So Meta

We tend to think of many things as modern, as if previous generations never wrestled with them, or considered them. Just as the good ol’ days really weren’t, there is nothing new under the sun.

Take this ad from the mid 1970s. (Please!) It’s easy to dismiss it immediately with a “Jeez, aim high, kiddo – and by the way, doc, you’re a jerk.” (That was the reaction at the time, too – this ad ran in New Zealand, where it was called out by a local feminist publication, Broadsheet, as among the most sexist print ads on offer.)

But there is something else going on here, something we love to congratulate ourselves for today, and that’s an implicit critique of advertising in the first place. That guy’s a random dentist, apparently doing a well-child exam. He wants to harness this girl’s good genetics and responsible dental care, which there is no reason to believe he has any responsibility for (the ad is for a consumer product bought at the drugstore), as if it represents something about his practice. (Besides hiring cheerful, attractive receptionists, as I am sure most businesses like to do.)

I love/hate this kind of advertising. I worked in advertising long enough to gravitate happily toward almost anything that subverts its premises, but sexism aside this kind of in joke makes me weary, underscoring the vacuous manipulation of the industry.

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