Hyundai decided to make an aggressive marketing move and release their super bowl commercial a full week in advance. The advertisement depicts an interesting situation: the background music begins with a thumping bass and a sultry R&B vocalist singing, “What a mighty good man.” A pair of women casually cruise through Ryanville, feasting their eyes on gorgeous clones of Ryan Reynolds doing various masculine activities. Suddenly, the car screeches to a halt just in time to avoid hitting Reynolds and his numerous dogs. The commercial then comes in with the punchline, “A car that doesn’t get distracted. Auto-emergency braking with pedestrian detection, on the all new Hyundai Elantra.” While this commercial is a breath of fresh air in the sense that it gives a glimpse of a world where only men are sexualized and objectified, it still perpetuates some societal norms.
Firstly, Hyundai’s commercial also has a lack of racial representation. All three of the actors in this advertisement are white. The target audience is obvious: single, middle class women. By using white women however, Hyundai subconsciously associates middle class with white people. Bell Hooks addresses a similar problem in “Black Women Shaping Feminist Theory.” Hooks critiques Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, saying, “She made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes toward the masses of American women” (Hooks 2). In the same way that Friedan associates white with women, Hyundai associates white with middle class women, skimming over the fact that there are also non-white middle class women and that they have unique experiences.
Hyundai also assumes all women are heterosexual, reinforcing Adrienne Rich’s concept of compulsory heterosexuality in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Rich argues that, “heterosexuality is presumed as a ‘sexual preference’ of ‘most women’, either implicitly or explicitly” (Rich 633). In Hyundai’s advertising, the women are extremely attracted to Reynolds, to the point where they are no longer paying attention to the road and almost run over him. Hyundai assumes its audience is heterosexual and can relate to this situation, which reinforces the socially manufactured understanding that homosexuality is abnormal.
The assumption of heterosexuality not only speaks to their inferiority, but also to their dependence on men for protection. Rich explains this phenomenon in our culture perfectly:
“In Western tradition, one layer-the romantic-asserts that women are inevitably, even if rashly and tragically, drawn to men; that even when that attraction is suicidal… it is still an organic imperative. In the tradition of the social sciences it asserts that primary love between the sexes is ‘normal,’ that women need men as social and economic protectors” (657).
In this case of western tradition, the women’s attraction to Reynolds would have ended in disaster if it wasn’t for the car. This suggests a biological dependence on men that comes before instincts of caution. While the women are desperately trying to find a source of protection, they leave themselves vulnerable, increasing their chances of getting in an accident. This time however, there is an additional “protector”, the car’s auto-stopping technology. Rich argues that this attraction to men that Hyundai is portraying is not biological, but societal and that women can be freed from compulsory heterosexuality through the lesbian continuum.
By presenting the car as the women’s protector, Hyundai creates a symbol of female inferiority. Distracted by the many beautiful Reynolds along the street, the women are unable to see the one right in front of them, which activates the auto-emergency braking. Hyundai’s commercial perpetuates the stereotype that women are bad drivers in order to highlight their product’s feature. This suggests that women are unable to drive as well as men and are thus inferior, but this is not statistically true. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that there were more male crash deaths and more male crashes due to speeding in 2013. In regards to literature, Luisa Capetillo quotes “Modern Women in the Family” in regards to women inferiority: “that it is good that the modern woman prove that she knows how to study on par with men in order to acquire an academic degree, that she knows how to handle the surgeon’s scalpel, the naturalist’s microscope, and the engraver’s burin, all of which demonstrates how erroneous is the theory of female mental inferiority” (19). Women have proved that their skills are equal to men’s in the field of academia, and their driving abilities are also a testament to the falsity of female inferiority. Unfortunately, mass media speaks louder than the evidence given, so women continue to be perceived as bad drivers.
A key detail in the analysis of this commercial is that while Reynolds is giving witty comments to himself, the women in the car never speak. This is discomforting, because in this female utopia of a city, the women do not have a voice. It reinforces the expectation into which women should not speak and the inferior position that women are placed in our current society. Feminists like Anna Julia Cooper rebell against this inequality, stating that, “Nay, ‘tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice” (121). Rather than encouraging women’s silence, Hyundai should be encouraging their voice.
While Hyundai creates a unique world where the roles of gender objectivity are reversed, it is still a patriarchal one. Middle class women appear to be the target customers of Hyundai’s marketing, but they are not the focus of the commercial. Reynolds and the car are in the spotlight, further supporting the idea that women should be in the background. Because of this, Hyundai exaggerates dependencies that women have in contemporary society: men and driving assistance. This approach perpetuates societal norms that are condescending toward women. Instead, Hyundai should present a symbol of empowerment.
Capetillo, Luisa. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Series : Nation of Women : An Early Feminist Speaks Out : Mi Opinion : Sobre Las Libertades, Derechos y Deberes de la Mujer. Houston, TX, USA: Arte Publico Press, 2004. ProQuest e brary. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.
Cooper, Anna Julia. “A Voice from the South. 1892.” New York: Oxford UP(1988).
Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston: South End Press, 1984. Online. 7 Feb. 2016.
HyundaiUSA. “Ryanville – Hyundai Super Bowl Commercial :45s The 2017 Hyundai Elantra.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence.” Signs5.4 (1980): 631-660.