Is Audi Promoting Rape Culture?Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

With all the talk about rape culture, I find the Audi "Prom" ad a bit disturbing. A shy kid gets to drive Dad's Audi, so he's empowered to kiss a girl without any consent on her part. Sure, he gets punched by the prom king, but who cares? He got what he wanted.

The girl is purely an object. She seems neither happy nor unhappy at being kissed, just sort of, well, ovewhelmed. Because the way to a girl's heart, obviously, is to grab her and kiss her.

I'd like to see the version of the ad where the girl smacks him in the face. If she wanted to kiss him, maybe she'd already be going out with him instead of her actual boyfriend?

UPDATE:  What I'd really like to see is the ad in which he goes up to her and talks with her. And she digs him. And he drives away with a black eye ... and she's in the passenger seat.


And here lies the power of cinema. And the horror of notes.

By Blogger DMc, at 11:47 PM  

Wow it totally just posted for me-

Here's what I mean, as short as I can say it. I think we're influenced now watching that ad. I know it, because I think something very different watching it now post Steubenville and the other horrible stories -- i had the same reaction the last time I saw it, which was the 10th time I saw it.

But here's the thing -- I think my previous reaction to it was more correct. When I first saw it I thought it was charming, and a lot of it has to do with the cues the woman gives off. She does not immediately bat him away saying, ugh! Who are you... she leans into it and is surprised, and as he runs away from her redneck boyfriend her reaction -- what's playing on her face, reads to me as re-evaluation. So it's not shock or horror -- so this was not an assault by a stranger. It might be a totally unexpected advance by someone she had never considered, but as she watches him go she is not concerned for her boyfriend's feelings, and she's not distressed -- she's clearly seeing the boy she never considered in a different light.

Now...yes, this might well be simply the most entitled case of the framing of the Male Gaze evah...but...

...or is it backstory? Is she Winnie Cooper seeing Kevin Arnold that way for the first time? Is she the hunk in Sixteen Candles who finally sees Molly Ringwald not as the Ugly Duckling.

The important thing here is that her reaction is ambiguous, yes, but it does not show distress of any sort. In the evidence on screen, it was not, post facto, a necessarily unwanted advance. Especially with the clear evidence that the boyfriend may be a bit of a meathead.

This is where we have such difficulty today and why it's so impossible to make a decent romantic comedy...because we can't even use the tropes anymore.

Ironically Alex, one could make a case here that you are making the Network/Studio argument that all nuance is dangerous and everything must be spelled out...

...because after all, we wouldn't want anyone to be OFFENDED right?

By Blogger DMc, at 11:57 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Unknown, at 7:50 AM  

Here's the thing, Denis. It may be a successful trope, but in real life, it doesn't make you "re-evaluate" the guy. It makes you want to wash out your mouth, and then feel that you have ask someone to walk you to your car because he might be waiting for you.

By Blogger Unknown, at 8:03 AM  

I think in a rom com there might be a little more room for nuance than there is in a car spot.

But I also think, DMc, I'm becoming more attuned to how the media push rape culture. And this ad is part of that. Because, honestly, no decent guy would grab a girl and kiss her that way. If he wanted her to re-evaluate him, he would ask her to dance. Or even lean in for a kiss and see if she was responding.

This isn't that. This promotes the idea that the way to a woman's heart is to take her without her consent. Because there is no consent here, not even a glance or a smile.

The ad, yes, does sort of allow the interpretation that she liked it. But that's the whole problem. The ad tells men it's okay to kiss a woman so long as they want to; and tells women they're supposed to be impressed when a man does that.

There's a difference between "I need this to be crystal clear" and "I need this not to promote an ugly lie."

And, like you, before Steubenville, I probably wouldn't have notice the ad at all, or maybe I would have thought it was cute. Some tropes get discarded as times and mores change. One day we may be shot of the Sassy Black Girlfriend and the Sassy Gay Best Friend, too, adorable as they are.

(And, nice how Orphan Black rescues the latter by making him a human being.)

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:38 AM  

Offhand I can think of a few ways this story could work just as well with the girl giving consent.

a. Instead of raping her face, the kid asks her to dance. She agrees. Prom King gets angry. Kid gets punched. But it was worth it.

b. Kid goes and talks to her. Intimately. She's smiling. She likes him. She reevaluates him. Prom King gets mad, kid gets punched. But it was worth it.

c. Kid goes and talks. She smiles, she likes him. Prom King gets mad. Cut to the kid in the car with the black eye. It was worth it ... because the girl is in the passenger seat.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:55 AM  

This isn't about network notes. They're selling a pernicious male fantasy: "She wants it, she just doesn't know she wants it." The fact that he feels empowered because Daddy's rich just makes it worse.

By Blogger Unknown, at 10:44 AM  

But hang on a sec. It's not "rape culture." It's one piece of something. Whenever you point to one piece and say this stands in for all things that are just like it, you are on a slippery slope.

Alex, you already essentially admitted the same thing I did -- that pre-Steubenville I saw this one way, and the last time I saw it, I had a moment of fleeting feeling where I saw it exactly the same way. Ick.

We all have situational things where we freight symbolism onto something - and that changes over time. "flipping it" isn't really a solution to the underneath thing that's going on in the culture...just as putting all those magic black judges in every TV show doesn't really succeed in papering over America's still simmering difficulty dealing with race intelligently.

Like the "reevaluative" postings going around about the new Dove ad on FB right now, it's one thing to push an alternative interpretation and say, "you know, it makes me feel THIS way..." but it's quite another to turn on a dime and say, "this proves everything that's wrong about rape culture and the male gaze."

It's a little more complicated than that.

But ...

My other point stands. This is in the air right now. Makes it pretty impossible to do a frothy little romcom, don't it?

..and for us writers, it's an uncomfortable reminder that the fear networks have that you must spell everything out always with zero room for ambiguity...well...isn't this an example of the problem when you don't?

Fascinating contextual argument, problematic conclusions. Just don't say the read on the commercial above is black and white -- because it's not.

...and I say that as a guy who would never go up to a woman he didn't know and kiss her in a million billion years.

Then again, if that didn't happen sometimes, we would have lost one pretty iconic LIFE magazine V-E Day photo, right? I'm pretty sure that sailor didn't ask that nurse permission. Was that pro-rape?

By Blogger DMc, at 1:39 PM  

I didn't say it stands in for anything. I'm saying it promotes the idea that you can take what you want from a woman without asking, and she'll love you for it. Because from the way that ad presents the story, it is pretty clear he doesn't ask.

I have no idea what that has to do with rom coms. I can't think of where in KNOCKED UP or WHEN HARRY MET SALLY or SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE or ANNIE HALL, the guy forced himself on the girl. It's kind of essential to a rom com that both lovers have agency.

I'm also unclear what this has to do with needing to make things clearer. There is no nuance in the ad. He grabs her, he kisses her, maybe she digs it, he wins. The ad is very clear. I don't want the ad to be less nuanced. I want it to be different.

I think it's legitimate to complain about tropes in the media that treat certain groups as without agency. No one can watch those Shirley Temple movies any more where she bosses the negroes around and they love it, because now we white people have stopped telling ourselves that black people jes' love to be bossed around. That was a pernicious trope, too, and now it's mostly gone (except for the Magic Negro, who Just Wants to Help).

I have no idea what happened before the V-E day photo, What makes you think the guy didn't take a moment to smile at the nurse, and she smiled back, and THEN he grabbed her and kissed her? Assuming, of course, that she wasn't actually his date.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:56 PM  

Re: the VE day photo - because I read an article years ago that interviewed her. She didn't even really see him until he was kissing her. And she didn't mind.

It has everything to do with tropes. What's interesting here though is that the Shirley Temple stuff you point to was fine for years before it was pulled. As a kid, I could still could see SONG OF THE SOUTH. But in this case, a commercial that was probably filmed three or four months ago, and which I first saw 2 months ago or whatever, suddenly in the last month has this new, icky association.

You can argue if you want that it always had that association, but I don't think it's true. And that idea -- grab her and kiss her -- well geez, Elliot did that to the girl in E.T. Unless I miss my guess, Leia did it to Luke to make Han jealous. Luke had no "agency" in that case -- and talk about ick factor -- he didn't even know he was kissing his sister.

And then there's the half a dozen scenes I half remember where two people were arguing voiciferously and one grabbed the other and started kissing. Not, "I will kiss you now," not permission sought. Was THAT rape culture?

There's no sense in pushing something as simple that really isn't. It's odd to me that here's this thing that you saw, and you see it one way, and now that's the interpretation and you're very defensive with somebody going, "uh, it's not that simple."

Isn't the whole problem that it's *not* that simple? I mean from Fifty Shades of Grey to the icky and true idea that a lot of female fantasies play with tropes of helplessness or big strong cavemen taking control -- I mean, I didn't make any of this up, and it's not like it doesn't still exist.

a lot of people, me included, look at shameful things like Steubenville and the other incidents and all the instant slut-shaming that goes on and thinks, "how is it possible that these people don't see how wrong this is?" because to us it seems simple.

but it's not simple; clearly there has to be a whole bunch of tumblers in the culture that have gone awry. A whole bunch. Taking a cut and dried, "this is terrible" judgey approach to one ad that even YOU ADMIT YOU SAW DIFFERENTLY a while ago is not the solution.

The teachable moment here isn't that. I think it's the fact that the ubiquity of our media today means that what was acceptable long after it should have been -- Shirley Temple, Song of the South -- stuff that took years to simmer, can now turn on a dime. That doesn't make it any easier to figure out the solution. And affecting an attitude of moral superiority about it doesn't help anyone.

We've all been thrown into the same deep end. I guarantee you that if Audi's agency was pitching today not 3 or 6 months ago - that ad wouldn't have gotten greenlit. But is that progress? Or an overreaction? Or is it both? Is it a sharp corrective or hysteria? I have no idea.

And here's the point: neither do you. You're making a pretty big 20/20 hindsight play here.145 uetTTcms

By Blogger DMc, at 2:34 PM  

Just because it's a common trope doesn't mean it isn't icky. It's not that it became icky in the last few months. It's that more people are realizing that it's icky after seeing some very ugly examples of how this mentality can play out in the real world.

I'm gonna go with progress, and it's about time.

And you don't think it's simple that the slut shaming after Steubenville was wrong and obviously wrong? WTF?

By Blogger Unknown, at 12:22 PM  

Your first point is a lot better than your second. Parsing my remarks that way is a little troll-ey.

By Blogger DMc, at 12:54 PM  

I was misled by this statement:

"how is it possible that these people don't see how wrong this is?" because to us it seems simple.

but it's not simple;

Honestly. To me that reads like an excuse of something that I get that you don't agree with.

I think my main disagreement is with this statement:Taking a cut and dried, "this is terrible" judgey approach to one ad that even YOU ADMIT YOU SAW DIFFERENTLY a while ago is not the solution.

I think that's exactly the right solution. We should say, "Hey, this is terrible." If you insist that we follow it by, "I didn't realize how terrible it was until Steubenville," okay, I guess. Not sure it adds a whole lot to the point.

By Blogger Unknown, at 7:30 PM  

Oh brother.

By Blogger Zing Blog, at 11:12 AM  

What kind of world have we wrought when a young boy kissing a young girl is seen as rape? I'm horrified by what we've become. By your standards your article just raped me.

By Blogger Zing Blog, at 11:20 AM  

I pretty much agree with your assessment.

I remember being a little girl, watching those scenes that "Unknown" described and being horrified. Those girls did not asked to be kissed and they were supposed to like it? Didn't make any sense, the first thing I would have done is hit him, even if I did want to be kissed. Kisses are meant to be shared not taken. That's what movies should be about. Which is why I adore that scene in Hitch where Will Smith is teaching Kevin James, that you go 90% and she goes 10%.

I've had friends who have had unwanted kissed forced on them, and I've had it very nearly happen to me. Inexperienced boys think that they way to start things up are the way that it's done in movies.

So it happens, it's misguided and people are still figuring out those aspects of relationships. I'll give that it's generally a confusing time for all involved, and teens look to movies as guidance when parents aren't doing their part.

I did like that they showed her being happy about it after, that at least places value on her happiness.

But you look at the amount of time, they tried shoving that story in, it becomes understandable where they might've not inter cut mutual smiles.

The ad was about the car, and how the car made the boy feel. Because when it gets down to it, they're selling a car, and trying to convince you that if you own this, it will make you happy.

They succeeded in telling us how the car made the boy feel, that's true.

They may have been able to avoid the rape-culture marker, if they had just shown him drag-racing or taking a long drive with friends instead of going to the dance.

But they chose the story they chose, and the ad is the way it is. The most we can do is mention what's wrong with it and hope it sticks.

Have fun!
-Aspiringtobesomeone AKA Mel

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:22 PM  

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