She got to emailing me some links to some recent advertisements. The common theme among them was "sexy violence."I'm going to link to them here, although I won't go as far as to post the images on my blog (why, after all, should I be doing D&G the favor of giving them ad space when I disagree so strongly with their campaign?). I'll warn you that I, at least, find some of these images in particular disturbing, but a) I think it's important to talk about them, and b) you've probably already seen most of them, since unfortunately to a large degree we are no longer free to choose what we are exposed to.
Start with this link, and look at the top image (before scrolling down and reviewing a lot of other examples, which are interesting for other reasons). In the top image, D&G offers us what is basically a highly sexualized (glittering pecs, arched stilettos) gang rape. I and others who have seen this ad can't imagine any other possible way to interpret it.
D&G ran this ad in spring of 2007. When the campaign ran, the Spanish government criticized the photo as "illegal and humiliating to women," and D&G pulled the entire campaign in Spain. Most interesting to me was D&G's response when they chose to pull the ad. "We will only withdraw this photo from the Spanish market," said a D&G spokesperson. "They are a bit behind the times."
Behind the times, you say? (And to think, all this time I was thinking gang rape was becoming *less* acceptible with time. Silly me.)
Dolce & Gabbana defended the campaign as art in comments reported by La Vanguardia. "What has an artistic photo got to do with a real act?" the paper quoted the firm as saying. "You would have to burn museums like the Louvre or the paintings of Caravaggio."
(Check out a full article here.)
The equation of the ad photo to art gets my goat in yet another way--now D&G is criticizing you if you don't find sexual violence beautiful. Why are we being taught to sexualize sexual violence? Why? I believe in free speech and the beauty of art and expression, but for me there is a line that can be and has been crossed.
To be totally fair to D&G, though, they don't just promote sexual violence against women. Here was their follow-up ad campaign for Fall 2007, in which a series of images picture male models (with no clothes they can possibly be advertising) being subjected to various sexual humiliations at the hands of clothed female models.
Here is another example, from a controversial ad campaign by Cesare Paciotti. In this picture, a dress is modeled by a date rape scenario. And here's another by the same house, in which the violence is not quite as explicit but for me, at least, still comes through strongly (an all but naked woman is positioned extremely suggestively on a stationary bike).
When I talked to Melanie about this last one, I said, "I just don't understand--it's not like it's successful advertising." (Thinking to myself, it's a fashion house and this model isn't wearing any clothes.)
"That's the thing," Melanie said. "It's actually advertising exactly what they're selling." Ie debasement of the human body. You are nothing; your body is not sacred. Spend money on our expensive clothes and then at least you'll have that much.
I took a very narrow sampling here to illustrate a point; almost all the links/images I'm posting are specifically from fashion advertising, and most of them were put together by Dolce & Gabbana. I'm not pretending to make a cohesive thesis about an industry with these; I only offer them up as talking points. This (mis)use of the human body is by no means a phenomenon in advertising. Much of visual advertising is designed around making us feel bad so we think we won't be good enough without the product in question. But we do need to step back and give ourselves a shake about this, notice the images we are being fed, and remind ourselves that some of the messages seeping into our brains are not okay.
I'm blogging about this for two reasons.
1) It makes me really effin' mad.
2) It's a good (if corporatized) example of the power of media, and how we all need to be conscious of the messages we're disseminating.
Fashion advertising is not a far stretch from book publishing. Media is media, and being involved in media in any capacity makes you responsible (at least in part) for ideas, images, and words that you endorse with your involvement. There is plenty of sexualized violence and condoned sexual violence in print culture. I do think it is slightly less harmful than print images and advertising, since the audience is more directed (anyone who walks by a poster sees it and is affected by the image, whereas someone has to purposefully read a book). And adults have a right to read what they want to. But I believe strongly that authors--particularly children's and YA authors--need to be aware of the messages they are dissemenating, and need to be sure that everything they are standing for they stand for deliberately. I talk about that a lot in this post from way back, if you want to know more about my position.
Most people I've talked to about these images have said something along the lines of, "I wonder what jerk approved this." The fact is, many higher-ups--probably whole roomfuls of them--at various companies approved these images and campaigns. Committees of people thought these images were a good idea, much the way they have greenlit video games marketed to teenagers and pre-teens filled with murder, rape, and torture themes and images. The trouble with all these higher ups who are not, in D&G's terms, "behind the times" is that not only are these images potentially dangerous--life imitating art, anyone? that never happens, does it?--but in a world of high-speed internet connections and ubiquitous mass media, they are more accessible by more people of all ages than anything has ever been before. So as it becomes less acceptible to admit to being scandalized by these kinds of things and therefore the number of these media being produced goes up, so does the likelihood that these images fall into the hands of people who might be traumatized, scarred, or irresponsibly inspired by them. Do you really want your five-year-old seeing any of these images hanging in the subway? But by criticizing you for your prudishness, D&G gets away with taking away your choice.
As dissemenators of media (which we all are, all us bloggers, writers, editors, publicists) and consumers of media (which we all are, whether we want to be or not), we need to be hyperaware of what we're saying and what we're hearing. We need to say what is good and true and what we believe in, and we need to be able to step back and remember that everything we see and read is not right or ok.
Take a stand, if you can. Don't let people get away with telling you and showing you things you don't believe in. We all have the power to be part of the solution.