32 thoughts on “The Hilton’s Idea of a treat

  1. Sam, yes, but I find the idea of that happening in my room very creepy. I mean, imagine waking up in the moring to find that Phelps is about to land on you.

  2. @annejjabson: Is that really what we’re supposed to be thinking here? It looks to me like Phelps has just checked into his room (note the packed suitcase and bag) and that he’s jumping into an empty, neatly made bed after a competition. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be imagining that this is my room which he’s entered or that he is jumping into my bed in the morning. Perhaps you can clarify why you think about the ad in the way you do.

  3. I find the photo somewhat awkward aesthetically, but not disturbing, since I also thought of him diving into his own bed. People’s sensitivities might differ, but it does not seem to me to evoke sexual violence in such an obvious way that it constitutes offense to victims of sexual violence.

  4. I don’t see how this ad is offensive or suggests domestic violence, except perhaps to the bed. His left arm and hand look deformed, and it doesn’t make me any more inclined to stay there, but I didn’t read it as “Michael Phelps is going to dive on to me”. Would you have felt differently if they had used Dara Torres?

  5. I did not find this offensive at all. It looks to me like someone diving into a bed which gives me the impression that it is supposed to be a comfy and welcoming bed. Also, when I think of Phelps, I think of him being tired after his swimming competitions so of course he is going to want a bed to dive into. It guess it is a matter of perception.

  6. The real question here is why you were so ready to imagine yourself under Phelps. Methinks you doth protest too much in the original post :)

  7. I’ve been increasingly puzzled that others are not at all seeing it as I do. Then I remembered that I have actually written on an aspect of the topic. The paper, which I didn’t try very seriously to get published, is called “The Uninviting Room.” It looks at an experience that some of us have when we look at a room, or a picture or a model of a room. That is, we imaginatively enter the room. People who do this can often have a very strong sense of whether the room is inviting or not. I conjecture that the imagining employs a sense of space and involves activations in the parietal lobe. If Melvin Goodale is right, it is probably not directly accessible to consciousness, though the effects are. The paper tries to develop a theoretical vocabularly to explain this sense. I don’t think that the standard conception of mental representation will work at all in this context.

    So when I look at the picture, I am pretty sure I imaginatively enter the room, and probably imagine using it the way one is invited to by the picture. That is, I lie down on the bed. The ensuing scene is just a classic beginning-of-a-rape. It’s a total nightmare fear that some women have: one wakes up in a hotel room with someone about to land on one.

    Just so you won’t think this is loony, I have discussed it with some neuroscientists and had an email exchange with a well-known mirror neuron advocate. This is not totally a priori neuroscience, fun though that can be.

  8. Until you explained why you thought the picture was disturbing to you, I wasn’t thinking of it that way either. When I view pictures, unless they are devoid of people, I don’t put myself into those pictures. I view them as if I were standing in a door way or watching from a window. I’m more often an observer in my mind than I am one to participate in a view that I see.

  9. TA: It might be that just my making the initial comments changed how people approached the picture, so everyone was thinking about it rather than feeling it.

    Introspection is not necessarily reliable here. There’s a pretty well confirmed distinction between what’s labeled “dorsal stream processing” and “ventral stream processing” in visual experience. The ventral stream processing gives one the conscious experience, with colors, etc. Obviously, almost all of us are aware of it. But the dorsal stream processing seems to be the site for much of our experience of something like personal space. It is somewhat controversial to say we’re not aware of it at all, but it certainly appears to operate without much awareness. That’s one way some seemingly blind people can actually navigate their surroundings. That is, the ventral stream might be non-functional while the dorsal stream remains functional.

    One way of asking whether the dorsal stream imagining is going on is to ask whether you get a certain sense of spatial arrangement that seems to be immediate and not the product of inferring on the basis of past experience.

    If you were to start to walk into a classroom fairly packed with desks that come within a few feet of your podium, might you say to yourself immediately “O no, this has got to change; I’m already feeling trapped.” Now I am getting apriori I fear, but it’s a reasonable bet that you had a strong visual sense of the room’s space.

  10. not to pile on, but i had the same reaction as pretty much everyone else: the picture is pretty innocent.

  11. Advertising typically uses high profile figures in an aspirational way: viewers are supposed to want to be like the star. Marketing Wheaties as the breakfast of champions is a paradigm of this strategy. The details of this picture, which someone else has already pointed out, include the duffle bag and shirt, suggest that Phelps has just checked in after endless laps of butterfly at practice. And the bed is just waiting for him to dive in, just like the pool is. We are supposed to be like Michael Phelps — work (out) hard, and then come back to the hotel and dive right into a comfy bed. That is, I suspect the target market here is not vacationers but people who travel a lot for work.
    I would think that the ad doesn’t work so well on these terms. I mean the whole point of going back to a comfy hotel after a long day of work away from home is to FORGET about work, not to bring it into bed with you. But that is a failure of a very different sort than the one you point out. Try as I might, I cannot imagine Phelps pouncing on me in that picture.

  12. Leaping into bed with goggles, cap and wet suit? Inviting?

    IOf course, we know enough about what advertising is supposed to do to figure out what Hilton’s intentions were. But looking at this picture, I have no thought, “I’d like to be there,” which, I would have thought, is not so good for an advertisement.

    So perhaps the question any one left should be asking, if you are leafing through advertisements, does this picture motivate you at all to choose Hilton.

  13. Anne,

    I’m with the other posters to this thread who didn’t see the ad the way you did. Of course, I’m a man, so that could just be because I haven’t been socially conditioned to pick up on the relevant cues. But I’m curious about your appeal to neuroscientific considerations: were you meaning to say merely that they might explain *your* reaction, or that they give reason to think that many or most women (at least) who view the ad would share your reaction on some level (even if not fully aware of it)?

  14. I imaginatively entered the picture as the diver-into-bed. I identified with the celeb just as intended. So yes, I found the picture inviting. If you knew how much I love a good hotel bed, you’d be unsurprised how much I identified with the Phelpsian dive. Bed bed bed.

  15. Profbigk, i love pillowy mattresses, but identfying with phelps makes it worse for me. Perhaps I’m mistakenly adding in my own speed, but i feel an uncomfortable landing coming up. The legs are going to take the first impact, but nothing in one’s thighs, knees or calfs is going to bend. It hurts even to think of landing like that.

    Simon, I’m advancing a hypothesis about why people who have pretty definite senses about the spatial arrangements in a room do have them. My guess is that many, many people do. However, thinking about the space -as when one is asked to count the # of chairs in a room – might result in one’s not noticing any feeling.

  16. Simon, I didn’t exactly address your question. I am surprised that no one else shares my reaction, but there could be lots of reasons why that’s so. so I am not generalizing from my experience.

    There are also different kinds of imagination that could be at play. I’m still, I guess, surprised that since the man leaping on the bed in a hotel room is part of a rape trope, no one else felt that. I think a water bed might be worse since they do, I think, have sharp edges and so the whole positioning of the leap fits even less well.

  17. Your criticism of the image seems to come down to the claim that it would be emotionally troubling for a woman to picture herself being on the bed in the scene pictured. The same can be said, however, of any image containing a man performing some rapid or forceful movement. Are we to criticize photographs of men sprinting, for example, because a woman might think to herself: “What would it be like if he were running like that towards me?” Making an issue out of pictures as innocent as this one will only make it harder for people to take legitimate complaints about sexist messages in advertising seriously.

  18. Brego, let me see if I’ve got what you are saying right. I’ve made a mistake and it is the sort that hurts feminism generally? Or at least hurts one kind of protest?

    On the other hand, this discussion is unlikely to have much impact, particularly given the amount of disagreement.. In addition, it is extremely important that we can explore ideas without feeling the sky will fall if we make a mistake. I think your response has an element of unnecessary catastrophising, as cognitive therapists tend to day.

  19. Btw, category “domestic violence” was meant to be obviously inappropriate. I.e., a joke. It just occurred to me that we have this list and perhaps a bit of play with it would be fun. I think I’ll count this idea as a FAIL!

  20. My first thought was that its going to hurt when he lands. Its going to hurt him, that is, not anyone else since there is no one else in the picture. But I winced at the thought of landing on a bed like that – it seems like he’s going to hit the bed frame.

    It never occurred to me to imagine being a woman underneath him. And anyway, if we’re imagining that, why not imagine it being consensual? For all the ads out there that really do use icky stereotypes, this one seems totally fine. It doesn’t seem like a great hotel ad, but it would never have occurred to me to think of violence.

  21. Um, it isn’t that one imagines a woman baneath him. Rather, the imaging I was recounting is from a first person. One enters the room. Interestingly, what we’re realizing is that such imagining does draw on some of the brain areas as actually perming the action would. I’m think that for some of us it is automatic.

    I handed the picture to my husband last night after saving it to “photos”, so he wouldn’t see the context. I ask him what he thought was going on. He said, “well, he’s leaping into a soft bed or it’s a rape”.

    So I’m puzzled by why, when we can all recognize the fear of men’s actions that a woman alone can experience (see the recent male feminist post), I’m the only one with the thought “that’s not what I want in my hotel room.”

    My spouse’s response raises a similar question. I think there’s probably something in the context creating the difference, but I don’t know what it is. It could be just that my sense of danger is particularly charged up these days. Ditto for the spouse. I might send it around to women’s studies….

  22. Anne, I know exactly what you mean. The picture reminds me of a nasty ‘joke’ that I didn’t find the least bit amusing. Something about a disgruntled client repeatedly jumping on a horrified $1000/hr escort. When asked “WTF do you think you’re doing?” the man replies, “For that price, I’m going to make my own hole.”

    I have to remember my manners and stuff down similar sentiments when I think of all the things I could do to Paris Hilton to make her ‘singing’ more entertaining for the lost minutes I spent listening to it..

    The goggled look of concentration on Phelps’ face is rather disturbing, too. Kinda like me trying to find something redeeming about the Hilton brood. Meow! Hiss!

  23. But wait… wrt#10. Yes!! Don’t dismiss this as a fail. The angle of the shot is creepy, too. As someone who has to strain to keep my eyes from popping all over the place ala Marty Feldman, I rely on other senses to keep my balance, to guage depth and distance. I’ve even been caught with my gestalt down, making up parts of a story that I’m asked to read aloud as my eyes drift, and I see double.

    Look at the awkward angle of the window behind Phelps. It was probably required to get his entire frame into the shot. But it reminds me of the masterful cinematography in The Shining, the lurching, slanted hallways designed to portray a terrified victim running from a homicidal drunk. Both are off-balance, and lost in the awful maze of weirdly tilting doorways full of gruesome things. I totally get it.

  24. Check out the way Phelps seems to be popping out of the doorway. “Here’s Johnny!” Is there a rotten old lady’s corpse in that bathtub, or what? Within this string of other associations, I could even venture another stab at Paris’ substance abuse.

  25. Aha! Now I remember. Anne, there was a very recent study on motion sickness, where the researcher put the participants in a perfectly still room, but projected images along the walls, to give the same awkward-angled funhouse effect. It was as reliable as a Swiss watch. Every last participant blew chunks within a predictable timeframe. Do you remember that experiment?

  26. Xena, I’m relieved some other people can find it less than lovely.

    Jaccobjcc, I think it is not productive to conjecture about psychological causes. There’s a wide spread belief in the US that we have better access to the motives of others than they themselves do, even if we have never met the person. In fact, lots of studies have shown we bring quite systematic biases into our explanations; we actually aren’t terrific at understanding other people. I’d blame psychoanalysis for the opposing belief.

  27. I wasn’t trying to suggest that he knows you better than you know yourself. My thinking was more that if my wife was as interested as you are in issues such as rape culture, and she bought an image to me asking what I thought of it, I probably would assume she had spotted something and wanted to see if I saw it too. So then I would not really be a very useful result, because my knowledge of my wifes interests may have primed me to see something I would normally not.

  28. Sorry if I’m still not explaining myself very well, In my last post I think I probably am doing what you said, and projecting into your husbands shoes when I know nothing about him, and almost nothing about you.

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