Quick hit: NOW NYC’s new tumblr targets offensive advertising

Sometimes when I’m walking down the street or waiting on the subway platform, I see an ad that makes me want to whip out a marker and scrawl “This insults women” or “Sexism sells!” all over it. Then I remember that graffiti is a crime and that defacing public spaces isn’t a good idea.

Luckily, NOW NYC has started a new tumblr called “That’s Not Cool,” which is meeting all my graffiti wish-fulfillment needs. And you can join in the fun by submitting your own picture of an ad that’s sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise not cool. The result looks a little something like this.

And you should go ahead and submit – it shouldn’t be hard, because there are a lot of not cool ads out there.  In fact, as glad as I am that NOW NYC has given us an outlet to digitally graffiti offensive ads, I cannot be trusted not to sharpie the crap out of this Svedka vodka ad the next time I see it. Hey, Svedka, just because you’re using a robot lady doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing to human rape culture.


New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/jaclyn/ Jaclyn W

    I generally don’t consider myself a feminist (at least, I rarely use that label, though I fully support women’s equality), and I admit I tend to be pretty oblivious to messages in advertising, but this post reminded me of one that DOES stand out to me. The Swiffer commercials about the “dirt” longing to be “picked up” are shocking to me, and I’ve wondered if anyone else has ever noticed them. The fact that the “dirt” in the commercials are always women, too, is mind-blowing. Makes me never want to buy another Swiffer product.

  • http://feministing.com/members/thenothingsong/ Trish

    Some of those ads on the Tumblr were pretty shocking. Also, I’m not that surprised that so many Whitney ads are up there, that show just seems like a crime against women.

  • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

    I often wonder if a lot of anti-ism campaigns billing themselves as “cool” end up being counter-productive, because the concept of “cool” as a desirable trait is inherently based on the “other;” based on there being some non-cool status or group that is inferior. “Cool” functions as an abstract quality very much like social privileges of masculinity/whiteness/heterosexuality except it is slippery enough to be moved around and redirected anywhere and in any way. That’s a good thing in the right hands, but how long can you keep it under your control?

    So a lot of “hip” portrayals of anti-racism/sexism/homophobia end up working by marginalizing some other group… i.e. “homophobia is uneducated/rednecky” and “racism is crazy/retarded” or “classism/rich people are so domestic and effeminate” type arguments are extremely catchy with youth and make them laugh, but marginalize, respectively, poor people, people with disabilities, and LGBT people and women. Since all of these “ism” attitudes are so psychologically ingrained in us, an anti-racism/sexism/homophobia meme that seems *too easy* or too popular and propagates itself organically is probably doing so because it capitalizes on existing negative attitudes and forms of privilege.

    OK, those are basic examples – take it a step farther. Another form of “anti-racism/sexism/homophobia is cool” approach is attitudinal. It works by saying, look our side is relaxed, laid back, welcoming (the original definition of “cool” meaning not easily offended) while they (the bigots) are angry, emotional, and agitated about the prospect of equality. It’s very successful in making people want to be on the “good” side. But I find that becomes problematic because then when people of minority status become angry about prejudice, when they become passionate, when they are offended, they end up being criticized for it by the very same people we thought we just reached because we have popularized dispassion. And in today’s South Park culture of coolness-based-on-dispassion is really coming down hard on the frustrations of people of minority status. So when bigots are angry because they are losing, “cool=dispassionate” accelerates their losing. When bigots are calm because they are winning, “cool=dispassionate” (which quite possibly happens more often) is a huge asset to them.

    Another really easy, popular message anti-rasism/anti-sexism/anti-homophobia uses via “coolness” is the idea that prejudice is “old-fashioned” vs “cool” non-prejudice, which of course doesn’t get internalized properly because it isn’t questioning the impulses of the person who wants to be “cool,” it’s just telling them they are great bright young people who can fit in because of their generation, to laugh along, that non-prejudice is “in style” and they should really just be grateful they aren’t old. So then it ends up turning the blind eye to history, and being really ageist, and privileging youth culture and marginalizing cultures that value tradition: racists to get a leg up by portraying minorities as old-fashioned or traditional (look at how Muslims are stereotyped today.)

    Then there’s “cool-as-uncool,” any type of out-group is cool, which is getting closer. We’re moving beyond South Park culture and into Glee culture. Except then outgroup-ness is a commodity, and you have kids like the one from The Glee Project whose great deep inner conflict was being a conservative Christian and suddenly I think they’ve found a way to put themselves at equal status with people of color or LGBT people or women, simply by providing a very specific way they are in the (numerical) minority in this particular room. Like being a sorta-marshmallowy mild-mannered white guy is a form of being oppressed. What happens when it gets to the point that racism itself is the outgroup that defines itself as “cool” because it is an unpopular minority group, based on ideology? Don’t you get the Tea Party?

    Then you come to direct rebuttals of racism in your use of the concept of “cool”… i.e. “that’s so white” as a pejorative meaning un-cool. White people can certainly take the hit, no complaints there. But then it ends up turning non-whiteness into some commodity to be bought and traded and then some white people (especially young, popular celebrities) who have risen to “cool” non-white status (even though they are still white) are somehow excused of their privilege and racism.

    I’m often challenged to come up with ways of defining “cool” that are not based on some “ism.” If ____ is cool, what/who is uncool?

    Is this message, in particular – “racist/sexist/homophobic depictions are NOT COOL” really reaching the promised land of defining cool/non cool as nothing other than whether or not the subject is sexist/racist/homophobic? Have we finally gotten there? I don’t know.

    My sense is that in the hands of this blogger, yes, it may be controlled well enough. But if it were to catch on and become a fad then it will be abused because “coolness” is such an easily-abusable concept.

  • http://feministing.com/members/adeboye23/ adeboye

    I believe that for a very long time advertisement via billboards, print especially and television have been key factors is business, a lot of these businesses use raunchy attention catching ads to help attract the eye of the viewer. It is possible for these ads strike the soft points of many different types of groups relating to gender, ethnicity, religion, political background etcetera. What one person may find to be harmless joke or entertaining can actually be very offensive to another. In other cases the catch in an ad may not even apply to them in any shape or form so they may not even notice the offense. I have noticed the tumblr and I believe that a lot these “not cool” labels are very fitting and some are inappropriate. For example the Dos Equis Double X that states “You approach women like a wild animal, with caution and a soothing voice” this ad made some one really mad, AKA me, and I am a male but I feel this was a very disrespectful and inappropriate, like was this even written in America with those types of things being written on them? This is not the way to approach women, whatever they meant behind the message it is very incorrect to compare women to wild animals.

    • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

      Some of the ads were more egregious than others, but I think the idea of the project as a whole is to encourage people to view ads more critically and in new ways.

      Some of the images, if taken in isolation, do not seem as “offensive” until you consider that there are many ads with the same subtle message and notice a pattern, then they become problematic. For example, my favorite example is the before/after pic for the Dove product where a black woman is standing in front of the “bad” skin and a white woman is standing in front of the “good” skin. If you didn’t know anything about race you might think it was just an awkward coincidence. If you know the social context that there are skin-lightening products marketed towards black women and girls, which are very troubling to leaders in the black community, and DO affect self-esteem, it’s more poignant. Maybe that one portrayal was “accidental” but somebody in the advertising agency should have noticed that problem and corrected it!