Eric Henney says objectification of both sexes has a long history in advertising, but wonders if it’s as harmless as we’d like to believe.
Well, it’s hard to regard the fabulously toned men in these ads as anything but objects of sexual gratification. Certainly, we are not regarding them as sensible shoppers, or snappy dressers, or avid readers. And it really doesn’t matter that the tone of these ads is ostensibly self-conscious and ironic. As with all self-consciousness in advertising, Red Tettemer & Partners, the firm responsible for the ad, is just trying to peddle tried-and-true marketing tactics while pretending to side with those who oppose them.
So yes. In fact, Renuzit is objectifying men. And so it would seem to me a good thing to get a discussion going about how their ads, as well as, say, the cultish worship of David Beckham’s body, affects a man’s self-perception.
But before we do, let’s all agree on a couple things. First, Renuzit’s ads don’t really speak to new patterns of men in ads, mainly because advertisers’ objectification of men is nothing new—Calvin Klein, Versace, and about a hundred other companies have been doing that for decades. More recently, Abercrombie & Fitch seems to have taken the idea to its logical conclusion.
And lest you attempt to draw a distinction between ads for products that pertain to the body and ads that don’t (which is a fatuous one anyway), remember that long before Renuzit got the idea, Diet Coke had been dabbling in voyeurism, and Scrabble had already turned their pocket game into a penis. So there’s nothing really new about Renuzit’s campaign.
Second, regardless of what Renuzit’s ads say about men, we still can’t say we finally know what it’s like for women to see their gender degraded in ads. At best, men are shirtless and building things; at worst, they mug for the camera in their underwear. Women, on the other hand, are still locked in cages, checking on dinner in their underwear, double-teaming a Skyy vodka penis, clutching perfume between their thighs and their breasts, and blowing sandwiches.
Are these extremes? Sure. But the outer edges are where you find the real shape of the thing. On average, images of women in ads are still far more damaging and pervasive than images of men, and any dutiful conversation about advertising ought to respect that.
With all this in mind, and I know some of you are already raring to crucify me, what does seeing men objectified in ads do to us personally and to the concept of manhood?