Monday, 11 March 2019

Studied Sunday Night Takeaway ad entrenches stereotypes

The other day I was casually surfing the web when I saw an ad for this TV program on the SMH website. It was beautifully put together. Whoever had designed it had lots of talent and it struck me as it often does how much effort is made in our society just for the purpose of appearing normal.

The program has its own web page and there’s also another, separate page introducing this new product to the community. This page, like the ad, has a likeable tone and has been written to within an inch of its life by some very clever PR people so that you are offered something that will fit in with your regular weekend routine. Ever had takeaway on a Sunday night because you couldn’t be bothered cooking? Need a night off, mum? Then this is the place for you.

The introductory web page has some special features too. It addresses the issue of the program’s name (“Wait, why isn’t it ‘Julia & Chris’ Sunday Night Takeaway’?”) quickly before it can fester, with humour and a sly nod in the direction of the comedian, Julia Morris, whose name comes second. She, we are told, is also asking the same question. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the formulation adopted is much easier to say than the alternative would have been, as in the latter case you would have a repeated vowel (the “a” marking the end of the name “Julia” and the beginning of the conjunction) that would impede the production of the required sounds.

Chris Brown is about 10 years younger than Julia. He was the vet in the program ‘Bondi Vet’ which began screening in 2009. He is a vet. In the ad it looks like he’s going to play the straight-man as a complement to what we are led to expect will be outlandish routines from Morris. But he’s also, like his co-host, remarkably Anglo. Plain white-bread stock of a kind that is now a minority in this country. Regular features, blonde hair. Who do the Channel Ten executives think they’re kidding?

In the SMH ad, Brown is seen standing facing the camera with a goofy look on his face. Anything could happen with a host this crazy! To underscore the comedic potential, he has a party horn in his mouth, as though he were in the middle of creating some goofy mayhem. To his right, Morris is standing with her right arm leaning on Brown’s shoulder in a familiar way, although her face is turned away from him to face the camera. Close but not too close (she’s married to someone else). She is smiling very broadly while Brown is not smiling at all, which also serves to emphasise the differences between the two people. It’s as though she had been in the middle of doing something and had just at that moment looked up and smiled. She has her left hand on her hip in a confident pose designed to communication “independence”. She’s her own woman but she’s happy to play second-fiddle to Brown for the show. Nothing here that would serve to rock the boat.

Brown is wearing a dark suit and tie that make him look very formal, as though he were about to go out to a posh dinner in town. Morris wears a pink jacket and you assume she’s wearing a matching skirt or trousers but you can’t see that far, and she has a formal black shirt on. Their clothes speak of the special treat that the program promises to give viewers. The cuffs of brown’s shirt are just visible in the frame, which serves to make the formality of his attire more prominent. Morris is wearing a set of pearls around her neck, and this does the same thing too. In her right hand she is holding a party horn that matches the one in Brown’s mouth, implying that she was about to blow her own horn or that she had just done so. There is a certain quantity of movement in this prop, which ads to the zany vibe the designers were looking for.

To the left of the couple, deep in the ad’s field of signification, is the logo for the program. It is done as though it had been made out of neon tubes of different colours. The words “Sunday night” are blue with, above them, “Extend your weekend” set in red letters. The word “Takeaway” is done in a different, cursive font designed to emulate the kinds of fonts that were used for the signs of cheap restaurants in films of a past era. The whole assemblage is set at a jaunty angle that mimics the diagonal line separating the ad’s background colour fields. The sense of nostalgia that the neon lettering contains is strong. Nestled in among the glowing letters are the names of the show’s hosts, in a neat, compact font that is distinct from the surrounding words but that has a strong visual impact.

The background for the show’s name is black and this section of the ad is separated from the canonical orange that is used for the company’s logo and the rest of the ad by a diagonal line that serves to give movement and vibrancy to the whole design. On the right-hand side of the ad are the words “Live” and “7.30 Tonight” which give the viewer the essential information they need to connect the drama of the ad with their own schedule. Now, they can tune in and watch something that is going to buttress their conventional beliefs in a way that accommodates diversity and inclusiveness with a nod and a wink. Brilliant work by designers. Give them a raise!

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