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Power Play: No Escaping Billboard's Sexist Message

October 04, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here's where I stand on the whole sex and violence in Hollywood thing: If you think movies are too violent or too graphic, don't let your kids see them. And if you really think they're too violent or too graphic, don't you see them either.

That said, I wish the FTC would call a special subcommittee meeting on those billboards advertising the new Fox series "The Street."

It is impossible, given the constrictions of word count and civility, for me to express how much I hate these billboards.

Or rather, this billboard, the one I see every day, four times a day, because it is across the street from the parking garage of my children's day-care center. There it is, right in front of me, impossible to ignore, since closing my eyes is not an option, and I haven't figured out how to disconnect my peripheral vision.

On the left side of the image is a woman's body, or at least part of a woman's body--neck to mid-thigh--wearing a man's tie (loosely), a man's dress shirt (very unbuttoned) and a man's briefs. One hand is holding the business section of what looks like this newspaper; the other is tugging down the waistband of the briefs.

Beside this half-dressed torso runs the teaser: "They say Wall Street is a man's world. They're only half right."

As so many are doing these days, I tried to couch my hatred of this billboard in terms of protecting my children. The fact that it stands across the street from their day-care center certainly exacerbates my feelings. But really, at 2 1/2 and 5 months, my son and daughter are a bit young to be affected one way or the other.

And it's not the partial nudity I mind, it's not even the image I mind--a woman in a man's dress shirt is a cozy enough cliche, though the BVDs are an unusual touch. I don't even mind that she doesn't have a head. (Hey, I'm a child of the advertising age; I'm over the headless-woman issue.) What I mind, what makes me gnash my teeth every day, four times a day, is the message: Power is a male domain, and there is only one place for a woman in it--down a man's pants.

Now, with any luck, there will always be words and images around that offend me--they are the price we pay for free speech. And in the long run, it isn't that high a price. But the trouble with billboards is you can't turn them off. Or flip past them. Or choose not to see them. They are designed to attract our attention, and placed for maximum viewing potential. This is why they are such an effective advertising tool. And this is why we ought to be careful about what we put on them. Unlike TV spots or magazine ads, they are viewed by drivers, people in control of heavy machinery. They shouldn't be too distracting or shocking or irritating; the last thing we need is another distracted or shocked or irritated driver.

After seeing this billboard, I am in no mood to let that guy in the jacked-up pickup slide in front of me. Which isn't fair, but there it is.

This new series is from the same team that brought us "Sex and the City." And who knows? Maybe "The Street" will be a darn fine show, with vivid, believable characters. But I will never see it.

Because I think those billboards do a social disservice. My daughter may be too young to get the message, but a lot of other daughters, and sons, aren't.

So, I will never watch "The Street."

Because I have a message too. And that's the only way I know to send it.

*

Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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