Representation Thought Piece

This was an advert displayed on the London underground by Marsh & Parsons, a real estate company to promote their brand and specialised housing schemes. It sparked outcry because of the portrayals of women – and I chose this advert because there are many aspects to it regarding the representation of several different groups, contextual background and culture.  The advert was quickly taken down but it also prompted discussions about a wider issue about advertising and representation in our culture. It is a long discussion and one that will likely remain relevant and significant for many years to come.


The main gist of the advertisement series was showcasing different types of people with houses that matched their ‘look’. Most of their photos were quite harmless – even inciting a chuckle now and then. But this, many people argued, went too far. Explicitly, it presents an older man, referred to as a ‘charming period property’, with a younger woman wrapped around his shoulder, mentioned as a ‘modern extension’. As one might have guessed, the reference to the woman as a ‘modern extension’ was heavily criticised; largely due to the chauvinistic attitudes which objectified women – revealing some perhaps misogynistic values that exist in our culture. Personally, I can understand this. As a female myself, my personal context means I am perhaps more sensitive to gender-targeted advertisements such as this one. Equally; the context of the creators is in a male-dominated industry and demonstrates a thoughtlessness and normalcy of objectifying women in the media and in our culture. I do not believe that the creators had any bad intention; on the contrary – I think they were trying to create a humorous advert which would be remembered.  But in a way, David Brown, CEO of Marsh & Parsons said “We have always tried to get our message across with a gentle sense of humour” – which of course again reinforces the dangerous excuse ‘it was just a joke’ mindset-sentiment which is so prevalent in our society’s culture today. It is often used as an excuse to say discriminatory, sexist, racist, or homophobic things which I think most people would agree is something we want to avoid. At the very least, if we do invoke our right to free speech! we will have to deal with the consequences of that.


Moreover, I do think Marsh & Parsons have the right to post whatever they want, as long as it is not inciting violence or is directly dangerous. I wish that we had better advertisements and that we were not constantly offending people – but the reality is people make their own decisions. In our modern culture, somebody is always going to be offended. Of course, I would prefer this advert not to be posted – and I disagree with the implicit messages that a woman is a man’s property – but I will defend above all the right to say that. (Again, there are exceptions – such as when life or safety is in danger). However despite this, one must deal with the consequences of their actions. Thus I disagree with the people who argue we can never do anything that is potentially deemed offensive. I would challenge the interpretations that it is incredibly degrading to women – and argue instead that maybe it is thoughtless and off the mark. Instead of restricting rights, isn’t it better to change the fundamental basis of our culture and society that normalises this behaviour? Instead of banning it, isn’t it better to educate not to? 


Ultimately, I wanted to choose an advert that was nuanced and was not so obviously black and white. I think this advert both is offensive to some (based on personal culture and experiences or upbringing) and humorous to others. I believe it is important to be respectful of people – but also that people can do what they want. These often come into conflict with each other, but when it comes down to it, there is no universal answer. Representation is always problematic as everyone sees things differently. All we can do is our best to be respectful.