Advertisements, Stereotypes, and Freedom of Expression
Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2004
29 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2004
This article tries to justify restrictions on racial and gender stereotypes in advertisements from the perspective of liberal theory. The typical modern advertisement does not present arguments and information. Rather, it presents visual images of desirable life-styles and appeals to the emotional. Stereotype images of gender and race give certain connotations to belonging to a given gender or ethnic group. In the past several decades the conceptions of many people regarding race and gender have become more egalitarian, but no significant signs of this change can be traced in advertisements. Contemporary advertisements are filled with traditional stereotype images. This gap between advertisements and the principled commitment of many to equality results from the fact that stereotypes are deeply entrenched in the emotional world of many people. By bringing their audiences into repeated contact with stereotypes, advertisements prevent people from internalizing at the emotional level their commitment at the cognitive level to equality. We argue that in order to maintain the autonomy of the audience, restrictions on stereotypes in advertisements should be imposed. The ideal of autonomy demands that individuals will shape their perceptions and beliefs through a rational process. Whereas rationality requires a cognitive process of receiving and processing data, this does not occur in an optimal manner in the context of advertisements. People who are exposed to advertisements are in a state of reduced rationality. Because the messages in advertisements are transmitted indirectly, repetitively, and at a fast pace, the audience cannot contend with them on the cognitive level and is not aware of the changes the advertisement produces in their preferences and opinions.
Keywords: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, stereotype, advertisements, advertising, discrimination, culture
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