Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sex, Sterotypes and Consumer Markets

A recent NYTimes article reported on the European Parliament's crackdown on sexual sterotypes. This is a very slippery subject, especially if you consider the differences between American and European attitudes.

Brit's like to joke that American's have outdated, prudish attitudes towards sex, but it really isn't that simple. A female friend recently joked that the Beatles had zero sexual mojo. I had never though about that, but she's right. They were one of the world's greatest rock 'n roll bands... very cute, very clever an witty, but its hard to picture any of them bending someone over in a hotel room and giving them a righteous shagging. Although the British have a much more relaxed attitude on displays of nudity in the media, they don't sexualize like we do. "Sexy" isn't really part of their cultural DNA.

This is what is so difficult to untangle about America and sex. The differences between our overt and tacit attitudes and behaviors about sex are very conflicted. Although we have rather reserved (by European standards) rules about displays of nudity, we dial up the sexualization higher and harder than anyone. This is in part due to America's hyper-consumerism. Sex sells, so we gave it "a ticket to ride" within the context of markets and capitalism a long time ago. We had a blow-out cultural debate when Janet Jackson and Justine Timberlake pulled their Superbowl stunt (I personally believe they should have been fined for insulting our intelligence with such a cheap, ham-handed grab for attention) yet the semi-nude, oversexualled images of pubescent teens that plaster newsstands and fill fashion magazines doesn't raise an eyebrow in the least. We inject sex and sexuality into everything and display it everywhere. Sexualization, even the hyper-sexualization of kids doesn't create the ruckus of a celebrity nipple slip.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that an American student would try to auction her virginity, that is what we do with sex and sexuality here in America. eBay created a marketplace for objects of unrealized value (all that shit in your basement and garage). Like it or not, that young student is an American pioneer.

From the NYTimes Europe Takes Aim at Sexual Stereotyping in Ads

The European Parliament has set out to change this. Last week, the legislature voted 504 to 110 to scold advertisers for “sexual stereotyping,” adopting a nonbinding report that seeks to prod the industry to change the way it depicts men and women.

The lawmakers’ ire has many targets, from a print ad for Dolce & Gabbana (which had a woman in spike heels pinned to the ground and surrounded by sweaty men in tight jeans) to Mr. Clean, the 1950s advertising icon whose muscular physique might imply that only a strong man is powerful enough to tackle dirt.

The vote by Parliament reflects a growing uneasiness in Europe about how advertisers and big business promote their products. In France, the Senate is considering a proposal — already passed in the National Assembly — to levy fines of up to 45,000 euros, or $64,000, for advertisements that promote or incite anorexia. The European Parliament took note of the issue during its debate last week, calling on advertisers “to consider carefully their use of extremely thin women to advertise products.”

Last year, the Spanish government weighed in, demanding that Dolce & Gabbana pull its “fantasy rape” advertisement in a country where headlines about violence against women are all too common. The designers at the fashion house, based in Milan, relented, but not before observing in the Italian press that Spain was “a bit behind the times” and that the ads were artistic in nature. But then Italian lawmakers started to fume about the images, and the ads were also withdrawn in Italy.

From InventorSpot: 15 Ads That Prove Sex Sells ...Best? Here are a few of the print spots from that roundup:

See the links for banned and controversial ads in the labels below.

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