To sexy? Or not to sexy? – In Defense of Slut-o-ween

Credits to my Hong Kong “correspondences”
Credits to my Hong Kong “correspondences”
The Reason Why I Write This Post

It was Halloween last night, I had no plan except staying in bed to catch up on sleep. I treasured this only day of the week when I can skip the makeup (shame on me). Friends in Hong Kong went to Lam Kwai Fong (Hong Kong’s most popular nightlife area) for the Halloween street party,  and social media was replete with spookily hilarious and sexy photos.

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Credits to my Hong Kong “correspondences”

One of my friends in New York also sent me a photo of her and her boyfriend who were dressed as a sexy cop and a prisoner, respectively, for New York’s Village Halloween Parade. She uploaded this photo to social media, and within minutes she complained that she was pissed off at the comments she received. “Someone said it looked nothing like a Halloween costume but sexy lingerie instead,” she lamented. I could even feel the anger in her text.

They Call It Slut-o-ween

As Lindsay Lohan famously said in my favorite Disney movie, Mean Girls:Halloween is the one day of the year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” It’s true. In year 15 of the 21st century, Halloween has transformed from a tradition of candy-giving and apple-bobbing that was largely centered around children to an adult-themed festival.  People call it Slut-o-ween: from the Pink Bunny in Mean Girls, to the Slutty Pumpkin in How I Met Your Mother, to almost every celebrity’s Halloween instagram photos, to the celebrating crowds in Lam Kwai Fung, the mass media depicts it, celebrities promote it, the public follows it… and also, some people criticize it.

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The Debate Goes On

On October 24th, 2015, my dream company Buzzfeed uploaded a video – a song titled “Halloween Is Too Sexy”. The song goes, “Halloween can be sexy but we’re taking it way too far.”

Meanwhile, the never-ending argument by sexists and feminists about whether being sexy on Halloween is the materialization or the liberation of women continues. Sexy Halloween costumes degrade working women, and women who wear them degrade themselves,  an article reads.

But I really don’t see what’s wrong with wearing sexy costumes on Halloween.

And Slut-o-ween? Seriously? Even I didn’t celebrate Halloween this year, I still feel offended.

I am not a feminist or a sexist, because I lack the knowledge to stand for either side. But honestly, if I could choose from a pile of Halloween costumes, I would go for the sexiest ones. Not because I want to look stunning in order to attract men, or simply because all other girls do so. I just want to liberate myself from the busy schoolwork and the normal outfits of daily life and try out a different appearance or persona for just one night.

You can come back at me and say that there are other choices like fairy costumesand innocent looks such as Snow White or Cinderella, or spooky outfits such as zombie brides or clown girls. Unfortunately, you don’t really know anything about girls: we want to look creative, bold, and gorgeous, not like a five-year-old dreaming living in Disney World or a zombie bride who scares the hell out of others and has to spend half an hour in front of the mirror trying to wash off the ugly face paint. It’s just that simple.

Back to the Story

Then again, my “sexy cop” friend – though briefly upset – quickly restored her happiness and confidence. No one has the right to judge others based on their outfits, and no one can steal happiness from others. Even her boyfriend and parents felt that there was nothing wrong with her look. So why should you? It’s a complicated world but don’t make everything even more complicated. Forget about sexism or feminism. Sometimes, girls just wanna have fun.

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“Here’s How We Buy Soup!” – Campbell Soup Company Ad Campaign in the 1910s

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Figure 1: Campbell’s Soup Cans (Andy Warhol, 1962)

         Do you recognize this(Figure 1)? Currently displayed in MoMA, Manhattan, this work of art by Andy Warhol marked the booming era of pop art movement in the US.

Figure 2:
Figure 2: “Mm Mm Good!”(1935)

For contemporary Americans, the subjects of this work are no strangers to them. Of course, once as “America’s favorite food”, this kind of quick and convenient soup has accompanied every American’s dietary life since 1869. Its iconic white-and-red can and famous “Mm Mm Good!” jingle are also deeply embedded in American people’s memories.

Once world’s largest food company in the 20th century, Campbell’s Soup Company now has16 sub-brands and sells almost 2 billioncans of soup every year. Investing heavily in its ad campaigns since inception, the successful models of marketing and advertising of Campbell’s Soup are also widely acclaimed by the public and industry. Next, we are going to pierce its advertising strategies by illustrating one of its successful ad campaigns – “Here’s How We Buy Soup!” in 1912.

Figure 3: “Here’s How We Buy Soup!”(1912) 

Advertising Environment /Social Force

Dating back to the 1910s, the scientific and technological development brought by the Second Industrial Revolution quickened the pace of industrial production. Machine production gradually replaced manual labor in more and more industries. High efficiency of mass production became possible and people emancipated from heavy manual work were given more leisure time to enjoy life and improve their living standards. “Science”, “Efficiency”, “Health” and “Modernization” could roughly summarize Americans’ desire towards life and society(Sivulka, 2012:80-95).

At the same time, as the Progressive Movementcontinued, though women in America were still striving for their equal suffrage,  more and more women threw themselves into work,  winning greater autonomy and independence.

More leisure time and demand for higher-standard life boosted people’s desire to purchase. Meanwhile, advanced technology revolutionized products’ manufacturing and packaging process and laid foundation for the next step – mass retailing. More and more chain stores opened in the urban area and promoted mutually with the emerging consumer economy back then(Sivulka, 2012:83-84).

Campbell Soup Co.’s Strategies

Aiming at the environment and social force at that time, Campbell Soup Co. adopted a series of strategies in its ad campaigns. Taking “Here’s How We Buy Soup”(Figure 2) as an example, it’s not hard to find that the skills used in this ad could also been seen in Campbell Soup Co.’s contemporary and later campaigns.

  1. Scene Play/Storytelling

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Figure 4: “Such Perfect Bullion”(1912)

– “What’s the use lugging all that truck just to make soup? I wouldn’t
do it”

           – “We have soup every day. And any time my folks forget to order it, I just run around to the grocer’s myself; and bring home half-a-dozen of Campbell’s Soup.”

From the illustration on the top and the conversation followed, the ad gives us a whole scene of two kids coming across each other and talking about- soup. So-called “editorial style”, such advertising strategy has been widely adopted since 1900s. Back then, print ads with illustrations often created a scene play, or told a story with information of the products embedded.

So is Campbell’s Soup Co.’s another ad- “Such Perfect Bullion” from the same year. Same model of advertising is also adopted. It’s worth mentioning that besides direct promotion of the product in the scene plays, such ads also provided basic information of the products. In almost all the ads of Campbell’s Soup in the 1910s, clear and direct information like “21 kinds, 10 c a can” and the soup’s ingredients are all listed at the bottom of the ads (Figure 5).

Figure 5:
Figure 5:”21 Kinds, 10 c a can”

By claiming that Campbell’s Soup was “real vegetable soup” and listing all the ingredients onto the ads, Campbell’s Soup established a frank and healthy image to its consumers. What’s more, it also catered to American people’s pursuit of health and living standard in the 1910s.

2. Target Consumers: Working Moms

Figure 6: “When Do We Eat?“(1912)

The increasing proportion of working women derived a new group – working moms. Reflecting to these moms who didn’t have enough time to prepare breakfasts and kids who refused to eat, Campbell’s Soup adopted a strategy to solve these moms problem. Considering women and especially working moms as its main consumers, there’s no need to explain why the two characters in “Here’s How We Buy Soup” were kids and why there was sentence read “My mother says so and she knows.“in the ad. – Talking about peer influence.

Similar strategy could also be found in an ad calledWhen Do We Eat? launched in 1912. A large percentage of Campbell’s Soup ads in the 1910s adopted children as their characters. Such purpose of attracting moms was also a factor of the birth of “Campbell’s Kids”.

3. Personality: Campbell’s Kids

“Campbell’s Kids” were designed by a Philadelphia illustrator Grace Wiederseim in 1904 for Campbell’s Soup Co.’s serial streetcar ads. Since released, the chubby, rosy-faced kids immediately attracted moms deeply worried about their kids’ poor appetite. In addition, as a result of the high aesthetics of “Campbell’s Kids”, they received huge favors from the public and were reproduced as dolls,  postcards, interior decorations and a series of side-line products. “Campbell’s Kids” also became the company’s spokesperson and appeared frequently in almost every Campbell’s Soup campaign .

Figure 7: Campbell's Kids
Figure 7: Campbell’s Kids

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4.Middle Class Dream

Figure 8: “America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans“(1919)

One tiny detail: have you noticed that the kids in “Here’s How We Buy Soup” and “When Do We Eat?” were all dressing daintily? And this quote in the ad(Figure 2):

– So does Pop; he travels and eats at the big hotels all over. And he says they never give him soup as good as Campbell’s.”

Dainty clothing, fancy hat, dog and traveling all over at “big hotels“, aren’t they the most common impression of middle class?

Like most of the contemporary and even current ads,  Campbell’s Soup designed all its characters as white middle- and upper-class Americans. With the development of economy and people’s increasing demand, becoming a middle- or upper- class American is every working-class American’s next target. In Campbell’s 1919 campaign named America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans, there arethirty two people in the printed ad; twenty women, ten men, and two kids were all neatly attired. The enticing images and values promoted by Campbell’s Soup attracted more and more Americans with their middle class dreams to purchase its soup.

5. Revolutionizing Americans’ Eating Habit

Like what “Here’s How We Buy Soup” promoted:

“It’s a snap, too. So easy. No fussing and waiting when you’re hungry. And you couldn’t make better soup to save you.”

ready-to-eat and convenience is Campbell’s biggest selling point.  Nevertheless, its sameness of taste by mass production remained a disadvantage. To solve the problem through advertising, Campbell’s made such claim in its 1919 “America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans.”:

“Years ago tastes for beans varied in different parts of the country. Certain sections were justly proud of the way they cooked and served them. But today there’s no doubt whatever about the pork-and-beans the whole country prefers.”

In addition to developing 21 flavors of soup to choose from, Campbell’s adopted a strategy which revolutionized Americans’ eating habit. In stead of adjusting its own products, Campbell’s persuaded its customers to trust what “the whole country prefers” and accept mass-produced food. With the theory of psychology, Campbell’s Soup once again convinced its consumers.

With the rapid development of radio and TV broadcasting, brands were given various platforms to advertise. Interestingly, some of the strategies could still be seen in up-to-date ads. However, given specific environment and historical background, it’s not hard to see that a brand’s marketing and advertising strategies always tailor to its time and society.

Good Night, and Good Luck

“Good night, and good luck.”, with the final words spoken by Edward R. Murrow, the movie came to the end. So does his TV program “See It Now”. These program ever accompanied so many audiences spend their nights in the 60’s.

Today, George Clooney’s movie reminds us of the time when the right of the citizens was violated by power, shows us many excellent models of conscientious media people, and makes us rethink the functions of news in society, for politics, as an industry, and for citizens.
The movie shows us the reactions of outstanding media people who have a sense of justice. When an innocent citizen was suspected without evidence and when his basic right and liberty were violated by power politics, they were acute enough to get aware of it and were brave to challenge the power. In his famous “wires and lights in a box” speech delivered at the Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in Chicago, Murrow addressed,

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“It is my desire if not my duty to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television, and if what I say is responsible, I alone am responsible for the saying of it.”

This is responsibility of a journalist and what he/she should realize.

Journalists should also hold an unshakable belief of justice and were also sharp when debating with powers. The movie also shows the heavy workload behind the scenes. As Fred Friendly said in the movie,Fred_friendly

“There’s no news, boys, so go out there and make some news. Rob a bank, mug an old lady, whatever – just do something”.

With audiences’ high demand of information, journalists have to supply a large quantity of news also of high quality. News, as an industry,, is facing the problem of demand and supply in every minute as other industries.

Meanwhile, the censorship and pressure given to these journalists are also strict and heavy. Media people are always the first to know the truth, they are given the mission to introduce it to the citizens in their community. Journalists enjoy the freedom the speech, but their liberty of speech is not absolute. It is limited by the company, and may be threatened by forces. Media people should have the courage to defy injustice and force, though they may be facing the future of losing sponsorship and so on, to fight for human right and justice. Even though, they should still practice the tolerance of being criticized and misunderstood.
The movie also starts us rethinking the functions of news in society. As Murrow said in the speech, the functions of news are not only to amuse, to entertain, but also to justify, to teach, and to inspire. In the movie, Edward R. Murrow finally revealed McCarthy’s conspiracy and manipulation, which shows the function of news as justifying. As Murrow said in his speech to the RTNDA,

“Our history will be what we make of it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week of all three networks, they will there find, recorded in black and white and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.”

Time goes, the news will eventually turn to history, and truth will be revealed finally. The news we are reporting today is the recording of history for tomorrow. Our history is finally what we make it. As people who are responsible for the recording of history, it is also our duty and mission to justify. Doing this is not only for the inviolability of righteousness today , but also for the merits of our later generation.

News can also teach. The mass media nowadays is dazzling and distracting. With the high-speedy lifestyle and increasing pressure, people are looking for ways to relax after work and in front of television. It is understandable but also alarming. Murrow expressed his attitude towards this phenomenon,QQ截图20150925180329

“We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information – our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses, and recognize that television, in the main, is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture, too late.”

Too much entertaining news and many programs are distracting us and driving modern people away from thinking critically and objectively. While the news which conveys more valuable information is considered dull and boring these days. A piece of good news should contain the value of intelligence and justice. The debate between Murrow and McCarthy is a brilliant lecture for us to gain a deeper understanding of politics, human rights, and liberty.

With the functions of justifying and teaching, news should also inspire its audiences. The courage, the sense of justice, the objectiveness, the cautiousness and the conscientiousness shown by Edward R.Murrow and other media people are inspiring. What we learn from a piece of valuable news is even more inspiring. A piece of news reporting a technological breakthrough may inspire other scientists, a piece of news reporting a social issue may inspire people’s understanding of ethics and morality. Intelligence can be spread and news is the media of the exchanging of intelligence.

News has its irreplaceable status in human history. The development of news influences the development of our whole community. The director and Murrow hold the same viewpoint and want to share it with the audiences.

“I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us. Just once in a while, let us exalt the importance of ideas and information… To those who say people wouldn’t look, they wouldn’t be interested, they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply — there is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate – and yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box. “

This movie like an alarm, makes us rethink about the function the news and our future as intellective human beings.“Good night, and good luck.” It is greeting from Edward R.Murrow, but also from hundreds of people devoting themselves into their journalism career. It is also the contributions of hundreds of media people that lead to the progress of society, push the history of human beings and promote the development of human ingenuity.

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