Throughout the history of television advertising, anxieties about technological change have frequently been accompanied by gendered anxieties, slightly suggestive sexual representations and carnivalesque reversals. In my current research, I’ve been addressing social discourses surrounding the advent of HDTV, particularly as they are expressed in print and TV advertising and especially as they address masculinity and the family.
I’ve noticed that advertising for HDTV often echoes promotional claims from the early days of analog television: a force that could both unify and break up the family; a bewildering new home appliance demanding a level of masculine prowess impossible to fulfill. And it’s certainly true that new media demand a greater amount of skill and attention on our part. Henry Jenkins calls it “participatory culture” - the very high level of interaction required as we grapple with what he calls “dispersed media content” (3). We have but to think of all the mobile media in our knapsacks and handbags; the number of boxes and cables in our living rooms. We’re living with a new set of technical demands we don’t fully understand. Do these excessive demands that lead to the kind of demasculinization I’m noticing in HDTV ads? Many of the ads I’ve been looking at seem to crystallize what Jeanne Hamming has dubbed “epiphanal moments” : a moment when the male hero experiences an epiphany about his status as a cultural subject (148). As an example, I’ve downloaded a clip from a Viera plasma TV ad, which depicts nature, technology and masculinity in tension with one another. Many scholars have noted that new technologies brought into the home must go through a stage of being tamed and brought under personal control.“ But as this ad shows, this domestication is not immediate. In the early stage of HD adoption, the technology, wild thing that it is, can turn on the consumer. Our hero, drowning in elephant body fluids is something other than natural, other than masculine, perhaps a kind of hybrid, part nature, part machine, part male part female—a result of the ongoing breakdown between nature and culture brought about by the adoption of digital technologies.
Jenkins, Henry, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York: New York University Press 2006.
Hamming, Jeanne, “The Feminine ‘Nature’ of Masculine Desire in the Age of Cinematic Techno-Transcendance” , Journal of Popular Film & Television, Winter 2008, Vol. 35 Issue 4, p146-153.