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Girls can be cheerleaders

7 Nov

In only 30 seconds, this local Portland commercial for Mattress World manages to rewind gender stereotypes by approximately 50 years, scar children’s psyches, and not say anything helpful about its products’ features. They run more than one version of this exact message here during Trail Blazer games – other versions start with the little girl proclaiming her only dream in life is to be a cheerleader and then move on to the little boy with his many basketball-related dreams:

Not only are the gender roles here patently unnecessary and painful to watch, I fail to see how this campaign could sell mattresses. I imagine the crack marketing team at Mattress World sat down and said, “We need to come up with something that the locals will like. Locals like sports, right? Hmm, well there is only one professional sports team in the entire state. So the Trail Blazers are a pretty safe bet! Now, how to relate basketball to mattresses? Umm, well, they have cheerleaders, and players, right? Boys are the stars, and girls are the sideline decorations. But, we don’t want to be too sexy, we are a family mattress company. Let’s use kids, everyone likes kids. Go!”

They probably learned this form of marketing from reading kids’ books from the ’50s: “Girls can be nurses, boys can be doctors! Girls can be secretaries, boys can be businessmen! Girls can be mommies, boys can be rock stars!” Then they watched a few rip-and-replace local car commercials, where car companies come up with a bunch of generic characteristics they ascribe to a region, then voice them over pictures of their vehicles pasted over static images of local landmarks, and call that a regional targeted ad. It’s insulting. What’s worse is that they, and the vast majority of viewers, probably don’t see anything wrong with this approach.

Balls, balls, balls

9 Sep

Imported from MySpace blog

I didn’t write this*, but I could have:

It is often interesting to observe people who place importance on, and even structure their lives around, entirely inconsequential and superficial phenomena. Although this occurs extremely frequently in our society and particularly on college campuses, the most blatantly obvious example of it is this country’s obsession with sports. Never in the history of humanity have so many people put so much energy and spirit into something so pointless.

Even if you consider religion to be a farce, it must at least be admitted that organized religions espouse moral values that (can) have a positive effect on societies. Even if you recognize television as the vast wasteland that it is, there are admittedly a good number of shows that teach lessons, as well as those that educate.

But sports, which are probably more popular nowadays than either religion or TV, do not matter in any way at all. But let’s get one thing straight: it is not the act of playing sports that I am criticizing (quite the contrary, as I consider some sports to be an enjoyable form of physical activity and competition); I am criticizing the act of watching others play sports, and the absurdity of building an entire industry around this activity.

Consider it for a moment. Every weekend, millions of people gather in enormous coliseums to observe two opposing groups of men (who are opposed to one another only in the aspects of the geographical area with which they associate themselves and the animal which they use to represent their team) compete with one another according to arbitrary rules.

The vast majority of the men on these teams aren’t even participating in the sport at a given time. This is because the game is considered so important that there must be backup players to ensure absolute certainty that there is always someone to play every position on the field in the case of unexpected occurrences, and, depending on the sport, there must often be two sets of men on each team: those who attempt to accumulate points by means of manipulating some sort of ball in the right way, and those who attempt to prevent the other team from doing so.

And here is the part that amazes me: the success or failure of the two teams actually affects people emotionally. I’m not talking about the players or coaches or owners, I’m talking about the fans. If the team which they prefer (often, but not necessarily, a team associated with their native geographical region) performs successfully, the fan will scream, jump up and down, and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, even though they themselves have accomplished nothing and may have nothing of which to be proud. If “their” team fails or performs badly, they experience genuine anger and disappointment, even though this failure produces no negative effects whatsoever; whether their team wins the Super Bowl/World Series/whatever or doesn’t score a single point the entire season, the real world will go on just the same.

And then, as if putting so much of oneself into a game isn’t absurd enough, enthusiasm for sports extends beyond the sporting events themselves. This is where it causes extreme frustration for me personally, because “sports talk” frequently dominates conversation among males.

It’s not that I don’t understand the sports themselves; if that were the problem, then it could be rectified with just a few hours of study. It’s that I fail to grasp, on a fundamental level, exactly what it is that people like about sports. One of the answers I’ve heard is “it’s entertainment;” this is simply a rephrasing of the phenomenon itself, and doesn’t explain why people consider it entertainment.

Another answer I’ve heard is that sports allow people to achieve a sense of personal victory without risk. This seems to make sense, but isn’t it true that the disappointment one feels when his team loses is equal in magnitude to the satisfaction caused by the team winning? In that case, it seems that if one considers the satisfaction to be a significant benefit, then the potential for disappointment must be considered a risk.

And even if this explanation is true, I still fail to understand how people can cause themselves to be concerned about the inconsequential. If people have this ability, then why is a multi-million dollar industry necessary to help them utilize it? Why can’t they just decide to place great importance on which direction the wind blows, and derive their satisfaction/disappointment from that?

It has also been said that sports are good because they bring people together, and because they teach the values of teamwork, competition and excellence. True, it is good for people to come together, but sports are hardly necessary for this. It is also true that the afore-mentioned values are learned through participation in sports, but they are not gained in any way through the mere observation of them.

All in all, the only thing I’ve ever enjoyed about sports events is “the wave;” indeed, watching thousands of people work together to create a large-scale lateral propagation is nothing short of fascinating. In fact, when I consider that if it were not for sports, the wave would probably not exist, then I begin to think that perhaps all of the hype and unjustified enthusiasm is worth it, and that this must be the reason God created sports in the first place.

* If you know who did, let me know so I can link back.

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