Are we really expected to believe that a woman’s bottom peeking out through her sheer undies is more revealing than a woman literally bouncing out of her top? While those of us raised to leave something to the imagination might argue, yes, neither of these commercials really requires imagination does it?
More than that, I don’t see much difference between the PETA ad and the Victoria Secret ad and subsequent prime time runway shows that followed for at least two years. And I have my blushing, flomixing, girlfriend with her 12 year old boy reaction to each to prove it.
The Super Bowl has always been a place for sanctioned sexually exploitative and heterosexist ads that are considered “fun for the entire family.” It has made the 5-second careers of people like the Diorito Chip lady (no I am not looking up her name) and extended the careers of aging super models like Cindy Crawford and Daisy Fuentes and floundering musicians like Jessica Simpson. On the surface it is the place where big chested girls go to fly for the first time, or for what might be one last time, and us feminists get shouted into silence.
What is interesting about these two ads to me is what they tell us about perverse consumption in late capitalism. (yeah I said it!)
Go Daddy’s Hetero Touch and Go
The Go Daddy commercial expose three major cultural references:
- The Janet Jackson- Justin Timberlake spin
- The hypersexuality of super bowl ads
- the hypocrisy of Senate hearings on sexuality
By having their scantily clad actress both verbally and physically reference the “wardrobe malfunction” incident that not only changed the Superbowl half time show for good but also almost destroyed Janet Jackson’s career, Go Daddy reinscribes the narrative of intentionality that branded Janet Jackson an oversexed flasher instead of a victim of an overzealous duet partner. At the same time, their version threatens to destabilize the import of the established narrative, not by exposing its racialized-gender encoding, but rather by exposing the truth of the viewership for the Superbowl who complained out of one side of their mouth and then made Janet Jackson’s exposure the most viewed clip on the internet out of the other.
The Go Daddy ad is also a sen up of previous Superbowl ads: Hooters, Pepsi, Bud Light, and Pizza. Go Daddy openly labels all of them as degrading and ridiculous while still trading in the same sexual objectification. Is this irony? Or offensive shlock masked by pseudo-irony?
Finally, Go Daddy’s ads reference the sort of ridiculous Senate hearings on sexuality, be it prostitution, bathroom hookups, or the meaning of “sexual relations” and in so doing, expose the hypocrisy of these proceedings as well. Thus the “congressmen” all try to sound appropriately authoritarian and disgusted while clearly being attracted to the model and her antics. They are guilty too. (Sound familiar)
Go Daddy’s constant pendulum swing between reassertion and exposure is never more clearly mainstreamed than in the depiction of the Congresswoman. She comes across as Paula Abdul without the supposed drinking or the stereotypical reception of Hillary Clinton: an angry shrew who is not in on the joke. Except the joke is not really funny is it? Older men oggling a big breasted young woman willing to shake it like the Obama girl for her 5 seconds of fame is a reality that news channels have been just as willing to exploit as the Superbowl ad execs. (And this year, they are run by the same people.)
Interestingly, Go Daddy also misses the opportunity to expose the hyper-heterosexuality of Super Bowl ads with women by failing to shift the Congresswoman’s gaze. Had she also been attracted to the model, would she be read as gay window dressing? Or is this commercial so heteronormative that people would have seen it as a thinly veiled attempt by Go Daddy to cut off sexist labeling at the pass? Probably the latter. (And honestly, I would have been creeped out by that anyway; and then I’d be writing a post about how powerful women always have to have a penis in hetoropatriarchal versions of women . . . that’s right b/c I am an “angry feminist”)
Ultimately, despite its attempts to expose certain kinds of hypocrisy from Superbowl viewers to Congress, Go Daddy is offering up the same old dichotomies between sex kittens and shrews, women as objects and men as consumers, etc. all packaged in a heteronormative “eye candy” extravaganza. In so doing, they managed to get their ad approved.
PETA’s LGB Romp
On the surface, PETA seems far less controversial in this vein precisely because all they’ve done is taken some food and made it a metaphor for sex. Wow.
I suppose I will give them queer window dressing points even tho it is a vapidly heterocentric ad. After all, several fast food commercials have been running ads on variations of the theme “eat the meat;” Burger King even used it as a slogan for a while. In an odd failure to understand the double entendre of such an ad campaign, ffast food companies embraced the idea of “eating the meat” as an affirmation of everyman. Clearly they missed it when Queer as Folk character Brian, who originated that slogan precisely b/c of its queer underpinnings, and the L Word, who later cut out the advert and simply took it to the bathroom, let us all know what we were talking about.
By filling their ads with overweight, aging, sweaty (as in stinky not sexy) laborers the fastfood companies avoided queer subtext except for those in the life know; and they did it so well I cannot even make a joke about why it always takes two or more guys in hard hats to eat the meat. At the same time, ads like the Sam Neill “Red Meat we were meant to eat it” rescript the text back into a heterosexual fantasy. Thus in one ad Neill talks about how Meat makes you “bigger” and in another, two women who obviously live together, poke their heads over the fence and stare lustily at the bbq while Neill says “Red meat we were meant to eat it.” Mmmhmmm, tell it to the boys.
In this context PETA’s commercial takes on two important layers:
- queer & straight sexual inclusivity
- female sexual empowerment
Thus they replaced the unacknowledged homoerotic message turned mundane reinscription of mainstream hetero-masculinity with one of self-pleasure in which no meat is required. Gay or straight, this layer of the message embraces an image of women who know their sexy and powerful in their own rigt. Unlike the Burger King ads that require at least multiple men to digest, a woman can get on just find with just her and her veg.
By using fruit and vegetables that are phallic, fertility symbols (ie coded female), and somewhere in between, they have also given us a visual image whose subtext embraces a spectrum of sexual choices and partners. And they’ve done it so astutely that some produce calls us both at once.
Come on, did you see what she did with that pumpkin? If that wasn’t queer then somebody better alert the gay comedies as well as anyone who is familiar with a tight end.
Hmm . . . what’s this, I have discovered the difference in these two ads afterall . . . While the former centers both heterosexual and colonial fantasies, the latter centers empowered female sexuality in its own right while actively embracing a narrative that rejects the centrality of male desire in female pleasure. And it is this blatant rejection, while titillating with the fruit/veg that is not for you, that caused male television executives to approve Go Daddy and loudly reject PETA. How dare PETA say we don’t want to eat the meat and we don’t have to?! Denied!
Oh how the wheels on my bs bus can go round and round once started.
At the same time, PETA’s only visual reference is to those Victoria Secret ads that also claim lacy undies and high heels make you a feminist not a fetish worker (which for some is empowering). There is no irony in the reference and thus no question about how sexualizing the female body for an intended audience of male viewers still places this narrative of sexual empowerment within the realm of the male gaze.
The question of whether female sexuality, any kind of female sexuality, that is displayed to titillate a male audience into buying a product is empowering will ultimately be decided by a larger audience than I; feminists fall on either side of that divide after all. But I do think it is important to note that PETA’s ad lacks an ironic exposure of male fantasy nor have they shown any qualms in trafficking in skin as long as its female and human.
Ultimately, both these ads trade in skin for the heterosexual male gaze. Both objective women through image and potentially through content. And yet, if I believe my own crap, at least one of them is saying something unique about female sexuality, while the other is exposing the hypocrisy of dominant male heterosexual desire. One takes on issues of race and the other erases them (and honestly, I’m grateful to PETA for not showing a black woman sticking a cucumber up her . . .) and who is to say that both are not being equally astute about those decisions; afterall, the Superbowl audience has already proven itself to be tolerant of white female hypersexuality – as long as it is straight – but not black female sexuality of any kind.
Come on, now that you’ve got to the end of this post, you see it too . . .