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Monday, July 10, 2006
Send the Kiddies Out of the Room for This One
French clothing company Shai has started a new advertising campaign on the internet that manages to be both the height of exploitation, and brilliantly transgressive marketing.
They're using hard-core gay porn to sell clothes. No, that's not a joke, or an exaggeration. That link there is absolutely not work safe, and contains hard-core gay porn. Classy hard-core, with a really great sound track and beautiful production values, featuring guys who are cute but a bit on the twinkie side for me, but hard-core gay porn nonetheless.
I was, quite literally, struck speechless when I stumbled upon this ad. I was not prepared for any advertiser, in any country, to jump several steps ahead of where the cultural comfort zone appears to be on sexuality in mass media and popular culture. Especially not in light of the current American hysteria over even the vaguest hint of sex and nudity in popular culture. When a half-second flash of a middle-aged woman's breast on television leads to a crack down on "filth" in television, you know American's aren't going to be comfortable with frank depictions of sexuality.
And it isn't as if these ads can be universally hailed as a breakthrough either. Sex has been used in advertising for decades. The barely contained subtext of almost any commercial for alcohol or clothing is sex. And given that the campaign also features a male/female pairing, and especially given that it contains a female/female pairing which quite explicitly conforms to the standards of "lesbian titillation for straight men in straight porn," it's clear that there is definitely an element of using sex in an exploitative way to attract attention to the brand name. And, of course, if you subscribe to the theory (I don't) that all pornography is inherently offensive to women, well, you could probably make a case that the campaign is misogynistic as well.
But, oh! That transgressive element! On a simple level, sure, yeah, using out and out porn to sell clothes is just crossing the threshold of what we consider acceptable imagery in advertising. It wasn't that long ago, after all, that Calvin Klein was accused of creating child pornography in an ad campaign featuring clothed models over the age of eighteen. Just imagine the outrage and condemnation that we'll be hearing screeched from those whose moral fervor presses when this hits the general public's radar. Not least of which because the ads unapologetically insert gay male imagery into the campaign. To be sure, coded gay imagery in ads goes as far back as the Arrow Collar Man, and I'm hard-pressed to tell the difference between an Abercrombie & Fitch ad and a Bel Ami video. But, as I said, that's coded imagery. The whole point of the Abercrombie "look" is to suggest homoeroticism whilst emphasizing the "manly" image of heterosexual youth. Shai is coming out with a blunt statement that their clothes are for gay men too. And look at the nice looking boys enjoying each other's company in a way that those closet cases at A&F can only dream about.