In the spring of 2014, DirecTV, a satellite television company, released a series of commercials on network television starring marionettes for the sake of advertising. The commercials, though eye-catching, did not garner much attention until one starred a white, sexualized female marionette wearing lingerie and standing in a bedroom. The marionette, who exists as an object on screen, is placed in contrast to her human husband. She claims that ever since her husband signed up for DirecTV he keeps talking about how he doesn’t have to look at “those ugly wires”. The bashful marionette, who has her own set of wires, continually asks her husband, “do you still think I’m pretty?” to which her husband replies, “baby of course I do”. As a result, the marionette whips off her bathrobe exposing her lingerie beneath. She directs movements toward her husband while asking “do you like what you see?” as he lays on the bed and serves as a spectator. Not only does this commercial exemplify the male gaze and society’s limited acceptance of sexuality and outside the “norm”, but it also serves as a microcosm for women’s portrayal in media.
Through the actions of the marionette and her husband, this DirecTV commercial focuses on the concept of the male gaze. First coined by Laura Mulvey in 1975, it explains how society views women through a male’s perspective. The marionette wife, dressed in a bathrobe, approaches her husband with concerns about her physical appearance. When the husband squashes her insecurities surrounding her appearance she sexually takes off her bathrobe to uncover risqué, red lingerie hiding beneath. She proceeds to make movements and noises provoking sexual behavior in order to captivate her husband. DirecTV plays into this concept of the male gaze by illustrating women as sexualized objects within a matrix of compulsive heterosexuality. The husband lurches up in bed once he lays eyes on his wife’s undergarments and scans her entire body up and down, further objectifying his string-puppet wife as a figure for show. Once his wife asks a series of questions about her physical appearance, he quickly changes the tone of his voice to urge his wife to continue moving her body for him to see. This relationship portrayed on the screen is entirely based off of appearance with little focus on anything else—every dialogue between the couple pertains to her attempting to gain his approval and then showing him what she has to offer sexually. This theme of male gaze has been so prevalent throughout American history, especially in current day advertising, and the portrayal of the marionette continues to illustrate America as a “man’s world” with the wife’s only purpose to entertain the man.
Furthermore, although interventions into misogyny and patriarchy have been made, our society hasn’t been able to break beyond the heterosexual norm, which is illustrated through the interactions and stereotypes deployed in this commercial. Katz examines heterosexuality, in The Invention of Heterosexuality, by exploring its changing definition throughout time. He explains how during World War II, the concept of the “cult of domesticity” prevailed. There was this “reassociation of women with the home”, which forced the “predominance of the hetero norm” and caused “an era of heterosexual hegemony” to ensue (Katz 237). This DirecTV commercial is starkly similar to these concepts that emerged during the war, forcing us to question whether any progress for women in society has really been made throughout the years, as this commercial is covered in sexism and stereotypes which were hyper-prevelant throughout the 1950’s. The marionette is placed in the bedroom, which alludes to women in the home. Her blonde hair additionally plays into the stereotype that blondes are dumber than brunettes—thus this woman could not possibly be associated with work outside the home. Likewise, the husband is sitting, somewhat tired looking on the bed, as if he just endured a difficult day at his job. DirecTV is attempting to “play it safe” by staying within sexual norms that our society is comfortable with.
Moreover, the lack of intersectionality in this commercial is striking. Both the wife and husband are straight, Caucasian individuals in the upper-middle class due to the fact they can afford a cable plan in addition to an expensive TV and home. DirecTV wants to appeal to its viewers, and so we cannot only hold them accountable for this portrayal. They must think our society is additionally not ready to discontinue the heterosexual norm.
Women are repeatedly portrayed in media as sexual objects. This commercial is only one of the many times that women have been portrayed as “less intelligent”, “obedient”, “pleasing” beings compared to their male counterparts. The figure of the husband, moreover, helps to portray the wife as a being with the primary intent to serve her husband. Even beyond spectating his wife, the husband holds the remote with control of the channels to signify he additionally has control of the home. His wife is literally a puppet beyond the obvious—the husband holds the strings and decides what role she should play. The wife is not in control, she is at mercy of the husband, and strives to gain his approval, which is illustrated by her repeated questions concerning her appearance.
One journalist from Time magazine states, “our suggestion to the wired wife? Cut and run” (Time). Using sex to sell is not a new concept in advertising. Instead of evolving with the changing times, this method has persisted in current advertising. Even more shocking, this advertisement received more criticism about being “creepy” than it did about its sexist nature. The inhuman puppet-wife distracts the viewer from the sexist nature of the commercial—the viewer is unable to see the objectification of women as the problem in the advertisement. The sexualized wife embodies Sigmund Freud’s “uncanny” since she is strange, yet familiar to us because this type of advertising is ubiquitous in our culture (Freud 1). The wife should not have to gain affirmation from her husband about her looks nor should she have to be portrayed as a sexualized object in order to appease the male viewer. Women should not have to be sexualized at the expense of a company trying to sell their product. They are not synonymous with sex and it’s about time we cut the strings between this binary.
“DirecTV Marionettes Pretty.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noFdLFMvh3Y>.
Dockterman, Eliana. “Selling Sexism: Why the Latest Commercials Are so Misogynist.” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.
Freud, Sigmund. The “Uncanny” 1 (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Katz, Jonathan. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton, 1995. Print.