Birds and Bees and Sexism? Please…

The issue of sexism in video games has been raging for a very long time – as we all know, the divide between male and female gamers is pretty non-existent these days. Whilst Sony’s recent ad of a woman with four breasts is making n-sorry-ripples however, someone has to ask the question; who bloody cares?!

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Take a look at that ad. Yes, it’s French. But is it sexist?

Truth be told I happen to err on the side of yes, but it’s easy to point at something and give it a label such as sexist, misogynistic, racist etc. Sony themselves have been reckless enough in the past to put out ads which could be very quickly put under these labels, what with that one in the past of an attractive white model aggressively manhandling a traditional and average-looking black woman. We’re very quick to jump to conclusions, of course we are, and the reality is that when we do, wires can be crossed and messages can be lost. We live in a society ready and willing to take offence to anything, to complain or to sue. Our culture has become more than politically correct, it’s become over-sensitive.

Which is a shame because the real problems with the Vita ad are not, in fact, anything to do with sex. Or sexism. Or the style, or the joke, or whether it is in poor taste.

You see, one thing we all know about advertising is that controversy sells. This ad, much like the Sony PSP one in the past, aren’t released by accident or coincidence. They full well know what they are doing when such images are out there, splashed across magazines and billboards and TV’s across the world. And if it gets banned, then that’s even better! Because then people WILL take notice as newspapers and media outlets will report on the ban, driving more people to want to see it. The Streisand Effect, as I said before, extends deep in the world today. None can escape its shrill tendrils. People will tend to ask why Sony would want to push this sort of tasteless drivel, but that’s just it. It knows that is what it is, and the controversy and discussion it creates will at the very least raise awareness of their machine, if not sell a few extra units. It sounds cynical, but it makes an awful lot of sense too. Ads which push the boundaries come from all corners of all markets, redefining new lows and perhaps even calling what we find decent and tasteful into question. They serve a purpose, but it is hard to gauge that initial reaction. You never really know how someone will react to any given piece of news.

What beautiful jugs!

So let’s look at the ad from a gamers perspective.

Does it show a new game? No. Does it hint towards new games? No. Does it denote any improvement on the hardware? No. Does it serve any actual purpose to promote a machine in any manner which we were not already aware of? No. Therefore, does it really serve any purpose at all? My guess – no.

You see, the Playstation Vita is not without its technical merits, but those technical merits are not selling the machine in any capacity and any advertisement that attempts to do so is perhaps perpetuating the opinion that all the Vita is in reality is a piece of high-tech gadgetry that has no meaningful new software on it. Which in itself isn’t true – it’s true that new software is slow to come on the Vita, but at the same time there have been some corkers recently on it, as well as a deluge of fantastic classic titles available for it. This advertisement does nothing but hint towards it’s touch screen and panel – something we already know about and most people don’t care about, let alone use in an intelligent or serious manner.

Indeed, the worst part of this ad is the cheap and shallow air it may lend towards the Vita. It serves no real function other than to generate a little controversy, and to be quite honest with you, it’s not really that controversial. Just sad. Sad in that it does nothing to promote or further the Vita as a machine, and does so much to set is back against a rival that is selling itself not on controversy, but on content – content and names and brands people want, and want to pay money for. Sony have become the naughty prankster, the rebel who spends money like it is going out of style and yet can’t make any back. Sure, Nintendo are the safer and more obvious choice – but they’re far less likely to run out of money and more likely to dispense things people want to see and hear. It’s not much of a contest, and it hasn’t been much of a fight so far either.

It just says nothing. It says nothing about the Vita technically, or in any other way. Why would I want huge boobs on the back? I mean, most controllers are a handful anyway without putting buttons on the centre-back of the damn machine! It’s just… worthless as an advertisement for a handheld games console. It has no technical or artistic merit at all.

What gorgeous boobies!

So, should we care that it is a little bit sexist? Probably not.

The other issue we have is that in a modern society, most gentlemen are… well… gentlemen. We are more acutely aware of sexism and misogyny than most feminists, because we’ve always seemingly taken the brunt of the criticism when it comes to this sort of advertisement. That it’s okay because it’s aimed at the guys, and this is what guys want – boobs, breasts, jubblies, funbags, knockers, ballistiques, boobies, baps, buns, jugs and massive wobbly gravity-defying tits. We have been reinforced this so much that in effect, we’re the ones rebelling at the idea of it now. We’re a little sick of being the main target for advertising, and when it uses such tacky and shallow tactics in order to do so, we’re the first people to criticise it. The women know more or less they needn’t lift a finger now – the chaps will take care of the fallout on their behalf, leading us into this warped version of feminism where the ladies just let the chaps get on and sort it out themselves. Women have the power and they don’t really need to voice it – just the mere suggestion of sexism is enough to lead men frothing at the mouth into battle on their behalf.

Girls have reclaimed much of what was sexist in the past – Lara Croft became a modern feminist icon, despite the early years where it was seen as the opposite, it was seen as a regression to sell anything on the back of a barbie doll CGI woman with breasts so comically large that it was a wonder she could dive under the water at all! Skullgirls earlier this year saw the boys shift around nervously, with misplaced chivalry decrying how sexist it was. And so who bought into it in the end? Yes, the girls did. You lovely women out there took it and made it your own, made it yours. Made it a strong statement of female power. The guys are just jittering about, terrified about making a mistake because it’s not just the girls and lawsuits they need to fear – it’s their own social and peer groups as well, the boys who want to defend the girls without being asked or requested.

Except I don’t think this is true either. I don’t think girls want or are asking for this, which effectively – and somewhat ironically I suppose – makes it even more sexist than before. That our sensitivity to their cause may in fact be exacerbating the issue, rather than solving it. Neither side can have it both ways, even if you wanted to.

Of course, this is I think a transitional period and such things are rarely smooth sailing at the best of times, slowly but surely I think we will relax and see the wood for the trees. Yes, the ad is sexist, but what isn’t these days? We live in a world where sex is used to sell everything from soap and washing powder to games, TVs, crisps and more. To decry something as sexist would be to lose your cry in a sea of voices criticising everything else as sexist too. I doubt many women will care less about this ridiculously shallow ad, and by token I think we guys shouldn’t be that bothered either. Equality doesn’t mean we have to defend the honour of the female species – if they’re not bothered and are enjoying something, then by token we should as well. Feminism has an awful lot to answer for as well as be thanked for, as we should all be able to see that Sony ad and see it isn’t promoting anything at all. It’s a terrible, shallow object of visual spectacle that serves no higher function than to play on traditional and outdated clichés and stereotypes in the vain, conceited hope that someone gives enough of a toss to make a huge deal out of it.

It’s our job not to. Ignore it, it will go away, and Sony will once again be left out of pocket and with nothing to show for their expensive efforts.

Hopefully they will one day learn this isn’t how to do it before they spend so much they go bankrupt…

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