Monday, April 2, 2012

It's not funny.

I'm going to take a moment to step away from my typical quips about "what I learned today" and DIY crafties (admittedly for an assignment at school, but that should not fool you into thinking this is anything less than important) to stand on my social commentary soapbox and shout. 

I recently read an article about Wodka Vodka's advertising campaign that repeatedly, and seems to solely rely on, the use of stereotypical offensive icons and statements to sell their vodka. The most recent one is this: a billboard that reads "Escort Quality Hooker Pricing" First, why would any company want to compare their products to prostitution? Second, why are they going so far as to as distinguish types of prostitution to strengthen their comparison?

Let us think for a moment about what this implies:

Wodka's Vodka = Escorts = expensive, therefore high quality. Makes you think of lavish hotels and black lace and wealthy business men or politicians. 

Other vodkas = Hookers = faux leather miniskirts, rainbow colored novelty condoms and perhaps even meth or needle shoving junkies. Cheap. Worthless. Diseased. Gross.

What about all of the thousands of women worldwide that are forced into prostitution in the sex slave trade industry? Girls forced into prostitution at age 12? The abuse, the violence, the endless cycle they are forced into? Women without any other hope to support their families. I know, everyone has a choice. 

Sure, maybe in this country. In the grand USA we have a choice. We have Welfare and unemployment. Women don't have to participate in prostitution. I get that. But there is something to be said for desperation. And even something bigger to be said about how our ideas about masculinity and femininity and sex perpetuate the want and the avenue for prostitution. Not to mention the tug-o-war between the need for and abhoration of the prostitutes themselves.

I recently read "It Takes More Than Two: The Prostitute, The Soldier, The State, and The Entrepeneur" by Cynthia Enlee, were she discusses the relationship between military forces (yes, including ours), the local government (ours as well as other countries'), and men and women of the sex industry dating back (at least) to the 1930s. "Recreational" activities were quite important to soldiers stationed overseas, enough so that governments worked out deals, "programs" if you will, about how to supply women and mandate health check-ups in an effort to control disease. How Philippino women are wrangled into "entertainment" bars, Latina women were forced into similar locations in Belize, women taken from their families and sent to other countries to "perform" for military and local men - in Japan and China and elsewhere. It was (perhaps still is?) a sneaky, blacked-out-of-history prostitution ring. It was eye opening, and made me want to shut them immediately. I've never been so disgusted. This article was written twenty years ago, shortly after two military bases were closed in the Philippines and women of the area were farmed out to other countries, and I cannot stop wondering what the reality of this situation is now? Has it changed in twenty years? 

So I ask again, Why would anyone want to compare their products to prostitution?

“But it’s just a joke,” you say.

“Sure,” I say. “But is it really?”

I enjoy laughing as much as anybody else and I appreciate the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves. But the question I have to ask is where do we draw the line between laughing at ourselves as a way to keep ourselves humble and using ”jokes” to perpetuate stereotypical thinking? Once a word escapes your lips it can never be withdrawn. Words are endless, floating on like whispering breezes, circling and cycling in your mind. Where do those words go when the laughter stops? 

They stay somewhere in the back of your mind. Always present. Anchored. 

If we hold onto these stereotypes, how can we ever get passed them? Can you truly look at someone and not think of a hundred jokes you've heard about their "type"? Jokes come from somewhere, from someone who, with or without realizing it, believes in them. To me, that is not funny.

Words can be as light and uplifting as air, but they can also act as anchors, weighing us down and holding us in place. If we speak nothing but anchors, how can we change? How can we manifest the world we all want to live in, a world without prejudice and oppression?