observe the place of woman and man in the society, their roles, discourses to each other, division of labor in professional life. All of these structures are determined by the culture which feeds the formation of society.
Although structuralism claims that structures are universal, I do not agree in part. Since, structures can change from culture to culture. In other words, if we were born into a patriarchal society and have learnt the language of this society, we have also learnt unconsciously to classify and perceive the world in accordance with patriarchal structure. (Moustafa, 2015: 50) For example, there are some sexist idioms in Turkish culture that determine woman’s and man’s role in the family; i.e. “Female bird makes home” and “Man is the leader of home”. These idioms identify woman as passive, emotional, polite, needs to be protected while man is identified as active, self-confident, strong and rational. In addition, they position woman inside the house (who does housework, cooks, looks after her children all day and waits for her husband to come home) whereas position man outside the house (who works, earns money and is responsible to look after his family). The second point that I do not share the same viewpoint with Saussure is to study structures with a synchronic analysis. (Strinati, 2004: 85) According to Marxist theory, studying structures at a particular point in time causes neglecting historical and social change. If we want to understand social structures deeply, we have to take into account the historical evolution and structural changes over time. Because structures are not shaped at the moment, it is a longitudinal process and we have to study structures with diachronic analysis. For example, in Turkish culture, when we were born if we are a baby girl, we are dressed up in pink and if we are a baby boy, we are dressed up in blue. Parents give dolls to girls and cars or balls to boys to play. Since our childhood, parents call girls as “princess” while boys are called “paşam, şehzadem, aslanım”. As we can see from the examples, gender is formed by the social structure where we were born into. But we do not think this consciously. All of these traditions, beliefs, discourses, kinship relations, which are the fundamental elements of the social structure, have settled in our subconscious.
Furthermore, our unconscious perceptions about ideal man and woman have been reproduced and spread by the media and advertisements. In the light of structuralist theory, we are going to discuss the question: “Have commercials, where idealized man’s body is shown instead of woman’s body, made a difference in society’s perception?” with the example of Biscolata commercial. (See full version of commercial film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMUmKhNAVL0)
I have chosen Biscolata commercial because at first sight, this commercial seems like it is demolishing the structures that we are surrounded by. Firstly, every day we watch lots of commercials on television where woman’s body is presented as a meta but in 2010, Turkish biscuit brand “Biscolata” made a commercial and draw public’s attention a lot. We are very used to seeing half naked man shaving in the bathroom. But it was the first time that a man’s body is presented as an appeal factor in biscuit commercials. In general, if the product is chocolate or ice-cream, it is very likely that we will see a sexy woman eating chocolate or biting Magnum. But in Biscolata commercials, we see lots of handsome, muscled, half naked men making and serving biscuits for women. Of course, it was a marketing strategy for a biscuit brand whose target group mostly consist of women. For this reason, they reversed our perceptions and tried to increase consumption from a different viewpoint. Far from demolishing the social structures surrounds us, it continues to stay in the same structures.
According to Althusser’s interpellation notion, we are shaped by ideologies. The media and advertisements create an “ideal” which is not exist and try to shape us in the direction of this unreal ideal. (Nguyen, 2010) There is not an ideal man or woman but we are exposed to wrong conscious by the media continuously. For example, in the subconscious of women there is a thought that if they bought Victoria’s Secret’s products, they would resemble to Victoria’s Secret’s models. We are trying adapt ourselves to this ideal which does not exist. Likewise, in Biscolata commercials, they present an ideal man type. At first, we may think that Biscolata commercials are different from stereotyped commercials, but in fact they deepen the same structural shapes.
As we can see, we are stucked in social structures but we cannot realise it. It is difficult to realise because every day we are exposed to patriarchal ideology reproducing and spreading by commercials, films, tv series, news etc.
Secondly, the language used in the media and advertisements reproduces patriarchal ideology and determines the social roles expected from men and women. (Pira and Elgün, 2004: 530) For instance, in detergent or cooking materials commercials there is always a woman who cleans the dishes or cooks in the kitchen, in foreign countries too. These commercials send messages to our subconscious with symbols and teach us how to be a woman and how to be a man. In Biscolata commercials men enter the kitchen, they make biscuits and serve to women. They try to show that the kitchen is not a place only for women. But men, who have a developed cultural level, are already helping women in the kitchen or cook and both two gender find it very ordinary.
Finally, although at first we perceive Biscolata commercial as a commercial against male-dominated ideology, it is completely a follow-up of the existent sexist ideology. It just changes the roles of woman and man and re-presents sexist ideology. This time they do not use men’s sexual desires but they play upon women’s sexual desires. They want women to imagine that they are having sex with that muscled men in the commercial when they eat Biscolata. Therefore, there is not any critical message against the commercials where woman’s body is presented as a meta. On the contrary, they aimed to increase consumption by displaying man’s body as a sex object. Moreover, by creating a new ideal: “Biscolata man”, they build another social structure that plays with our beauty perception and tries to embed men into these structural shapes. As well as this, Biscolata commercials create a monotype man who is handsome, muscled, fit, tall, young, sportive, strong, white, hairless briefly impeccable. They are also underestimating women’s expectations from men and are reducing women’s liking perceptions to a monotype man. They identify women as a weak and shallow character that we can easily impress by a handsome and muscled man who cooks for us and a man’s character is not important for us. Furthermore, researches show that some men are annoyed by the idealized man’s body in Biscolata commercials and as a reaction they find “Biscolata men” feminine and they mock with them. (Saatçıoğlu and Sabuncuoğlu, 2016: 446)
In conclusion, if we go back to our discussion question, commercials, where idealized man’s body is shown instead of woman’s body, did not make any difference in society’s perception. Because this kind of commercials reproduce existent sexist roles and gendered discourses in society by idealising both two gender and using ideal body sizes. Individuals living in a society, cannot determine their social roles. Ideology, which is constituted by hegemon production forms and relations, puts people in certain shapes and it forces people to behave in these shapes. Capitalist societies create these shapes of ideal woman and ideal man to increase consumption. They are using both woman and man’s desires to reach the unreal “ideal” to pump consumption culture.
Nguyen, Cindy. “Althusser, Ideology and Interpellation.” The Chicago School of Media Theory, 17th August 2010. Web. 9th November 2016.
Moustafa, Basant Sayed Mohamed. “Linguistic Gender Identity Construction in Political Discourse: A Corpus-assisted Analysis of the Primary Speeches of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton”. Egypt, 2015. PDF.
Pira, Aylin and Aslı Elgün. “Toplumsal Cinsiyeti İnşaa Eden Bir Kurum Olarak Medya; Reklamlar Aracılığıyşa Ataerkil İdeolojinin Yeniden Üretilmesi”. İzmir, 2004. PDF.
Saatçıoğlu, Ezgi and Ayda Sabuncuoğlu. “İdealize Edilmiş Erkek Bedeninin Bir Reklam Çekiciliği Olarak Kullanımına Yönelik Bir Araştırma”. İzmir, 2016. PDF.
Strinati, Dominic. An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.