Ethics Alarms reader Lianne Best weighs in on the Tide (with Acti-lift!) ads, with a valuable observation with far broader ethics significance. She aptly describes exactly how norms of appropriate conduct become corrupted and coarsened (or sometimes enlightened and improved!) over time:
“I hope I’m not too late to the Tide with Acti-Lift! party, but for those who say these ads are “just marketing” and don’t have any real impact … the first time I saw each of these ads, I was horrified. With each subsequent viewing I was less and less offended, until they became normal. Participating in unethical behavior starts with it becoming normal, so these seemingly innocuous commercials are actually pushing the snowball down the slippery slope. Those with influence, whoever they may be, must be cautious with its use.”
7 thoughts on “The Comment of The Day: Yes, It’s About Tide Commercials, But Read It Anyway”
This isn’t an example of how norms of appropriate become corrupted or coarsened over time so much as it does boredom. No matter how thrilling (good or bad) we find a particular advertising spot to be, it’s likely to become after numerous re-watchings. The fact that you (and others) KEEP getting offended at new spots is proof as you haven’t suddenly reversed your initial opinion saying they’re “not that bad.”
For the record, I’ve never argued the ads themselves are especially entertaining, nor do I advocate the morals which they might seem to promote, only that they do no harm themselves and are therefore ethically neutral. Of all the things in the world liable to cause unethical behavior or even comprimised morals, Tide advertisements for “Acti-Lift!” are unlikely to the culprit.
So … c’moooooooooooooooooooooooon ….
It could be boredom. I’m not sure boredom isn’t relevant to the argument. During the Clinton years, there was much talk in the media of “Scandal Fatigue”. Move-On. org arose out it—their argument was, essentially, that holding Clinton accountable for lying under oath was getting boring, and it was time to “move on.” Thus do we neglect declining standards by apathy and inaction imposed by repetition. Eventually we get used to people saying “fuck” in mixed company and in public, and another civility standard comes down. Eventually we get used to seeing slobs flying or going to the theater or nice restaurants in flip-flops and tank-tops, and there goes respect, dignity and decorum. Is this boredom or acceptance, and ultimately, is there really a difference? Would you deny that acceptance of the sexualization/bimbo-ization of younger and younger women on TV—and consequently in American society— isn’t as much the result of constant repetition over time as anything else? Women on TV wear absurdly unprofessional outfits in shows like CSI Miami—the first time we see them, we say, “Oh, PLEASE!”—the next 30 times, we get used to it, and soon it becomes the way women actually start dressing for work. Our acceptance of levels of violence on prime time TV that once would have gotten a movie an X rating—what is that? Measured acceptance based on reasoning, or a matter of being numbed by repetition?
Granted—the Tide ads are minor examples any way you look at them. I wrote the original post as an afterthought. But more people have read and commented on this minor issue than on any other topic discussed here. That seems to indicate that these ads do get noticed, people do think about them, and that they do have real effects on how we think about conduct over time.
I’m with you, Jack, and in fact, I’d go further and argue that the “normalization” of unethical behavior has serious implications for the role of the professions in our society.
In my last blog post, I discuss a study of nearly 14,000 college students over the past 30 years, which found that their level of empathy is measurably lower than that of their predecessors. See http://wp.me/peeab-5m.
I suggest that this is part and parcel of the same erosion of values – caused not by huge, newsworthy events, but by the incremental losses of civility, dignity and decorum, starting with seemingly insignificant displays, like Tide commercials.
Thanks for alerting me to that study, Franco, and your excellent commentary on it.I’m going to post with a link to both immediately.
“It could be boredom. I’m not sure boredom isn’t relevant to the argument. During the Clinton years, there was much talk in the media of ‘Scandal Fatigue’. Move-On. org arose out it—their argument was, essentially, that holding Clinton accountable for lying under oath was getting boring, and it was time to move on.'”
Perhaps, but I’m not arguing that holding Tide accountable for encouraging unethical behavior is tiring, I’m arguing that Tide isn’t actually encouraging unethical behavior at all. Commercials are fictional portrayals of real products, and most rational people understand this, therefore, nothing of what’s portrayed therein can be called unethical (unless, perhaps, there was something unethical about the product itself).
“Thus do we neglect declining standards by apathy and inaction imposed by repetition. Eventually we get used to people saying ‘fuck’ in mixed company and in public, and another civility standard comes down. Eventually we get used to seeing slobs flying or going to the theater or nice restaurants in flip-flops and tank-tops, and there goes respect, dignity and decorum. Is this boredom or acceptance, and ultimately, is there really a difference? ”
These are three, separate, any mostly unrelated issues. Saying “fuck” in mixed company is rude and, perhaps, unethical because of it’s violation of the niggardly principle, but the same doesn’t go for supposed “slobs” on airplanes, the theatre, or “nice restaurants.” In all three cases, the “slobs” in question are paid customers of a service which has the right to refuse service to anyone for almost any reason. Except in obvious cases of tattered and dirty clothing, out of control body odor, or a potential health risk, I don’t see how ethics comes into play at all as it’s purely a matter of personal taste. These “declining standards” you refer to are standards of form and politeness (which have always changed and evolved throughout history), not ethical principles. It may be tacky for me to wear flip-flops to a job interview, or to a Broadway show, but surely you’re not arguing it’s unethical?
We, as a society, are not suddenly more tolerant of school shootings because we’ve seen so many of them on the news, nor are we more “okay” with terrorism because we see Jack Bauer fighting it each week on 24. The Bill Clinton fiasco, perhaps, showed more tolerance and forgiveness for something people considered to be a “harmless lie,” but it wasn’t because we’d grown accustomed to it because of too many unethical commercials. Rather, it was symptomatic of American society being more accepting of lying than anything else. Blaming the media for societal ills, only serves to reduce the liability of the individual. At what point are people responsible for their own actions and not just hapless victims of a media gone mad?
“Would you deny that acceptance of the sexualization/bimbo-ization of younger and younger women on TV—and consequently in American society— isn’t as much the result of constant repetition over time as anything else?”
Yes, I would. Women have been treated like bimbos and sex kittens for millenia, and it had nothing to do with the media. A century ago, it was considered impolite for women to speak in mixed company and girls were married off at 12 and 13 (and still are, in some parts of the world). Did Shakespeare encourage pedophilia by making Juliet 13 instead of 21? Sexism exists in the media because sexism exists in people, not the other way around.
Inappropriately dressed though the women of CSI may be, you can’t convince me it’s somehow more sexist than the helpless airhead routine made famous by Marilyn Monroe, Raquelle Welch, and Doris Day (albeit more conservatively, in her case) and those were over 30 years ago. Nor were the THESE characters any more sexist than generations of female portrayals before them on down through the centuries. Problems of sexism lie at the heart of society, I agree .. but they’re not going to be solved by “cleaner” advertising.
” Our acceptance of levels of violence on prime time TV that once would have gotten a movie an X rating—what is that? Measured acceptance based on reasoning, or a matter of being numbed by repetition?”
Why is only TV and other “trash media” at fault? No one blames Homer for inciting bigger and greater wars because of his heroic depictions at Troy, nor has the Bible been condemned due to it’s graphic depictions of murder, rape, incest, and genocide. The characters in the Tide commercials are nowhere near as artistically interesting, but they are also no more “real” in their portrayal. Most people understand that if that Achilles wasn’t really invulnerable the same way they understand that the mother didn’t really steal her daughter’s dress.
Again, what people are willing to see acted out in a movie, or written about it a book does not equate what they’re willing to see happen in reality. Just because standards of fiction have grown more lax, doesn’t mean morals have too .. and I have yet to see you (or any or your supporters in this) prove otherwise.
“Granted—the Tide ads are minor examples any way you look at them. I wrote the original post as an afterthought. But more people have read and commented on this minor issue than on any other topic discussed here. That seems to indicate that these ads do get noticed, people do think about them, and that they do have real effects on how we think about conduct over time.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but one of the reasons it raises so much commentary from me is because I continue to find it so incomprehensible that it was ever an issue in the first place. It’s a catch-22, I realize, but the alternative is to sit by and say nothing — and that would just drive me far too crazy. Interest doesn’t equate controversy. In fact, in cases such as this, the controversy has more to do with there even BEING a controversy, than whatever the initial debate was about. So, really .. please .. c’moooooooooon …’
I must confess, Neil, I was tempted to make this The Comment of Day, first, because it’s a good one, but mostly because I thought having another COTD on Tide (with Acti-Lift!) would drive you mad with cognitive dissonance.
You and I greatly disagree about the impact of TV and popular culture on norms of behavior and societal ethics—I thought this was beyond argument by now, but clearly not.
Yes, sloppy dress, etc, is an ethical issue: trying to look good, like trying to act well, in the company of others demonstrates respect for those around you, and not doing so does the opposite. I consider it the “broken window” (using Pat Moynihan’s theory of urban blight) of ethical social conduct, The loss of dress codes in schools and colleges as well as “casual Fridays” in the workplace have contributed greatly, I believe, in the decline of other ethical standards. This is by no means as generally believed as the popular culture point, but I think it has validity.
Considering the comparative size of our posts, I choose to believe mine wins by virtue of being longer. A fools paradise, perhaps, but one that does my ego much good ..