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Gillette Research Project

November 15, 2006

I have decided to trace the (American) advertising history of Gillette razor blades since the company was founded in 1901. I will do some background research to describe the founding of the company, and I will also research the cultures and trends of each decade and how they affected Gillette’s advertising methods. I want my project to be focused on the advertising history rather than on the history of shaving because, as I have found out, the history of shaving is vast, world wide, and complicated. For this reason, I will simply trace Gillette ads all through the 20th century to now and relate those ads to the attitudes towards men at the time.

I expect to find that there has been a ton of different kinds of razors over the years: one blade, two blades, three blades, thirty-seven blades, etc. Along with this progression of the blade itself, I expect to see a change in Gillette’s advertising strategy. Gillette, being to first official company to produce a safety blade and is still around today, I’m assuming I’ll be finding some crazy numbers of how much money the company has made / is still making.

I found a brief article about “King Camp Gillette” online that summarizes his life and invention of the disposable safety blade. Came up with the idea of the blade himself, but needed the help of MIT-trained inventor, William Nickerson, to create the actual product. However, this was not the first razor blade (as we know it) to be created. I found an online shaving timeline that listed William Henson as creating the first “hoe-type” razor (where the blade is perpendicular to the handle, as we are familiar with today). After that, the Ample Brothers placed a patent on their safety razor in 1880, which had to be sharpened often. This then led to our good friend Gillette inventing his disposable safety razor in 1895.

I still need to make a timeline of actual advertisements to see how each ad leads to the next. Also, I still need to research each decade and the masculine culture of the time. Basically, I need to actually do RESEARCH.

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The “Banking” Concept of Education

November 7, 2006

1.) When Freire described the “problem-posing method” of learning, I immediately thought of my senior AP English class. My teacher devoted the entire first semester to poetry; in this poetry unit, we would discuss each poem as a class and have a dialogue about its meaning, symbols, literary devices, etc. Mrs. Levitt never told us the meaning of the poems, which literary devices we would need to know for the test, or which poems were “famous”; she would simply call upon raised hands, answer questions, and grade our tests. Sometimes there would be arguments about the answers Mrs. Levitt would give and sometimes she would even admit that she was wrong. Overall, it was a symbiotic student-teacher relationship. I remember doing quite well in that class and I still to this day remember most of the poems we went over, because I actually LEARNED in that class– the lessons entered my consciousness. By becoming responsible for my own learning, I was able to reflect on each poem rather than passively consume it. I established my own relationships with the poems and authors who wrote them; by tracing the progression each author’s poems, I could delineate their personal lives and contributions to the world around them. Freire describes this reflection as considering, “neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it.” (263). Mrs. Levitt’s AP English class allowed me to reflect this way and it hasn’t escaped from my consciousness yet.

2.) Towards the beginning of his essay, Paulo Freire states, “for apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human” (257). The fact that we are able to question the world, question others, and questions ourselves separates us from the animals; but beside that, the fact that we put on clothing, drive cars, go to Starbucks, and make calls on our cell phones also grants us our humanity. Our actions and practices, or as Freire puts it, our “praxis” is how knowledge is invented— discovery, experiment, writing, reading, learning, teaching— humanity’s praxis leads to it’s intelligent authority above animals. Later, he uses liberation as a form of praxis: “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.” (262). He describes liberation as a process of humanization, a physical practice of adopting men and women as conscious beings and, by doing so, allowing them to change society. The banking concept of education dehumanizes people and alienates them. By viewing people as empty containers that must be “filled” with knowledge, one is not liberating them but rather alienating them. Freire uses the term “alienation” to describe the categorizing and dehumanizing of people. Those who try to liberate the “ignorant” by allowing them to memorize facts they ramble on about, are actually alienating them from their conscious relation to the world.

3.) Though Paulo Freire sings the praises of dialogical learning, he is guilty himself of “talking at” the reader. Towards the end (page 265), he compares and contrasts the banking concept and problem-posing concept of learning. He defines each one and tells the reader why problem-posing is better. This particular bit of the essay establishes no dialogue at all; Freire is simply stating the truth, or what he perceives as the truth. Overall, however, I believe Freire succeeds in not “making deposits” in to my empty vessel of a brain. The section where he discusses the items on his desk and then draws a parallel to entering consciousness I think inspires a lot of dialogue. I had to read this paragraph a few times to really “get it”, and that’s what makes it a good discussion piece. By using an example from his own reality, Freire allows each reader to apply his reflections to their own surroundings. I know I started looking around at the stuff on my desk and thought about how I was aware of them, but they’re not a part of me. By inspiring the reader to actively apply his thoughts, Freire succeeds in practicing what he preaches.

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Gillette razor blades

November 1, 2006

Turns out I was right in my assumption that Gillette was the first official razor blade company, founded in 1901 as a subsidy of Proctor and Gamble. I’m going to research the history of The Gillette Company (or Global Gillette) and how the history of the company coincides with the overall history of men’s shaving.
I decided to choose this topic because there’s a lot to write about, I know I’m going to be able to fufill whatever page requirement there is. Also, I really just want to know how this whole shaving thing got started. Simply curiosity, really.

I have found a few online resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gillette_Company
http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/gillette.html
http://www.quikshave.com/timeline.htm

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Research Topic

October 25, 2006

I think it would be really interesting to trace the history of make up. I’ll choose a make up company that’s been around for awhile (Maybelline, Cover Girl, Almay, etc.) and research it’s advertising history as well as the attitudes and fashions of women during each time period. It may be interesting to focus on one item of make up in particular, like lipstick, and see how it has been advertised differently over time.

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Another item I’m thinking about researching is the razor blade (for men). I always see olde schoole pictures of men shaving with actual knives; it would be interesting to see how the razor evolved from an actual blade to the convenient little tool we know so well today. It would be hard to pinpoint the moment in history when men actually started shaving, but I could begin my research with the creation of the first razor blade company (Gillette?).  Again, I would also reasearch the fashions and attitudes of men at the time.

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Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body

October 24, 2006

1.)  Bordo’s witty and thoughtful interjections make this 45 page essay a bearable read. For example, after talking about the Gucci ad for some length, she dives into a personal story about how she wanted one of her lovers to strip for her but was to embarrassed to ask him. She relates this personal anecdote back to the idea of cultural models and accepted behavior of the sexes. Bordo never allots an entire section to the topic of homosexuality, but rather sprinkles it throughout the essay: she starts off the essay by addressing homosexuality (she even admits to a slight infatuation with Anne Heche!), she later mentions Calvin Klein’s bisexuality and how it affects his advertisement choices, then describes the androgynous “leaners”, and later talks about Symposium and it’s homosexual plot line as well as the acceptable homosexual practices in ancient Rome. If Bordo had written page after page about the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) homosexual subtexts in advertising, the reader would have been bored out of their mind. Though she discusses “Male Decorativeness in Cultural Perspectives” at length, she breaks it up by throwing in pop culture references (James Bond), her own sarcastic tone of voice (puh-lease!), and lets not forget the insertion of, “a real dangerous muthafucka”. Her analysis is thorough and accurate, though it does not read like a history essay. The change in pace, insertion of her own voice, and varying of sentence and paragraph structure allows Bordo’s long essay to be manageable.

2.)  Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body is divided into six subsections. The first, “Men on Display”, introduces the subject matter to the readers by throwing an image of a nearly naked man into their faces and then later an image of a fully naked man into their faces. This is one of the shorter sections and certainly succeeds in capturing attention. The second section, “Thanks, Calvin!” is also a quick read which delves into the use of homosexuality in advertising, which in turn describes the current craze for men’s butts being put on display. “Rocks and Leaners” is a bit longer than the previous two sections and describes an oh-so-true phenomenon in advertising. The masculine, intimidating, muscular men (who are often black as well) stare directly into the camera and turn their body forward—these are the “rocks”. The languid, sensual, lean, and sometimes feminine male models often lean on something (or someone) and stare on a bias or away from the camera—these are the “leaners”. After this comes “Honey, What Do I Want to Wear?” which describes the overwhelming heterosexual ad campaign for those men who “don’t care how they look”. The final two sections, “Male Decorativeness in Cultural Perspective” and “My World… and Welcome to It?” are the most lengthy and in-depth of all the sections. In these sections she tackles the history of male fashion, masculine “vanity”, African American males in advertising, male body image, and then wraps the whole thing up with John Travolta. Though the final two sections make up the “heart” of the essay, the previous sections succeed in grabbing the reader’s attention by analyzing the current advertisement trends before delving into semi-boring analysis and a short history lesson.

3.)  Bordo brings up the contradicting value of one’s gaze in her essay. Does someone staring at you make you confident that you look sexy, or does it make you feel self-conscious and inhibited? She uses the concept of “subject position” to interpret the gazes and stares of the males in advertising. In “Rocks and Leaners”, she describes the gaze between the rock and the viewer as a competition—“who will advert his eyes first?”—Whereas the leaner flirts with the viewer with his eyes and invites them to “escape” into their seduction. The “face-off” ads exert masculinity and take authority over the viewer, thereby asserting Satre’s claim that the stares of others create constraints on our ability to be ourselves. The “leaning” ads seduce the audience; they are inviting, and support Beauvoir’s assertion that a man’s flirtatious gaze makes a woman feel whole. Another example of this is when Bordo discusses Berger’s concept of, “men act and women appear”.  She shows a Nautica ad featuring a man too busy on his boat to notice how ruggedly handsome he is, next to an ad of a woman in a little dress happily marinating as three men watch her go by. The truly heterosexual manly-man never shows himself as an object to be gazed at, but a powerful working tool who is always doing something. A woman, however, can show her legs and cleavage whenever she wants, because it is acceptable for women to be stared at—besides, they like it when men gawk at them. By taking these opposing subject positions, Bordo shows the value (or lack of value) that can be placed upon a gaze of another.

4.) This ad is the epitome of Bordo’s essay. The main focus is the man’s body, the product that this ad is selling is only half-way visible in the bottom, right hand corner and the name of product is barely readable. This model is taking the classic “rock” stance, staring directly into the camer, hands on his hips, challenging the viewer to look away.
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This Abercrombie ad doesn’t waste any time with the man’s face and gets right down to the nitty-gritty. Besides his partially open fly, we can see a glimpse of his toned abs. This ad doesn’t really advertise anything in particular besides the brand Abercrombie as a whole, but even if it did, would you notice?

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Now THIS is my kind of Abercrombie ad…. Neil Abercrombie that is, running to represent Hawaii in congress. He’s a hottie. Look at those toned abs and seductive eyes. He’s got that leaning thing down to an art! I’m surprised Bordo didn’t include this ad in her essay!

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Deconstructing Ads: part 2

October 11, 2006

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1940s.                                                                   1980s.

The ad from the 1940s places value on the actual product (it tells us directly that price ranges between $1.50 and $5.00) and the way the product makes the woman feel about herself. She brushes her hair contently and admires her “subtle silhouette” (no pointy-Madonna-cones here). The ad from the 1980s places value on being sexy and mysterious– the “maiden form woman”, the emphasis is appealing to others rather than self. This shift in value is quite apparent. In the first ad, the woman is alone; in the second ad, men surround the woman. In his book The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch explains the narcissistic personality as “other-directed”, someone who is consumed by the need for other’s praise and approval. This shift to attention-craving personalities is clearly displayed in our advertisements. The cosmetic and lingerie industries make their money off of women’s desires to obtain attention from men. The ad from the 1980s does not feature the price of the underwear because women have such an intense desire to impress that they don’t care how much it costs, as long as they receive it. The process of deconstruction allows the public to see advertising for what it really is: a business. Like any other business, advertisers want to make money. Advertisers feed off of what they know will sell, and they know the insecurities of women are constant and widespread. As long as women let these insecurities stand, advertising will continue to yield more and more power and create even more binding stereotypes.

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Deconstructing Ads

October 11, 2006

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The most noticeable thing about this ad is the large amounts of writing. It literally gives advice for specific situations and later recommends the use of Kotex pads for these situations. My 21st century attention span could barely handle the amount of text. This advertisement makes a legitimate argument: Kotex is the most comfortable and discrete, making everyday events more enjoyable. It does not sell sex or narcissism, but merely comfort and happiness. The men and women in the ad are fully clothed and not at all erotic, they’re wholesome and charming. Basically, this ad depicts the social commonalities of the time: courtship, manners, conservative values, stay-at-home-moms and bread-winning dads—you’re basic 1950s conventions. Not to say that every household was a “leave it to Beaver” household, but that was the family stereotype portrayed at the time; much like how the family stereotype now is the mini-van-driving soccer mom who dominates the family as well as the working but unavailable, bumbling father (reference: “The Simpsons” and “Malcom in the Middle”). The media reflects the current societal stereotypes to make the audience feel comfortable and familiar with the subject matter, and by doing so, letting the audience feel more contented in buying the  product.

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Cybil Shepard is spread eagle in this ad. The ad is so primarily sexual that the text at the bottom is barely even noticed. When the one finally gets around to reading that this is an advertisement for a sanitary napkin with deodorant, the true scandalous-ness of the ad is realized. To put it bluntly, there is perfume emanating from Cybil’s vagina. Despite it’s vulgarity, this ad is publicly accepted: in magazines, pasted on the sides of buses and buildings, and put on billboards. This blatant display of sexuality emerged in the 1960s partly because of the “free love” movement, partly because of the pot smoking, but mostly because the conventions of society had changed so drastically. This ad sells the Kotex pad as something that will increase a woman’s sexiness (because we all know that a diaper-like-device between your legs is SO sexy) and that this pad will make your vagina smell like a bed of roses, subtly wafting men into an undeniable vortex of sex. For all the ladies reading this, you all know as well as I that there is nothing sexy or aromatic about menstruation. Sorry I had to go there, but it’s true.