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Pure XS & Impure Teacakes – The Problem With ‘Objectification’

The Narcissus myth about the beautiful, doomed youth who falls for his own reflection continues to be a mainstay of  this Millenium’s advertising – albeit re-written with a ‘happy ending’.

For example, this Pure XS Paco Rabanne TV ad set in a kind of Big Brother bathroom, stars a young, athletic and voluptuously beautiful man (Francisco Henriques) undressing/stripping for a bath, using the gold tap as a phallic signifier – while admiring himself in the mirror. All the while observed by young women through peepholes and two-way mirrors – admiring his admiration – and camply swooning to the floor as one at the end of the ad when he squirts the product at his groin.

Stinging nads to one side, the ad is a canny comment on – and exploitation of – the starring role of male vanity and ‘objectification’ in our 21st Century selfie-admiring, cam-show culture.

Thanks to a mediated world where everyone carries around a multiplying mirror in their pocket called a smartphone, Narcissus no longer wastes away unable to possess his reflection. He can reproduce himself on endlessly on social media, become a sporno hero – and find himself reflected in the gaze of others. Male beauty and male tartiness, once stigmatised as ridiculous or perverted, are the shining, Immaced inspiration of our age, the very symbol of ‘sexiness’.

Which makes it all the more unforgivable that I missed the ad when it first aired last year. I was probably fastforwarding to the latest instalment of Love Island or Bromans. But not to worry, some 120 people complained to the Advertising Standards authority about it, getting it into the news this week.

Shockingly, they weren’t complaining about the fact that it ends too soon.

It seems that most were upset about the Pure XS ad ‘objectifying’ the young sporno featured voyeuristically in it, claiming it was sexist and offensive for that reason. Apparently objectification is a bad thing.

Fortunately for the future of spornosexual advertising, the ASA rejected these complaints, and ruled that it was ‘unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence’ – which seems ‘objectively’ true.

However, the basis of the ruling was pure doublespeak. According to the ASA the ad – which like many ads today goes to enormous trouble and glossy expense to serve up the young man as a all-singing, all-dancing SEX OBJECT – even helpfully showing him being perved over by young women – ‘did not objectify the male character’.

But the ASA itself admitted that the commercial:

‘was heavily focused on the physical appearance of the male character. The ad featured multiple shots in which the male character was topless and his expressions when looking in the mirror suggest he was admiring his own physique and attractiveness. We considered that this and the reactions of the women to him placed a strong emphasis on the attractiveness of the male character.’

Well, quite. You could hardly say otherwise. But they then go on to say:

‘However, we noted the scenario depicted in the ad was not realistic and the tone was risque but comedic and farcical. We considered the ad showed the male character’s attractiveness in a light-hearted, humorous way, rather than in a degrading or humiliating manner… we considered, for the above reasons the ad did not objectify the male character.’

It’s certainly true that the scenario depicted in the ad was presented as comedic and farcical – as well as sexualised and objectifying. The ‘light-hearted’ presentation of the ad (and I’m not really sure that sexiness, or multi-million pound fragrance advertising, is ever really ‘light-hearted’) does nothing to change the fact that it glories in presenting the man as a (very willing) sex-object. The humour may make it more palatable to some, including apparently the ASA, but it does not do away with ‘objectification’. There would be no ad without it.

What the ASA seems to be saying is that the male model was not objectified because it’s not bad objectification. Good objectification, according to the circuitous reasoning behind what is anyway a loaded term, can’t be objectification – because objectification is necessarily bad. When in fact, objectification can be… wonderful. Which is part of the reason why so many young men today work so hard to turn themselves into sexy things.

Which raises the issue that got this ruling a lot of attention in some sections of the press this week, and alerting me to the existence of the ad. It seems likely XS was complained about by people who are not really offended by it but pushing an agenda, or as they might put it, concerned about double standards.

A double standard that seems to hold that objectification of men is either impossible or is good if possible, and objectification of women is bad – by definition. A double standard that, on TV at least, seems to now be the dominant morality – in part because TV tends to be watched more by women than men. Even BBC costume dramas these days are all about the gratuitous topless male tottie. Indeed, things have got so bad of late that I am tempted to actually watch one.

The double standard appeared to be underlined by the ASA’s simultaneous ruling – after just one complaint – that an ad featuring an attractive young female tennis player was ‘objectifying’ and therefore upheld the complaint.

The poster ad for Tunnock’s tea cakes (which was placed near a tennis tournament in Scotland) showed an athletic young female tennis player holding a tea cake in place of a tennis ball at the top of her thigh with her skirt raised at the hip. Text underneath stated: ‘Where do you keep yours?’ Then beneath an image of the product the endline: ‘Serve up a treat.’


Explaining why they upheld the complaint the ASA said:

‘We considered the phrase “serve up a treat” would be understood to be a double entendre, implying the woman featured in the ad was the “treat”, and considered this was likely to be viewed as demeaning towards women…’.

‘We considered that although the image was only mildly sexual in nature, when combined with the phrase “serve up a treat” it had the effect of objectifying women by using a woman’s physical features to draw attention to the ad.’

‘In light of those factors, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some consumers and was socially irresponsible.’

The Tunnock’s tea cake ad is, like the product itself, very 1970s. It is not nearly as glossy or expensive or indeed as playful or as knowing or well made as the Paco Rabanne ad. And it isn’t, for my money, very funny. I’m not sure though that any of these points are sufficient reason for calling it ‘socially irresponsible’.

You could perhaps argue that it is ‘more’ objectifying than the Rabanne ad because of its disembodied nature (the shapely thigh has no face) – and because of the history of female objectification.

But the ASA doesn’t argue this. It doesn’t accept, remember, that the Rabanne ad is objectifying at all. Difficult not to conclude that the main difference that the ASA seems to be interested in here is that one objectifying ad features a man, the other a woman. Indeed, if the tennis player had been a man wearing a kilt with the same text and the teacake in the same place I have a hunch the ASA would not have upheld the complaint. Or at least, I certainly hope not.

It upheld the complaint about the Tunnock ad on the grounds that it ‘uses a woman’s physical features to draw attention to an ad’. But that is precisely what the Paco Rabanne ad does with a man’s physical features – and at greater, HD length. Though granted without the cringe making copywriting.

Perhaps the strongest grounds the ASA has in censuring the sticky ad and not the smelly one is that it ‘bore no relevance to the advertised product’. Paco Rabanne, like most fragrances, is associated – or tries very hard to associate itself – with sensuality and sexuality. But this doesn’t seem to be a major part of the ASA’s ruling. And anyway there are all sorts of products pushed in prime time by attractive, mostly naked young men in ads that don’t bear much relevance to the product – or tin mining in 18th Century Cornwall.

Interestingly, some of those 120 complaints about the aftershave ad claimed it was ‘sexist’ because it ‘depicted women as powerless and weak and therefore reinforced stereotypes’.

These complaints were also not upheld. The ASA’s explanation points out that the women are ‘in a position of power over the male character’ because they are voyeuristically watching him, possibly unseen. Again, admitting in effect that the young man is objectified – despite asserting in their first ruling that he is not.

‘We considered because the women were seen to be watching the man, perhaps without his knowledge, it suggested they were in a position of power over the male character. We noted as the ad progressed and the male character was in various stages of undress, it was evident from the reactions of the women depicted they were increasingly being overcome with excitement. We further noted during one of the final scenes, all of the women were seen to have fainted and collapsed at the sight of the man spraying the fragrance towards his groin.’

The ASA ruled that the surreal and farcical nature of the ad meant it was unlikely to reinforce stereotypes of women and concluded it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. Which essentially means: only an idiot would take the fainting seriously.

I would add that the women’s voyeuristic enjoyment of the young man and their very visible arousal over him show that

a) The ad is depicts the women as having very active, almost perverse, sexual appetites, which is about as contrary to stereotypical portrayals as you can get

and

b) Their ecstatic response to his tarting shows that being ‘objectified’ can be very powerful. Which of course further undermines the ASA’s notion that it’s necessarily ‘bad’.

I’m not sure that I should be bringing any of this up though. All drawing attention to the possibility of a double standard here is likely to achieve is the banning of male objectification as well as the female variety – for the sake of ‘equality’.

And that would be horribly cruel. Narcissus really would wither away then.

Postscript: My chum Simon Mason helpfully pointed out something I’d forgotten – that the Pure XS ad is rather similar to a German ad I wrote about a few years back, which features a young sporno taking a bath, spied on by the camera/us, a voyeurism he seems to approvingly acknowledge towards the end:

Well-Oiled, Precision-Engineered German Spornosexuality

Is That a Hot Glue Gun in Your Pocket?

Shame the beard isn’t as convincing as the stuffed crotch.

“Yo Bitches! Wanna Bit of That?” – Six Pack Superstars

C4 recently aired a series about pro spornos – called ‘Six Pack Superstars‘. It follows young men and women ‘influencers’ and wannabes in the fitness business preparing for their competitions. Like Bromans it’s mostly about the male spornos – they are after all the ones with the spectacular bodies.

Though there is an undisputed female star of the show – Audrey Kaipio, ‘the UK’s number one posing coach’ (from Canada), a woman who seems to play something of a dominatrix role while teaching bodybuilders and muscle models how to pose, flex and sashay, sorry, swagger – “Yeah, I got those danglin’ balls!”.

It seems entirely apt that the masquerade of masculinity on the UK sporno stage is emanating from between the legs of a very bossy Canadian lady. Spornosexuality is rather ‘sub’.

Perhaps the most famous male sporno profiled in the show is Tom Coleman, a 30-year-old former roofer from Essex turned WBFF champion, muscle model, and ‘inspirational’ YouTube star who has 1.3M followers. Can’t think why. 

During a photo shoot Tom of Essex takes a break to rub lube all over his eye-popping chest. He complains in a moment of perhaps dehydrated neediness to the physique photographer Giles Crofta (can I have his job, please?) that he’s “really flat at the moment”.

“You’re shredded!” exclaims Giles reassuringly, his eyes doing their best to give Tom a hand rubbing the lube in. “Seriously, I think you’re the best! You know you are!”

Soldiers & Cadets Acting Gaily On Video (Again)

Here are the cadets of Ulyanovsk flight school, Russian Federation, relaxing in their dorm. With a special guest appearance by a banana.

This charming video upset conservatives, including the head of the college, but prompted a host of similar videos by Russian students in response to talk of disciplining some of the participants – and the intervention of the Governor of the Ulyanovsk region to prevent expulsions.

The Russian lads were performing a homo-age to this highly ‘satisfying’ British Army classic some years ago. Which is itself a ‘gender flip’ homo-age to the famously ‘objectifying’ Benassi ‘Satisfaction’ video,  in which these fighting men eagerly take on the role of saucy bimbos. (My money is on it all being the idea of the squaddie who opens the video mopping in a thong – and sporting the best buttocks in the barracks):

The Russian lads seem to have upped the gay-ante however with the addition of a banana and bondage gear.

Though my personal favourite of the genre (a rich one on YouTube: you could – and I have – spend hours browsing it) is probably this one by Royal Marines, originally performed to the strains of ‘Call On Me’ but apparently the owners of the rights to the song objected, the Philistines.

Note how meticulously researched and choreographed the gay porn poses are at the ‘climax’.

And here’s me explaining what it all means (don’t worry, there are more videos):

Why Straight Soldiers Can’t Stop Acting Gay on Video

 

Gumball’s Richard Goes Spornosexual

Check out those guns, those abs, those pecs, and those… lips.

And also the use of the word ‘beautiful’ – instead of ‘ripped’ or ‘shredded’ or ‘awesome’.

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