Stereotypes Pervade Television Commercials

television tv

The conservative-dressing, smart, sensible mother knows what’s best for her children. The smiley, slightly overweight dad wears a silly apron in front of the grill. The carefree, good-looking single guy is surrounded by beautiful young women while drinking a beer. Happy, non-fussy, clean babies sit around smiling without ever crying. These are just a few of the stereotypes prevalent in television commercials. Stereotypes are not all bad; they serve the purpose of communicating a message more effectively and quickly. But they can have negative implications as well.

Maybe it’s just the nature of advertising. Maybe it’s the easiest way to communicate in a short period of time. But why are commercials so full of stereotypes of men and women? MSNBC highlights some of those stereotypes:

“If there’s a dad in a commercial, he’s almost always a doofus with a smarter wife who smiles benevolently at him when he does something dumb.”

That’s the analysis that comes from Gael Fashingbauer Cooper over at She goes on to elaborate on what commercials tell us about men: They like sports and grilling as much as they like just sitting on the couch doing nothing at all.

What I find interesting is the little bit of truth in stereotypes that makes them work in commercials. Most men I know do like sports and barbecue, and yes, they really do enjoy couch time! What I don’t appreciate about the image portrayed in the ads is that he seems to always be clueless, or as Cooper said it, “a doofus” who has a smart wife. I think of Everybody Loves Raymond. The image often makes the men look more like children relative to their wives. We have to ask about the message this image sends to young boys and girls. What does this tell them about their own dads? And, furthermore, what impact will it have on their own psyche about their role in the marriage relationship? Are boys doomed to be treated like children by women who will act like their mother? And do girls then presume that they’re going to have to help their mate along because they all come with inferior intellectual ability?

Do most people notice that every commercial makes it look as if everyone lives in a huge house in suburbia, that women are smarter than men, that children are smart and cute, and that dads are like children in grown-up male bodies who rely on their wives to do things right? Does anyone care? Do these advertising stereotypes have any impact on the way we treat each other in “real life”? That would be a very interesting study to conduct.

Do these portrayals of men and women bother you? Or do you appreciate the value of the message they bring? They bother me. While I’ve been guilty of calling men “clueless” about relationships once or twice, I don’t believe that they are our intellectual inferiors. And I don’t want my children to think that they are.

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