I always mute ad breaks, a habit I developed and honed during the years a fast-food delivery service sponsored The Big Bang Theory on E4 and the frequent pauses for its commercials always seemed to feature a couple who went on about how they changed out of their work clothes to eat dinner. The horror, the horror. And yes, I know you can record and skip, but I just mute. There you go, think what you will about me, that’s what I do.
But I wasn’t quick enough for one particular ad, one where a woman screams at the top of her voice, more than once. When I say scream I mean a proper scream, a full-throttled Janet-Leigh-in-Psycho bellow. What the hell is wrong, I wondered. Is she on fire? Is she being approached by a hooded man clutching an axe? Has she seen her future and realised she’s in a terrible advert on the telly and life won’t get any better than this?
No, she’s just taken delivery of a pair of shoes. Yes, she screams at the top of her lungs because she’s just taken delivery of a pair of shoes. A pair of shoes. She screams again when she walks into her wardrobe and it’s full of – you’ve guessed it – shoes, loads of them. Then her poor deafened boyfriend yells in horror, so for some inexplicable reason, she sounds a klaxon to silence him. What a nerve.
So, in the world of this particular company, women are boorish and inconsiderate creatures who scream over shoes because shoes are what interest them above and beyond anything else. In the rest of Advert Land, women dance when they discover a table lamp they like, when they realise they are eating a low-fat yogurt and when they hit upon a nice gravy.
This is such a baffling, antediluvian universe when you consider that the dramas and documentaries that punctuate the ad breaks have, by and large moved into the 21st century (though I suppose it depends on the channel). This is clearly a strange and alien place to the people who think women scream about shoes.
It’s a land of dramas that feature women characters who do things, like lead murder investigations or sensibly bring up families, or documentaries where women are marine biologists, doctors, whatever. They are capable and intelligent, like their female audience, and do not feel the need to pause and scream when they receive a shoe delivery. In fact they probably just go to a shoe shop and buy the first pair they see. That’s how uninterested these women are in shoes. I know shoe-buying was a big thing in Sex and the City, but I always hated that show and never saw it as some fantastically innovative feminist step forward. All four of those women were self-absorbed and materialistic to the point of madness.
Women in television commercials are still largely portrayed as pin-brained floozies who scream when they see a pair of shoes. This is the world of Mad Men, of the 1960s, of the days of so-called “two tarts in the kitchen”, the derogatory phrase used to describe old TV ads where two women discussed a product. I don’t understand why commercials haven’t moved on. But I know it’s time that they really, really should.