There is a trend prevalent online of taking a source material and divesting it of its original intention to re-present it as an insightful or inspirational soundbite. It falls in the category of those snippets of new-age pep appearing in front of psychedelic backgrounds in Facebook feeds, which suggest that feeling good about your life will save the planet, etc., and the moving-image manifestation of this is the excerpted motivational business video, the ‘real-life’ sob-story, or, commonly, the re-presented advert.
One of the latest that begs close reading is the re-presentation of the Australian ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ Snickers advert, which has appeared in various places across the net under headlines like ‘Aussie Builders Surprise Women With Loud Empowering Statements’, and so on. As an advert it does what most do; derives its humour from playing around with a stereotype. The intention of the ad’s re-presentation is, however, that there’s something to this play, and that – imagining for a moment the ad isn’t just ironic, or sarcastic – the world could learn something from it.
The stereotype it plays with is that of construction site workers shouting sexist remarks at passing women; instead of ‘nice tits/arse, etc.’, the builders shout complimentary comments about these women’s dress and hair, and end up collectively calling for an end to misogyny. This is billed by the re-presentation as women receiving empowering encouragement from these builders.
The ideology of the advert in general, however, is such that, whilst playing with stereotypy, it nonetheless reinforces it; that is, the advert tends not to actually subvert stereotypy in and of itself. Through re-presentations such as these this ideological manoeuvre is shown precisely in its actual mode of functioning; in other words, the mechanism by which it works is perceivable in this re-presentation, as it is here that we can see it working on those who spread it virally.
To the re-presentation of this advert as a feminist message can be raised many objections (as has been happening). To list a few in no particular order:
- Initially, the stereotype of builders prevails in that they are all men, which discounts any moves in gender equality already made in this sector of work.
- The message appears that the builders’ statements are ‘empowering’, but what of women’s ability to empower themselves?
- In terms of class presentation, the builders are clearly visually defined as working class (albeit ironically not as working crass), and the women tend to be smartly dressed to perhaps suggest they are businesspeople. If this implies their success, the question again arises as to why they can only yet be validated by men.
- The gender specificity has only ostensibly disappeared in the redirecting of comments away from body-parts to clothing, for example; why don’t the builders compliment passing men similarly on their colour choices?
- Even theatrically, the blocking of the scene perpetuates bias; the men launch their statements at the women from lofty heights above them.
From these few brief reflections we can clearly see that we are left with an advert that employs anti-feminism to render its humour that has been taken up by its viewers and repackaged in the guise of a feminist manifesto. Thus, in divesting the ad of its intended product we are resold anti-feminism as feminism. As unconscious as this process by viewers may be, it is symptomatic of our late-capitalist state of affairs.
The German Idealist philosopher G. W. F. Hegel introduced the concept of Aufhebung (sublation) into philosophy; that is, a process by which a certain manifestation is cancelled and yet preserved at once; what is kept of the old order is that which was radical in it that allowed of the new to come about. What we see in these manoeuvres of re-presentation is in effect an anti-Aufhebung (something which is key to the perpetuation of capitalism, in that capitalism subsumes all of its problems and disturbances – to deal with them ‘internally’ – so as not to be overturned by that which is outside it; it appropriates and incorporates its outside, and keeps it stifled within, without allowing it to bring about a new dimension). This notion of anti-Aufhebung represents, then, the maintenance of a manifestation (societal, cultural, economic, etc.) stripped of its revolutionary or radical potential.
In this anti-Aufhebung re-presentation of the Australian Snickers advert we see the issue of feminism depoliticised, deradicalised, demilitantised; erased are its fights, even some of its victories; reinscribed is the empowering (i.e., powerful position of the man); perpetuated are gender and class stereotypes. We are left with a vision of the world in fact as it is, with the question over it: ‘what if it could be this way?’ And by this we are meant to feel inspired, enlightened and motivated, so many stand-ins for this operation’s underlying insistence on complacency; complacency with the current manifestation in which we are thus fully interpellated. In the Althusserian concept of interpellation, as Robert Pfaller explains, the subject becomes ‘a heteronomous servant (“subject to …”), while experiencing itself imaginarily as a master (“subject of …”)’. The question remains, can the advert say: ‘you’re not you when you’re interpellated’?