September 9th, 2010
So, right there on the bottom of the front page of the first semester issue of the student campus newspaper, The MUSE, is a banner ad for Jiffy Cabs, a popular local business. It’s hard to miss. The ad features a collage of images of provocatively dressed young women looking, well, heavily plastered, or certainly obliviously deep in party mode. Jiffy’s call number is 722-2222. The tag line? “Even drunk girls can remember two digits.”
Even drunk girls can remember two digits? Bada bing. Are you laughing yet?
Do you remember this bad old joke:
How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
That’s not funny!
Well, I am a feminist with a healthy sense of humour and I both ardently defy the tired cliché of humourlessness and find the Jiffy Cabs ad decidedly unfunny. In fact, the ad is really lame, with a lot of bad taste written all over it. What were they thinking? Who thought this was an acceptable message for a university crowd? For any crowd? I can only imagine what the parents of Memorial’s female students might be thinking when their eyes fall over the ad. Who endorsed this kind of thing? I should disclose I am a member of the Board of Directors of the MUSE, but the Board does not oversee the editorial content or preview the ads. No, we tend to have to speak to complaints after the fact, as I imagine I will have to do in this unpleasant example.
You don’t have to be a culture studies student to understand what the ad is signifying, but let me state the obvious, anyway. First, it draws on a stereotype about college girls that surely went the way of Mischa Barton’s reputation. The ad would be bad enough if it featured a collage of slobbering guys in mid lurch. But some wise guy or two obviously thought that young women looking as wasted as Amy Winehouse would be even funnier. Images of drunken young women are a common feature of the tabloids: otherwise we wouldn’t know what the two references above were all about. Sure, a home movie of a drunken David Hasselhoff groveling on the floor in search of a half-eaten hamburger went viral. But in true pop double-standard fashion, the Hoff has been pretty well fully rehabilitated, even affectionately roasted by his celebrity pals as a guy who knows how to roll with the punches and get on with it. No such public redemption is normally allowed the Mischas, Amys, Courtneys, Brittneys, Lindseys et al, who are easy prey for a scandal-seeking press, and who are rarely given either privacy or a second chance, not without having to, say, go to jail, adopt six children from foreign lands, or join PETA. Women, you see, aren’t supposed to get drunk – ever. It’s not ladylike. Why else would the ad ever have been considered funny in the first place?
Second, and related to the point above, the image of the intoxicated “girls” not so subtly evokes and perhaps implicitly encourages a fantasy of date rape. I know that sounds over the top to some of you, but, honestly, would you find an ad featuring drunken men causing car accidents funny? It’s practically unthinkable. Yet, sadly, there is something socially acceptable about the Jiffy Cab ad because it reinforces a notion of women’s vulnerability—and irresponsibility under the influence. That very concept is assumed to be funny, because it’s titillating, gets at something the MUSE reader might very well be imagining. Well, thinking is a private matter. Reinforcing inappropriate tendencies in a very public way is another thing altogether.
Like many others, I both marvel at and lament the amazing popularity of the Girls Gone Wild industry. I’m not born yesterday, and so I understand why the sight of drunken college girls flashing and mooning on some Florida beach would have wide appeal, however puerile these fantasies might be, rooted and arrested as they are in some adolescent oops-I-did-it-again sensibility.
But on the front page of our campus newspaper? In 2010? With fresh and alarming news reports of boyfriends and husbands violently doing away with inconvenient girlfriends and wives?
Sorry, MUSE staff, sorry cabbies, it’s just not acceptable. I know it’s not at all ladylike, but I am tempted to show you just one digit, and in a jiffy.