Move over Elle McPherson, there is a new ‘The Body’ in town, and it has got abs to die for.
I was never a massive Ronaldo aficianado. I knew he had a great physique, but there was something about his slightly puggish, prissy face and lack of anything particularly unique about his countenance that meant he never really turned me on. Until now. This new ad for Armani Jeans shows the footballer as the adonis he truly is. And he knows it.
The advert is interesting on a number of levels. As Mark Simpson has pointed out, not only does it play on the narcissism of the modern, gym-toned, fragrant, man, and our growing acceptance of the objectified male body in contemporary representations, but it also features, on screen in the form of the watchful chambermaid, the ‘female gaze’ . I think if Laura Mulvey saw this ad she might have a heart attack.
If the woman was not on-screen, the promo would be a noteworthy and sexy as hell example of the metrosexual revolution in action in contemporary capitalism: Men’s bodies being used to woo customers, male and female and everything else, and ultimately sell product. Top-ranking buffed footballers are products, just as much if not more so than the classic supermodels of the 1980s and 1990s.
But here in the form of this svelte and foxy maid comes a more subversive addition to the melting-pot of our visual pleasure. At points in the film (can you tell I have watched it a few times? ahem!) she is viewed by us, the audience, mainly in the background, so as not to distract us from The Body. But then the point of view shifts and we see Ronaldo wandering round the hotel room, as if through her eyes. It is easy to remember countles ads featuring women stopping traffic, and men on building sites whistling at sexy chicks, but it is only recently that women have been shown on-screen to objectify and look at men with desire. The ones that spring to mind for me are the ones set in offices where women workers enjoy the arrival of a hunky delivery boy. But I can’t think of another advert off-hand where it is a single woman who owns and occupies the ‘gaze’, especially not so surreptitiously.
The maid doesn’t hold the gaze for long though. She is also seen, sometimes via the camera’s gaze, and briefly through Ronaldo’s, as an object herself. The archetypal sexy but disposable maid figure, seen from behind, stretching to reach with a duster, or bending down, searching for that elusive t-shirt the footballer has lost. (Doesn’t he have anything else he can throw over his offending torso??). It is a competition between the two for the role of the object of desire. A dance, a fight. Ronaldo’s tactic is sheer, physical force. Don’t you dare take your eyes off me, cries his perfect form. The woman is a little more subtle (as women, sometimes can be). She hides his t-shirt when she finds it, prolonging our torment by The Body. But this also gives her more time to become the object of his, of our desire. The fact that Ronaldo acts as if he has not even seen her, and at one point looks right through her, adds a kinky dimension to this scenario. The hardcore perverts amongst us can be forgiven for letting our imaginations wander to the point where he is actually deliberately treating her like an object, like the invisible, low-down, chambermaid that she is. And for finding that very hot.
The advert ends with Ronaldo still t-shirtless, but a blurred figure in the background, with the woman’s face framed in the foreground, as she leans, prone, over the sofa, waiting, looking like the cat that is about to get creamed.
I know I have interpreted this short jeans advert in my own, twisted vision, and have projected my own desires onto it. But in doing so I think I can make a valid point about ‘metrosexuality’ and objectification in our culture. No matter how much men become narcissistic, marketable objects of desire, women will never become ‘un-objectified’. So when an attractive woman and man appear on screen, there will be some kind of tussle for our attention. And in this tussle, something interesting happens, as we all grapple with our own position in relation to them. I was surprised here, to find myself drawn to the woman, even in the face of such a towering inferno as Ronaldo. Does this point to my latent ‘bisexuality’? Or does it relate to my ‘kinky’ side, seeing through her the potential for a ‘scene’?
I have been discussing this advert as if it were a piece of pornography, which, of course it is. This I find funny from a purely personal perspective, because when it comes to moving images, I really generally dislike pornos. The sight of people fucking, over and over and over again, and working out all the different combinations of where to put a dick in a hole, bores the tits off me. But the suggestion, the promise, the hope of a desire being fulfilled, shot in black and white to high production standards with beautiful models…now that turns me on. Feminists lament this ‘pornification’ of our culture, where sex sells everything, and everything sells sex. But I find it interesting and even exciting to see the tropes and styles of pornography disseminating so successfully into our mainstream culture. Maybe it is linked to the blurring of identities that the metrosexual inadvertently achieves, a breaking down of that false boundary between ‘porn’ and ‘art’, ‘good sex’ and ‘bad sex’. ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ sexualities. I know there lies at the heart of all this fluidity, a bottom line, capitalist intent. But the side-effects are what interests me. The margins have always been the centre of my world.
Apart from the obvious, commercialised, commidified narcissism being sold to us on a daily basis, there is another downside to this hyper-objectification of advertising and visual culture. Once again it is visible via the wonderfully obvious objections by feminists to our brave new world. Organisations such as OBJECT (Get it??) are ignoring the blatant flaunting of male sexuality by The Body (as stubbornly as Ronaldo refuses to acknowledge the maid) and insist that it is women who remain objectified by male-dominated commercial society.
Feminists talk of a ‘backlash’ against feminism, shown in part via the continued sexualised imagery we see of women in the media. It is possible to look at this situation the complete opposite way, and see contemporary puritanical feminism, as a backlash against the metrosexualising, and ‘democratising’ of sexualities in our fields of vision. The feminists want to keep women as objects, because that is what justifies their project and their cries of male oppression of women. Lobbying for restrictions on lap-dancing clubs, campaigning against the opening of ‘Hooters’ restaurants, attempting to ‘End Demand’ for prostitution, are all campaigns by feminists in the UK, which can be seen in the light of this ‘backlash redux’. I wouldn’t be surprised if feminists claimed the Armani advert was misogynist, and made it into some kind of rape fantasy of the maid by Ronaldo (oh, no, that is just me. Sorry!)
But it is in America that I think neo-conservative ideals and feminists join hands so scarily. Melissa McEwan , an influential US based feminist activist with tendrils that scale the Atlantic, has written:
‘Rape culture is the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant’ .
This suggests that objectification of women’s bodies is a societal accomplishment that makes any negotiations between individual women and men over sex ‘irrelevant’. Women are already raped by the ‘male gaze’ so they can’t consent to sex. It is a 21st century version of the ‘heterosexual sex is rape’ argument of 1970s radical feminism. Laura Mulvey probably would have a heart attack if she heard that, too.
In America, and increasingly in the UK, there are growing numbers of campaigns against Street Harassment and sexual violence against women. The focus of these campaigns is to admonish men for catcalling women, for touching them in any social situation, and to prioritise and exaggerate the threat of rape by men of women. A friend of mine has linked these campaigns to the ‘social control’ of public space, via things like smoking bans in pubs, restaurants, and some streets in America. It brings to mind a very dystopian picture, whereby, if these anti-objectification feminists get their way, it could become illegal for men to even look at women in public. A policing of our desires taken to Orwellian, or probably Foucauldian extremes.
The irony, already noted a long time ago by Patrick Califia is that this kind of anti-objectification feminism just objectifies women to the point of idiocy. One anti sexual-violence campaign states that in a rape case, ‘the woman’s body is the crime scene’. Possibly one of the most de-humanising phrases I have come across in relation to women. We are presented as perpetual victims, caught in the omnipresent, violating male gaze, with no agency to either resist or enjoy that gaze, let alone to have one of our own.
The problem Miss Marple is attempting to solve, is just what is the relationship between our opportunity to ogle Ronaldo’s gorgeous body in Armani ads, and this Nazification of attitudes towards the objectifying of women- from feminists, conservatives and the tabloid-driven media. The competition for status as object between Ronaldo and maidie in this piece of representation is erotic, subtle. But it hints, as advertising tends to do, at a more sinister struggle, over how our desires and our ‘gaze’ can either be liberated or controlled in capitalist post-modernity.