There are many frightening commercials on television, but perhaps the most terrifying ads, at least for me, are the commercials for the Brinks/Broadview Security Systems, wherein women find themselves in terrifying situations, right inside of their own homes.
When I was a kid, there was a famous ADT commercial that involved sketchy looking criminal types describing how they broke into homes at night to steal jewelry boxes and such. I can actually remember most of it word for word: "I can pick most locks with a credit card! I know when you're home, and when you're not! If I had a family, I'd protect them...from guys like me." This is mostly because my sister and I, for some reason, thought this commercial was funny, and we used to recite it as a joke. Maybe we were trying to allay our own fears of a break-in, or maybe we just thought the fake criminals weren't too scary at all.
But now the trend doesn't seem to be aimed at protecting "your family" as much as it seems to be aimed at protecting women. The major ads for Broadview Security Systems (formerly Brinks) all feature a white, middle class woman or young girl at home alone, going about her business as she's unknowingly being stalked by a creepy, creepy guy who watches her from behind a window or a fence. In each case, the man busts down the door or the window, and is immediately scared off by an alarm system and a quick call from a male security agent. Here, a woman is nearly attacked by an ex-boyfriend:
When I brought these commercials up to my boyfriend, he shrugged, as I suppose many people will do, and said, "They're just trying to sell security systems." But when I watch these commercials, I'm taken aback by the overly simplistic resolutions: these door-busting men aren't your garden variety jewelry thief—they want to hurt these women, and to me, at least, it seems doubtful that an alarm would stop them after they've just broken the damn door down.
Maybe (probably?) I'm overreacting here, but it seems to me that these commercials are not selling security systems as much as they are selling a culture of fear: you need to protect your house because these bad men are out to get you—when your husband is gone, you are weak and alone and nobody will stop the bad men from hurting you or your daughter unless you wire your home. Your ex-boyfriend is out to get you, the man jogging down the street is out to get you, and as a woman the only thing you can do is make sure that you set that alarm and hope it scares him away. They certainly achieve their goal of unsettling the viewer about the safety of their own home, but more than that, what they speak to an even scarier idea: the notion that a woman is never safe, as long as she is alone.
Update: Sorry, guys, the weather is apparently melting my brain: Margaret covered this way back in December. Different commercials, but same overall message. Sorry about that! If nothing else, we've learned that even though the company has changed its name and put out a brand new set of ads, their underlying message remains the same.