InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Dec 2000
EJMAS Tips Jar

Fighting In Ads

By Barb F

Copyright © Barb F 2000. All rights reserved.

   Above, clothing marketed through a tug of war -- one of the most popular build-ups to a catfight.

   Ahh advertising! Nothing speaks with greater power about the state, orientation and psyche of our mass culture. Because its goal is to encourage us to purchase stuff (often stuff we don't really need), advertising must identify and play upon our insecurities, biases, fears, goals, self-image, innate short, everything that we feel and perhaps are not totally conscious of.

   At the same time, most advertising tends to be conservative culturally since "turning off" the ad reader can spell death for any product or company. So it's fascinating to watch ad weavers deal with the female fighter as an icon of desire or attention or sensuality. They can't go all out cheering the fighters on but, if they are conscious of the power of these images, they'll use them -- especially for ads directed towards men.

   In most ads of this type, the essential quality is surprise and the tone is tongue in cheek: using the fighting woman image as a kind of unlikely foil to advertise products that have nothing to do with the image itself. This selection of ad images bears out that disposition.

   Here's an example: an ad for a small, high priced gift catalog operation. The scene is an older fight scene (stressing the "non reality" of the image) and the caption makes an allusion to the fight that, in the end, has nothing to do with the product.

   While this catalog operation sells stuff for every occasion (and for both sexes), the text of the ad (below what you see here) makes clear that this is marketed to men who want to purchase something special "for the special woman" in their lives. The text makes no mention of the image and, in fact, says absolutely nothing that could be related to it. So what's going on?

   On the surface, it's a joke of course but there's something subliminally powerful about this ad. The fight is taking place in a home and, apparently, the two women are alone here. One of the male "insecurities" advertising often plays with is "what is your woman doing when you're not there?" In this case, she's fighting another woman. Now, if that gets the guy going, great! If not, if he's "turned off" by this idea, the ad plays the old "poke in the ribs" joke: "you know women...can't figure them out". Or even more deeply, the woman as "bitch" or crazy person.

   Most men who see the ad won't be conscious of those feelings but I think they are being plowed and advertising's genius is its ability to push buttons without you realizing that those buttons have been pushed.

   Sometimes, you just push the damned buttons and that's that. In the ad to the right there's a vicious catfight going on in a school hallway. It's broken out because these two girls have opened their lockers and noticed that they share something: the guy in their lives (they both have photos of him).

   Not only is this brilliant piece directed toward men but it's cleverly based on segment marketing. You see, the ad (which doesn't even mention the fight) is for a computer device that computer "geeks" would purchase. Just because a young fellow sits in front of the computer all day and night doesn't mean he doesn't have a libido and fantasies driven by it. And what computer nerd wouldn't dream of two lovelies fighting it out for his sexual charms?

   There are several jokes in the piece but the main advertising ploy here is this: computer geeks aren't all bespectacled and unattractive. In fact, I know a good many who are young hunksters, to be honest. But, in most cases, the computer world breeds an insecurity about socializing and building relationships and this piece of vicious advertising pushes that button with aplomb.

   Now, that's not to argue that all this fighting female advertising is for men! Here's an ad (a mailed flyer, actually) for women and it's a marvelous inside joke. I received the flyer from a store I patronize and recognized the recent European photo from Germany from the Internet (these people are "fans" folks!). Pictured are participants in the newly "internationalized" sport of Sumo Wrestling and women are, in fact, starting to participate in that sport.

   The store is a sporting goods store oriented specifically to women. Of course, few women who might patronize the store are Sumo wrestlers; that's the joke. But this joking message has serious undertones.

   With nice tongue in cheek, it grabs attention and then touches the female competitor's buttons. Two equally sized women are about to compete, literally head to head, in a sport of strength and skill. Every sports woman knows THAT feeling.

   Moreover, not only is it a combat sport but, historically, it is one of the world's most MALE combat sports. And any athletic woman knows that, to play her sport and be recognized generally in it, she must confront the biases and "take back" the sport for herself and her sex.

   And she must often confront the issue of "how do I look" while competing! Of course, she wants to look good at some level of her psyche but DAMNIT, that's NOT enough. So much so, by the way, that you don't want any of your gear failing you! Or your clothing slipping a bit, etc. You want to keep that stuff right on the bod because you're there to compete and win. Boy, this one is full of psyche plowing. Caught my attention anyway.

   To demonstrate how powerful it is culturally, much advertising has become "referential" (referring to famous incidents and scenes in other media). The ad to the right is from a California-based winery and that's what it's about.

   It's directed to getting people to visit and comments upon the quality of its products and, in a joking way, the friendliness of its staff. Well. You're a wine-maker and you want to do something with catfighting. Where's the reference?

   Right you are (and you're probably older than I if you got it)! I Love Lucy and the famous scene in the wine making vat. Lucille Ball, by one of the greatest comic geniuses, was a brilliant technician of the "silent joke" and she frequently employed the "escalating crisis" concept (earlier best developed by Chaplin) into her work. In that famous scene, she finds herself working in a winery (after a typical "Lucy" misadventure) in which the grapes are crushed by stomping feet and she and a woman who speaks no English are paired for the task. Without communication and with her partner's increasing frustration with Lucy's incompetence, a snarling argument (with no words) degenerates into a food fight which develops into a shoving match and then catfight city! Because she was such a marvelous mime, Lucille Ball could work a fight and the memorable nature of the scene is referenced by the ad to the right.

   By the way, the attire leaves no question that this is a Lucy reference. But it also works as a tongue in cheek image for those who don't know that old fight scene.

Much more erudition is required to "get the point" of the catfight in the image to the right and what's truly remarkable is that this is a serious ad or should have been. It's for a consulting firm that specializes in seminars and systems to avoid workplace violence.

   Most people would only see some women working at a table in the pic so the text must actually push a button itself. You don't see it because I can't reproduce it without naming the firm but a sentence deep in the text says: "Nobody watching Carmen and her co-workers would have predicted what was about to happen here."

   The scene is from one of the first cinematic retellings of Carmen, circa 1918. Carmen is here starting the argument that will bring her opponent (across from her) to the fighting floor for a vicious workplace catfight that ends with a face cut.

   Now, to get this one, you need to know your catfight scenes and history. Or then again maybe not. The obvious "tension" in this scene is powerful -- the rest of the "cigarette girls" are clearly enjoyably interested in the argument developing here and we know it's an argument because Carmen ain't smiling. But, in the background, the table manager (or forewoman, I guess) seems serious and concerned.

   The brilliance of the ad maker's selection of this pic is that this forewoman knows something's about to jump off and isn't sure what to do about it. That's something most Human Resources or Security directors would understand personally. Most of them have seen situations in which something appeared "not quite right" but the solution wasn't immediately obvious and, all of a sudden, fights break out. How do you prevent it? Well, in this scene, with a quick intervention that didn't come -- to the eternal delight and gratitude of fans of female fighting.

   In real life, the ad tells us: you hire this firm to train your people and develop programs that will allay the deep-seated fear any corporate manager has. Hmmm...

About the Author: Barbara F. is the manager of the Combative Woman's Web Site, an informational web site managed by women, for women and about combative women that is in its seventh year of existence on the Internet.
InYo Dec 2000