Art Essay, Research Paper
MARKETING AND THE BODY
We all speak and act from our bodies, but what we actually consider as “our” or other people?s body is very much open to debate. The images shift and change threw the times and culture changes, and so does the perception of the “ideal” or “politically correct” body. In the world we live in, the body has become a commodity, a fetish. The appropriate or “politically correct” image of the body results in its veneration as an ideal and promotes a whole set of values behind the image. Therefore, it is interesting to look at the ways in which the body is promoted and advertised.
One of the popular images of the body today is the image of the naked female body in reviews such as Playboy. Of course, this imagery has wider meanings both within the culture where it is produced and reproduced and within the context of something like the “American way of life.” Playboy has increasingly become globalized, with the regional editions sporting regional beauties. Several issues in Brazil had to be reprinted due to a high demand. The imagery from this magazine is interesting because it seems to display the female body usually girls in their late teens or early 20s, in a culturally acceptable way. Somewhat surprisingly, it has been found that many of American females do not object to Playboy the fact that this magazine also has some excellent stories and interviews helps, although they would not exactly put the centerfolds on the walls of their rooms. They normally do object to more “serious” magazines of the same type, like the Penthouse, or Hustler. Since, I find that the basic imagery is the same, the question that seems to be worth asking here is: how is this different imagery mediated? What is it within the specific culture that makes some representations of the human, in this case, female body more or less “acceptable”?
The answer to this question depends to a large extent on the prevailing cultural and social norms within each culture or society. While there is no universal criterion regarding greater or lesser “acceptability” of particular types of imagery, the fact is that many industries, from clothing to cosmetics, rely heavily on certain types of images that enable them to sell their products.. The body, especially if it conforms to current cultural and social aesthetic ideals “norms” becomes something that can be bartered, exchanged, or sold.
Looking at naked women of color in National Geographic constitutes the first pornographic experience for a lot of American boys. I think that the main point is that “the women of color” in National Geographic or textbooks are not really considered as sexual objects because they are not entirely considered as human ? unlike the prevailing images of ,mostly white, women in the reviews like the Playboy.
Advertised and idealized bodies are, of course, only ideals. Ordinary heterosexual males, to take just one possible example, do not really expect to meet someone who looks like Courtny Cox, Cameron Diaz or other glamorous actresses/models. The image itself is somewhat reminiscent of a fairy-tale plot: most.if, not all, of us like to dream, or daydream, of the princess on the white horse, or in the white Lamborghini, for example. Although not omnipotent in “reality,” we dream of the day of our omnipotence, when everything wished for can materialize. The fact that we are well aware that these are only dreams does not prevent us from dreaming about this. The image that is projected in and through advertising is able to offer for a fleeting second “girls, buy this, and you can look just like me/ guys, get this after-shave and you can be with someone just as beautiful as me” and the like the sensation that is more than real in the words from a U2 song: “even better than the real thing”, the feeling that crosses right into fantasy.
The answer to the question of what constitutes the “ideal” body is part of the coding of what is “admissible” and what is “inadmissible” in contemporary culture. The cult of the body, at least as far as the late-Victorian era promotes and markets a specific kind and shape of body: the firm, slender body, especially with regard to a female one becomes an ideal. “Working out” has become an important aspect of contemporary life in Western industrialized societies, but this “required”, in a cultural, not necessarily in a physical or biomedical sense, exercise is part of the coding. The messages coded are that the people who “work out are somehow “in charge”. “I work out”, jog, do weights, etc. means “I am in control of my body” and, by extension, “I can control my sexuality.” Everything is organized, systematized, put under control.
Of course, everything gets more consumer-oriented and market-conscious. Leading fashion designers make their products now only for the ones who are “fit,” who are in perfect shape. If you want to wear the latest fashion, you have to look appropriate (or you have to look like the latest fashion trend) ?even in high fashion, the body comes first. By portraying these trends through some high-profile personalities and many models, like Elle McPherson, or Claudia Schiffer, have become pop culture icons for themselves, contemporary designers can design and envision a new reality. Not that they actually believe that more people will conform to the “ideal” standards ? that is perfectly irrelevant. What is relevant is the image
But how does all this reflect to the situation in former communist countries? I will use an example to demonstrate some models of body construction and consumption in Southeastern European countries. Both of these examples demonstrate how imagery related to gendered and sexed body has a lot to do with more general processes taking place in these societies after the fall of communism.
One of the immediate consequences of the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent dissintegration of communism has been the immediate visibility of bodies in public spaces. Similar thing happened in Spain after the death of their long-term dictator, Franco. This visibility was first apparent in the proliferation of magazines with erotic or pornographic content, culminating in screening ,on television of hard-core pornographic films once a week in Slovenia and FR Yugoslavia. Of course, after several years of bliss, the market has become saturated and many of the publications ceased to exist. It is interesting to note that the porn or soft-porn magazines were the first ones to cross the borders of the newly established countries, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. It seems that the pornographic images were the first ones to be deemed “politically correct” by the newly established authorities. It is also interesting to note that this imagery of the body exclusively has to do with female bodies ? it seems that representations of male bodies are still not very welcome in the primarily male-dominated and male-oriented environment. Of course, this could also mean that the majority of men in these countries, especially the ones who dominate or regulate the market of visual images and representations have considerable problems with their own sexuality and quite a bit of anxieties and uncertainties regarding their own “manliness”
The spring and summer of 1995 in Slovenia were marked by, among other things, a debate about an advertisement for a sun tan lotion: a poster featuring the backsides of five different girls in bikinis. The accompanying text was: “Each one has her own factor” “VSAKA IMA SVOJ FAKTOR”, with the obvious emphasis that the word “factor” could be interpreted as a different level of sun block protection, as well as on the other side stressing a difference between five backsides belonging to different young women. On the other hand, the Slovenian word faktor “factor” also implies something that puts something else into motion. Therefore, the image of five almost naked backsides to a native Slovenian implies that each one of them has something (i. e., a penis) that would put it “in motion.” Therefore, the poster could also read: “Each one has her own penis.”
It is easy to see why the campaign caused an outrage among some feminist groups, articulated mostly through the Office for Women’s Policy. Somewhat surprisingly, the debate about the creation of the “denigrating imagery” of women did not polarize public opinion: both men and women felt largely indifferent towards the ad or just liked it. As a matter of fact, many of the supporters of this ad were women! Some women felt that there was something wrong with it only when specifically asked to elaborate on the image of five female backsides on billboards all over the country.
Two things seem to be combined here:
1. The image of five almost naked parts of female anatomy represents something “other” (just an advertisement), different, belonging to a different reality from the one that everyday people live in. In a way, the image belongs to a different culture, and as such does not threaten the (actual or perceived) position of women. This is a culture of high paid chief executives, models, actors and actresses, “high culture” which sharply stands apart from what the ordinary people perceive to be “theirs.”
2/ The obvious fact that there is a gender hierarchy in wider Slovenian society creates a situation (well known from numerous anthropological examples) in which the sub-dominant group identifies itself through the concepts and discourse of the dominant group (or segment of the society). In this case, women (as a sub-dominant group) perceive themselves through men’s eyes (the sexual symbolism inscribed all over the poster) and see nothing wrong with that. That is the only way in which they are able to see themselves ? and that is why criticism coming from women’s groups fell on deaf ears.
On the one hand, there is a whole new reality being constructed here: the reality of men’s gaze as something “normal,” “natural,” or even “neutral.” Although this reality is there in “real life”, its existence is not readily acknowledged, and the majority of women would not agree with this statement. But feminist scholars certainly would. How men see women becomes “the norm” both for men and for women.
Another example of an advertising strategy using imagery of sexed bodies is the poster/billboard campaign in Croatia for the concert of the popular rock group Zabranjeno pusenje (translates as: No Smoking). There were two matching billboards for the concert that took place on October 17, 1997. Both featured the question Do you like smoking? and an emphatic answer I love smoking! The pun of the ad is in the fact that the word smoking (pusenje) is in Serbian and Croatian used colloquially for oral sex (felacio). Hence, the faces of four women (probably porn actresses) in various stages of intercourse (as deduced from their facial expressions, as well as from the whole set up) on the one billboard, and the faces of four men in various expressions of (orgasmic ? again, deduced from the facial expressions and from the whole set up) bliss accompany the text that colloquially reads: Do you like blow job?, and the answer is quite clear: Yes, I love blow job!
It is again easy to see how this imagery provoked outrage among women’s groups in Croatia, but the situation is more complicated because the ad also refers to an earlier, government-sponsored campaign to promote patriotism, which also featured two lines of text: Do you love Croatia?, followed by the answer: I love Croatia! This put the creators of this advertising campaign in a position from which they could say that they were simply irreverently playing with different references (sexual as well as political), and that they (just like the popular Sarajevo-based rock group in question) should not be taken too seriously. Their critics (usually liberal, left-wing intellectuals, as well as many feminist groups) risk being accused of misunderstanding not only the art of marketing in general, but also the puns involved (one could even say “a general cultural context”) and the playfulness supposed to go along wth the whole concept.
However, the question of why it is so easy to use sexually explicit imagery in advertising reaching large segments of population in this part of Europe remains. It is obvious that any attempt to criticize this strategy fails. Is the body in the East still very well hidden behind the veils of pornographic imagery? Is voyeurism the only way in which the majority of population of the former communist countries can look at the body? Finally, is the sexed body the only thing (body) that matters? All these questions demand answers that would go on forever beyond this report, but it seems that in the system which reduced them to mere objects, many people in former communist countries are still incapable of acting or even perceiving themselves as subjects. Objectivization and passivization of the body is a clear sign of the state of mind of people who are unable to act for themselves, and who still (consciously or unconsciously) yearn for the time when someone else (i.e., the state) was there to worry and make decisions for them. To put it in simple terms: a great majority of citizens of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and FR Yugoslavia can be reduced to images of four faces who just “love blow job,” or five backsides with something that should put them “in motion.”
In any case, the immediate future for any marketing strategy using sexist (and probably degrading) imagery in these countries looks very promising. Since there are still relatively few bodies on offer, the market is very far from saturated in this sense, demand is high, and any new campaign will provoke a sufficient amount of curiosity at worst, and a total success at best.