Advertising, especially fashion advertising, has such a huge influence on the media that I can’t help but feel that it has a responsibility to fulfil, an example to set. Where do you draw the line between the quirky and original, and the distasteful and degrading?
We know that advertisements aim to be persuasive or even manipulative. However, certain marketing gurus seemingly have to take it to a whole new level by creating blow-up billboards of five men raping a woman, because she has a new perfume and must smell that alluring; or glossy fashion pictorials of models snorting a T-shirt as if it is a gram of coke, because of course taking drugs is sexy and glam, and therefore that T-shirt must be sexy and glam too.
Could celebrity icons such as Lady Gaga be to blame? After she wore the notorious meat dress, we may have raised our eyebrows, or read several tabloid stories, but it wasn’t long before we were no longer fazed. The more and more we are presented with, and live amongst these bizarre fashion icons, the more and more we accept them as normal. Consequently, it seems that fashion advertisements have to become that much more outrageous to even make us glance at them.
In 2007, Dolce and Gabbana released this ad campaign, which sparked an enormous amount of controversy. It’s hard to interpret the advert in any way other than gang rape. And yet, it is still very difficult to understand quite what D&G is marketing: denim, ladies footwear or Johnson’s baby oil? What is clear is why people protested; the beautiful people, the glamour that is evoked and the power that the men hold over this woman suggest, quite bluntly, that this luxury label is glorifying rape. The campaign was later banned, but it didn’t prevent others from glamorizing violence and degrading women.
Sisley is renowned for raising eyebrows, and when photographer Terry Richardson shot a sexed-up model drinking cow’s milk straight out of the udder, the public was instantly outraged.
Is it our fault that we live in a society where sex sells, or to be more accurate, extreme sex sells, because we have gotten pretty used to simple nudity and provocative imagery? Or do we blame the creative mood boarders of a Monday morning, who helped to design the Sisley advert and believe that a woman sucking on a cow’s udder makes the clothes on her back look irresistible? Without the brand name plastered across these pictures, I think I would be slightly confused as to what was actually being sold to me. A defenceless woman lies face down on a couch, whilst an anonymous perpetrator forces her into a position she is unable to move from. This doesn’t help sell the brand; it only reinforces the reality that women can still be viewed as objects in the 21st century.
Then, there are arguments that the advertising campaigns have completely misjudged society’s mood. Over the past year, the world has seen some extraordinary events take place. Eastern Africa is suffering from one of the worst famines in over 10 years. Nevertheless, models are still being casted because of their emaciated size zero frames, which seems more than a little distasteful when a significant proportion of the world is starving to death. Further away, the landscape of the Middle East is changing in ways we wouldn’t have ever imagined, and while I was writing this, 31 troops died in a helicopter accident. Yet, fashion campaigns are still glamorizing war and violence. It would be easy for me write about how fashion is pointless in the current climate, but it’s far from trivial. In fact, fashion grows out of historic events and the general mood of society, similar to literature and art. Fashion is inspired by adversity and perhaps this is what the campaigns are trying to capture. However, it remains difficult to maintain this perspective while Japan is still reeling in the wake of a tsunami and Dior is telling us to “be iconic” with a lipstick.