We all know Sporno is more interesting and seductive than regular porno right? Well the leaders of the rat pack at the moment in the genre seem to be those Italian Stallions, Armani. And who better to be the face and body of the brand but that wonderfully bronzed and buff tennis player, Rafael Nadal? Move over Ronaldo there is a new kid in town.
As Mark Simpson, the spawner of sporno himself, says, this ad campaign is even more homo erotic than some of the most butt clenchingly homo images from other years and companies:
‘It isn’t just the fact that a half-naked Rafael is apparently offering himself on a prop from a porno movie set (‘Builders’ Big Erections’); it’s the smoothly inviting, defenceless musculature of his prone shoulders and back; and the small of his back before the tempting swelling bubble of his butt; along with that ‘come on big boy’ expression on his flirty face that shouts WANT ME! It could be an image straight out of a Dieux du Stade calendar (minus the jeans).
As with much of sporno the dynamic of the image is the deliberate provocation of an athlete who lives by ‘masculine’ ‘activity’ flaunting his flagrant ‘feminine’ ‘passivity’ to the world. And in case anyone refuses to get the message, Armani are simultaneously running an image of a slightly boyish looking tattooed Megan Fox in the same pose. But one without quite the same charge as the Nadal image’.
I am interested in why there is less of a ‘charge’ in this photo of a woman, Megan Fox, than the picture of Nadal in all his glory.
Look how Megan is clasped round the wooden ‘shelf’, holding on as if she may fall. Whereas in the photo above, Nadal is perched manfully on his piece of wood, resting his elbows and stretching up to fill the frame. He looks down at us, sure, a little ‘coquettishly’ as Mark said. But he commands the picture. Megan is in a much more ‘submissive’ pose, and her look is more that of a traditional female model: doe-eyed, sort of vacant. If, as Simpson says, Nadal is screaming ‘WANT ME!’, Fox is only asking, ‘want me?’
There is also something different about a topless man and a topless woman. I’d say that in general, a topless woman, especially one like this, hiding her breasts, is more vulnerable than a topless man. Neither model is totally nude, but Megan is covering her ‘assets’ in a moment of modesty. There is nothing modest about Nadal’s pose however, and you get the impression he’d feel and look just as potent if he completely stripped off.
Talking of assets, as Mark Simpson has said, there is something potent too in how the active sportsmen of sporno transform themselves into ‘passive’ ‘feminine’ objects of desire. Megan Fox has always been a ‘passive’ object of desire, both as a porn and a film actress. Her modelling role is not a departure, a surprise, but just what we would expect of her. I don’t know which of these two is the richer, in purely financial terms, but Nadal has more avenues, more revenue streams at his disposal I should think. Maybe that adds to the puff of his chest as he poses for Armani. The fact his name is emblazoned at the bottom of the ad shows that Nadal is indeed a ‘brand’, as well as Armani (and Beckham and Ronaldo) in a way that Megan Fox is not.
Returning to the idea of nudity, that is never far from either of these model’s minds it seems, maybe that is partly it. The naked man and the naked woman still mean something different to us. After centuries of seeing both depicted in art, but in quite contrasting ways, it tends to be the nude woman that we think of as the ‘victim’ or the ‘object’ of the gaze. There is something about the male form that manages to always be looking back at us. Nadal knows this as he looks back over his shoulder with his come to bed eyes. Megan, she is not so sure that she can escape the camera’s trap.
I am grateful to Armani for something: the way their adverts feature men and women has meant Mr Simpson’s sporno gaze has had to become (briefly maybe) ‘bisexual’. I think it throws up some fascinating questions about the objectification of men and women in visual culture (that I have looked at in relation to that Ronaldo ad). I am pretty sure Mark only really has eyes for Nadal in this particular campaign, but by featuring both photos on his normally very gay blog, he has created a bit of an unusual ‘charge’ , for this reader at least. But despite my moment of excitement I am left wondering, in relation to photography and visual culture in general, and sporno in particular, why can’t a woman be more like a man?