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Essay by
Reena Mistry.
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David Gauntlett.
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From 'Hearth and Home' to a Queer Chic

A Critical Analysis of Progressive Depictions of Gender in Advertising

By Reena Mistry
 


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CONTENTS

Introduction: Determining the potential for 'genderfuck' in gender-ambivalent advertising imagery

Why we needed a 'New Woman': Post-war gender stereotypes in advertising

Dress for succ-sex: Debating the 'new' in New Woman

The chic of CKone: Queer ambassador or subcultural tourist?

References


 
Introduction: Determining the potential for 'genderfuck' in gender-ambivalent advertising imagery

The effect of unstable signifying practices in a libidinal economy of multiple sexualities… the destabilisation of gender as an analytical category, though it is not, necessarily, the signal of the end of gender… the play of masculine and feminine on the body… subverts the possibility of possessing a unified subject position.
--
June L. Reich on 'genderfuck'.

Since the mid-1990s, advertising has increasingly employed images in which the gender and sexual orientation of the subject(s) are markedly (and purposefully) ambiguous. As an ancillary to this, there are also a growing number of distinctly homosexual images - and these are far removed from depictions of the camp gay employed as the comic relief elsewhere in mainstream media. This essay is concerned with providing a critical analysis as to the potential of such depictions to undermine conventional gender role stereotypes and the norm of heterosexuality that dominate advertising and the media at large.

The intention is to continue previous liberal feminist criticism of gender stereotypes in the media and their specific concern with the misrepresentation of women. The revival of the Women's Movement in the 1970s directed an onslaught of criticism towards post-war images in which women were 'usually shown as being subordinate, passive, submissive and marginal, performing a limited number of secondary and uninteresting tasks confined to their sexuality, their emotions and their domesticity' (Strinati, 1995:184). Subsequent to pressure placed by liberal feminists on the media and advertising industries, the more 'positive' image of the independent 'New Woman' emerged, followed by the 'New Man' in the 1980s. By way of semiology, and a consideration of the motives of advertising and consumer industries, feminist analysis of these representations in the early nineties, however, warned of their latent sexist meanings. This essay will employ a similar approach to deconstruct the 'queer' images that are now becoming prevalent in advertising. This essay, therefore, is based upon a 'two-step' comparative analysis of the progressive depictions of men and women (and androgyne) by advertisers. That is, from what Gaye Tuchman refers to as an emphasis on 'hearth and home' (1978:18) to the New Woman and New Man, and then from New Woman/Man to gender-ambivalent queer images.

While numerous content analysis and semiological studies were carried out in the 1970s and 1980s to demonstrate the extent of gender stereotyping in advertising (see for example Courtney & Whipple, 1983, Dominick & Rauch, 1972, Winship, 1980), no such scale of research has been carried out on gender-ambivalent images as they are a relatively new phenomenon. Thus, for the purpose of this essay, I carried out an 'informal' semiological analysis of the adverts in a range of magazines (listed below) using a combined approach based on the work of Trevor Millum and Erving Goffman. In Images of Woman (1975), Millum analysed adverts in women's magazines by looking at the characteristics of three central elements in the images: props, setting and actors (1975:114). In his classic study Gender Advertisements (1976), Goffman analysed adverts that he had selected 'at will' from current popular magazines that were chosen on the basis that they appeared to delineate 'a discrete theme bearing on gender'. Goffman justifies his seemingly haphazard approach by discussing 'how pictures can and can't be used in social analysis' claiming that 'themes that can be delineated through pictures have a very mixed ontological status and that any attempt to legislate as to the order of fact represented in these themes is likely to be optimistic.' Significantly for our purposes, he asserts that his study takes issue with two of three methodological questions: discovery and presentation, but not proof (1976:24).

Advertisements were selected by myself from a range of 'lifestyle' magazines: Arena, Company, Cosmopolitan, Elle, GQ, Loaded, Sky, The Face and Vogue. The rational for this was two-fold. First, as Tuchman notes: 'the image of women in the women's magazines is more responsive to [social] change than is television's symbolic annihilation and rigid typecasting of women' (1981:181). Elsewhere, she explains that 'executives at women's magazines may want to attract women in the labour force in order to garner advertisements designed for those women' (1978:9); thus such magazines, and the advertisements in them, must appeal to this readership. Television (commercials), on the other hand, are more conservative because they must avoid offending a much wider audience. Second, these magazines are the largest carriers of advertisements for designer fashion and cosmetics, which appears to be the central locus for the emergence of gender-ambivalent and queer images (and as we shall see later, is key in determining the potential of these images for gender politics). Examples of the advertisements selected from these magazines can be seen in the appendix (Figures 9 to 15).

The theoretical basis of this essay is derived from three main social theories: sex-role theory, social learning theory and queer theory. Role theory 'is based upon a theatrical metaphor in which all social behaviour is viewed as a kind of performance… [people] behave in ways that are socially prescribed… To be a man [or woman]… is to play a certain role. Masculinity [and femininity] represents just a set of lines and stage direction which males [and females] have to learn to perform' (Edley & Wetherall, 1996:100). Sex role theory was established in the 1930s when Terman & Miles (1936) claimed that masculinity and femininity have been constructed as two opposing types of 'personality'. Social learning theory accounts for how these sex roles are appropriated and internalised; men and women imitate others of the same sex (role models) and are consequently rewarded by society for their sex-appropriate acts, thus encouraging them to repeat this behaviour (conditioning and reinforcement). Role models are made available through 'socialising agents' which include the family, school and the media (see Gross, 1996:172-174, 587-589). Therefore, if in an advertisement, a young girl observes a conventionally beautiful woman being admired by men, she is likely to learn that to attract a man she must also make herself beautiful. It is here that liberal feminists make their objections; in the seventies they claimed that 'the female sex role was oppressive and that role internalisation was a means of fixing girls and women in a subordinate position' (Connell, 1995:23). Given that these norms are socially constructed, there is reason to believe that they can be changed by setting up new role models, thus liberal feminists began to campaign for more positive representations of women (van Zoonen, 1996:34).

The social constructedness of sex roles, and therefore their contingency, is the basis for queer theory. In Gender Trouble (1990), key queer theorist Judith Butler questions the 'compulsory order' between sex, gender and desire. Sex (male-female) is seen to form the basis of gender identity (masculine-feminine) - but as sex role theorists have established, all gender behaviour is socially constructed and 'performative'. Or as Butler puts it: 'Gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed… There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results' (1999:33). The unity of sex and gender is maintained by its oppositional and binary nature; because 'one is one's gender to the extent that one is not the other gender,' masculinity and femininity differentiate themselves 'through an oppositional relation to that other gender it desires (ibid:30). Hence, heterosexuality is naturalised and rationalised.

Butler also points to the notion of a pre-discursive (i.e. given) sex - that is, we can only choose between male or female: 'And what is "sex" anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such "facts" for us… Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction?… this construct called "sex" is as culturally constructed as gender' (ibid:10). Thus, Butler calls for 'variable constructions of identity' (ibid:9) to be made visible in order to subvert this genealogy; that is, anything that demonstrates the ambivalence of sex divisions, the unity of sex and gender, or the unity of sex and oppositional desire (i.e. homosexuality). It is this that gender-ambivalent and homosexual advertising imagery can be seen to do.

Before we begin, it is important to note the significance of gender in advertising. According to Sut Jhally, gender is probably the social resource that is used most by advertisers… [they] seem to be obsessed with gender and sexuality.' The reason for this is that 'gender is one of our deepest and most important traits as human beings. Our understanding of ourselves as either male or female is the most important aspect of our definition of ourselves as individuals… What better place to draw upon than an area of social behaviour that can be communicated almost instantly and which reaches into the very core of our definition as human beings?' (Jhally, 1987:135). Thus, advertising has become a central socialising agent for cultural values connected to gender.

 
Why we needed a 'New Woman': post-war gender stereotypes in advertising

The end of World War II reinforced the value placed on traditional ideals of masculinity and femininity. George Mosse recalls how for men in Western Europe, 'a consensus emerged that the torn fabric of society must be mended as soon as possible, and as part of this new traditionalism, prosaic, normative masculinity was reaffirmed… in advertisements, film, and literature: clean-cut and fit' (1996:181). Hence, 'typically men are portrayed as active, adventurous, powerful, sexually aggressive, and largely uninvolved in human relationships' (Wood, 1994:235). At the same time, women were suffering their own identity crisis. Prior to the war, feminists had been articulating the idea of women having their own plans and careers; but soon after 1945, women were made to feel guilty by warnings of the 'dangerous consequences to the home' that had begun to circulate (Millum, 1975:73). Looking at women's magazines in the 1950s, Betty Friedan (1963) claims this led to the creation of the 'feminine mystique': 'the highest value and the only real commitment for women lies in the fulfilment of their own femininity. The highest good is keeping house and raising children' (Millum, 1975:74). The motivation behind this mystique emerged (in part) because of a sense of social crisis, but it was exploited and reinforced (and possibly created) as a result of the 1950s' boom in the economy - particularly in the production of domestic goods, such as washing machines and convenience foods. It was presupposed that women would be purchasing such goods for the household, thus advertising 'was calculated to focus attention on their domestic role, reinforce home values and perpetuate the belief that success as a woman, wife and mother could be purchased for the price of a jar of cold cream, a bottle of cough syrup, of a packet of instant cake-mix' (Cynthia White, cited in Winship, 1980:7).

There was also a second major area of expansion in production/consumption - clothes and make-up - which led to women being increasingly portrayed as decorative (empty) objects (Winship, 1980:8; Busby & Leichty, 1993:258). A poignant example of where this occurs is in perfume advertisements; according to Diane Barthel, one of the most common images here is that of the 'fair maiden'. Taking Figure 1 as an example, the innocent female is equated with flowers and nature: 'what is communicated is the sense that any rude contact with reality might spoil the maiden's perfection. And so she retreats into the [safe] soft-focus dream world of Anäis Anäis' (Barthel, 1988:73). Though she is sensual, she 'is meant to live as in fairy-tale stupor. She waits to be awakened - sexually, emotionally, even intellectually - by her prince' (ibid:75). Thus, the maiden is a day-dreamer, passive and sheltered from reality - leaving her in perfect condition for when "Mr. Right" comes along. Further, 'there is more to being a flower than being delicate… the whole colourful show of petals and fragrance is there simply to attract fertilization, nothing more. That is, after all, the point' (ibid:73). Janice Winship asserts that women are depersonalised and objectified because they are encouraged to 'use commodities to serve men; they use them on themselves to aid femininity; commodities replace them in their relation to men' (1980:9) (see for example Figure 2).

This 'commodified' woman is also used to sell products to men: 'the purchase of a commodity delivers the simultaneous acquisition of a female body' (ibid:2). This communicates the idea that women are 'objects' that exist for the pleasure of men; for example, in Figure 3 the purchase of this Gucci perfume promises sex. It rarely follows, however, that male sexuality is used to sell products to women. As in Figures 1 and 2, what is implied is a lesson in narcissism as to what women must do to 'catch a man' - i.e. make themselves visually attractive and sexually available. Laura Mulvey's (1975) theory of the 'male gaze' is important here; she contends that scopophilia (the basic human sexual drive to look at other human beings) has been 'organised' by society's patriarchal definition of looking as a male activity, and being looked at as a female 'passivity'. Male power means that any social representation of women is constructed as a spectacle for the purpose of male voyeuristic pleasure. Mulvey discusses this in relation to the narrative conventions of cinema, but it has been noted that she 'provided a theoretical framework to substantiate what many other feminists had been asserting for some years… much second wave feminist writing about advertising and fashion had made connections between women's subordinate role and the overdetermined emphasis on their appearance' (Gamman & Makinen, 1994:172). Feminists who have taken up the male gaze framework, such as Mary Ann Doane, suggest that because of this organised way of looking (where women are accustomed to being looked at, thus conceiving themselves as objects), when women observe representations of other women it is not a form of straightforward identification. Rather, they engage in a form of 'psychic transvestism' whereby they identify with the male (gaze) that observes the woman (Doane 1982; Gamman & Makinen, 1994:183). As a result, women learn what creates voyeuristic pleasure for men - that 'men are drawn to a certain portrayal of femininity' and thus 'women are drawn toward occupying that portrayal' (Fowles, 1996: 153). According to advertisers, the appeal in the use of female attractiveness and sexuality to sell products to women is its appeal to their exhibitionism (Millum, 1975:65). Though, blame should not be placed with the woman; rather, this narcissistic element has been cultivated from a history of men having the power to look at women, hence 'a woman must continually watch herself.' (Berger, 1972:46).

For all these reasons, liberal feminists demanded a more positive and liberating representation of women from advertisers.

 
"Dress for succ-sex": debating the 'new' in New Woman

From the mid-1970s there was a proliferation of distinct images that became labelled as the 'New Woman', and that were seen as representative of the 'changing reality of women's social position and of the influence of the women's movement' (van Zoonen, 1994:72). The New Woman was supposed to be 'independent, confident and assertive, finding satisfaction in the world of work and recreation, seeking excitement, adventure and fulfillment' (Cagan, 1978:8). According to Liesbet van Zoonen, however, the ability of these images to undermine traditional female stereotypes is superficial. At the level of content analysis, the roles that women take on in these advertisements appear to be progressive (the employee, the active woman); however, with a more semiological approach, van Zoonen asserts that the New Woman 'only departs marginally from her older, more traditional sisters.' Deconstructing an advertisement promoting the 'Jenni Barnes Working Style' range of clothing, van Zoonen points to its claim that: 'A woman should look forward to dressing for the office.' Having a job is seen merely to provide 'another happy occasion for women to dress up and present themselves.' Indeed, a woman 'is portrayed stepping confidently towards the camera in an office environment observed by a male colleague from behind; but she is not portrayed actually working' (1994:73). Gill says that these images lead us to believe that they incorporate feminist ideals, but are actually 'used in such a way as to empty them of their progressive meaning' (1988:36). Similarly, Barthel notes that 'today's young women can successfully storm the bastions of male power… without threatening their male counterparts' providing we can reassure them that, underneath the suit, we are still 'all woman', that 'no serious gender defection has occurred' (Barthel, 1988:124-125; Davis, 1992:50). In other words, that there is no real threat to male power.

Another dubious image of the New Woman is the 'dark lady': on the other side of innocence and romance, is the knowledge and sexuality of the daring femme fatale (Barthel, 1988:76). The message in Figure 5 is that women can use Christian Dior make-up to make themselves sexually attractive, but can still be the protagonist in a sexual encounter ('Dare to be Diorific') - and that her sexuality is for her own enjoyment. Richard Dyer however, claims that such images are something of a misrepresentation of women's liberation: '[advertising] agencies trying to accommodate new [feminist] attitudes in their campaigns, often miss the point and equate "liberation" with a type of aggressive sexuality and a very unliberated coy sexiness' (1982:186). Thus, all we are really left with is a woman who continues to construct herself as a spectacle and, just like the innocent maiden, is presented as a willing co-conspirator of men's sexual advances - and worse, believes she is 'liberated' in doing so.

Perhaps adding insult to injury, is the fact that the New Woman is depicted, not because of a change in advertisers' consciousness, but because of her increased purchasing power. Thus while we may see the woman depicted as seducing the man, in reality it is the manufacturer (and noting that the economy is just one more locus of male power) that seduces the woman (Barthel, 1988:82). However, the economic motivation behind 'progressive' advertising applies equally to the representation of the 'New Man' that emerged in the 1980s.

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes
--
Henry David Thoreau

The image of the Sensitive New Man originated from the men's liberation movement which 'emphasised the need for men to invest themselves emotionally in relationships' which had, up until now, been 'fustrated by the straitjacket of traditional expectations regarding the strong, silent male' (Barthel, 1992:146). Just as advertisers had welcomed the New Woman, 'She was a new type, and she needed new products. So too with the New Man' (ibid:147). As he was now free to express himself emotionally, it was presumed that like women, he needed a means (i.e. consumer products) through which to do so. Again, as for the New Woman, advertisers exploited and misinterpreted the goals of male liberation politics. Rather than encouraging men to get '"closer" to themselves, to each other and to women, by being caring, soft, sensuous and gentle,' self-expression took the form of expressing individual identity - and the easiest (consumer-related) way to do this was through fashion (Mort, 1988:197). 'He can be like the man in the Ermenegildo Zegna soft suit, "relaxed, carefree, easy as he wants to be"'(Barthel, 1992:147). Aiding the expansion of the men's fashion and toiletries market, liberation was reduced to 'window-dressing' (Connell, 1995:140).

What this consumer culture did do, however, is to force men to look at themselves and other men as objects of consumer desire, which previously was branded taboo or feminine (Mort, 1988:194). The emphasis on identity through style meant men had to start 'surveying' themselves as, like women, they too were being surveyed (see Berger, 1972:46). Sean Nixon has written detailed accounts on the rupture of traditional male icons in the men's 'style manuals' (The Face, I-D, Arena, GQ) that were launched in the eighties, targeting 'style-conscious young men' and those needing a medium to promote new menswear and grooming products (Nixon, 1994:73; 1996:175). The models used for fashion spreads in these magazines were selected to create a particular look: hard features and muscularity were combined with clear skin, well-groomed hair and beautiful clothes, creating an ambivalence of soft and hard - these were 'camped-up tough boys' (Nixon, 1994:74-75). Nixon continues: 'the valorising of a "tough" masculinity… and the display of muscularity, have a long tradition in representations of masculinity aimed at and taken-up by gay men' (ibid:77); the implication is that these men exist to be looked at, disrupting the power dynamic in Mulvey's framework (above). These images had a strong influence on advertising practitioners who wanted space in these style manuals in order to reach this new market segment - notoriously for Bartle Bogart Hegarty (BBH) in their press campaign for Levi's 501s (Nixon, 1996:135). Mort notes that though the model (Nick Kamen) was stripped to his boxer shorts, 'it was the display of the body through the product that was sexy… And so the sexual meanings in play are less to do with macho images of strength and virility… than with the fetishised and narcissistic display' (1988:201).

Images such as these have prompted feminists to consider the possibility of a 'female gaze', women as being bearers of 'the look'; they imply a reversal of Mulvey's framework, based on the contention that the male has been turned into an erotic spectacle (Evans & Gamman, 1995:27-30). However, not only has this been contested among feminists themselves (ibid:31-32), the advertisements described above have generally been confined to men's style magazines. Moreover, there appears to be little evidence of male sexuality being used to sell products to women (in contrast to the reverse arrangement), thus these male displays rarely reach the female gaze (should there be one). When they do, 'often our progressive hero is played off against stereotyped images of women. In the Levi's promo it was the sweetheart, the fat lady, the harassed mum and the giggling girls. Freedom for the new man may be the freedom to stand outside conventional masculinity, but it is the freedom to be without/above women - to go it alone like in the standard male romance. So it doesn't follow that the moves now being made by young men are necessarily progressive for women' (Mort, 1988:223).

It seems then, that these 'new' images of men and women merely update bi-polar definitions of gender; discussing men's liberation, Connell notes, 'The political risk run by… [a] project of reforming masculinity is that it will ultimately help modernise patriarchy rather than abolish it' (1995:139). Perhaps therefore, the only way to overcome stereotyped definitions of gender is to make sex indeterminable in the first place. In this way, it can be said that we are provided with a 'clean slate' on which to work.

 
The chic of CKone: queer ambassador or subcultural tourist?

Calvin Klein's 1995 campaign for CKone (a unisex fragrance) provides one of the most poignant, well-remembered and successful examples of gender-ambivalent advertising (see Figure 9). Typical of the advertisements it paved the way for, the CKone images featured skinny, androgynous-looking models, neither muscular nor voluptuous. Hairstyles strayed from anything conventional - men and women with short-back-and-sides and long flowing locks, respectively. Moreover, they were dressed in similar (unisex) clothes - baggy trousers and vests - and wore no make-up. With many of the models, gender was indeterminable, especially when they were positioned in couples. Is it a woman and a man? Or is that the man and that the woman? Is that two men together or two women? What this amounted to was the play on, and rationalising of, the idea of a unisex fragrance - men and women as 'one' indeterminable category (and therefore, how can we distinguish between opposite and same-sex desire?).

With the success of the Calvin Klein campaign, it appears that advertisements that followed its lead felt no need to justify gender-ambivalent imagery with unisex products. Dolce & Gabbana frequently favour the use of such images to promote their products - in Figure 10, even with the use of nude models, one has to look carefully before we can determine their sex. A 'montage' of androgynous bodies is created here, blurring the boundaries between male and female, denoting gender as a fluid 'free-floating artifice' (Butler, 1999:10).

Significant also is the ambivalent meaning in advertisements drawing on overtly 'camp' images; the promotion of Jean Paul Gaultier perfume is a distinct example (see Figure 11). This campaign was aimed at men in general, not at a distinctly gay consumership (if at all), yet it suggests the invitation of a 'gay gaze'. That is, it suggests a mobile and ambivalent relationship between identification and pleasure, as gay men both identify with and desire other men. Thus the Mulveyian framework, where by men identify with men and desire women, is disrupted (Nixon, 1996:149; Evans & Gamman, 1995:32-34). The distinctly camp image in Figure 11 brings this ambivalence to the attention of the consumer, in contrast to the normal situation where the male spectator automatically assumes he is to identify with the male image. A further interesting play on the ambivalence of sexual orientation, is where there is a clear suggestion of homosexuality alongside models who conform to conventional heterosexual norms of attractiveness. Figures 12.1 and 12.2 are taken from French Connection's 'FCUK' anagram campaign which began in 1998. Could the man (Figure 12.1) possibly be deciding between "sex with my mates" and "football with my girlfriend"?

The types of images we have discussed (Figures 9-12) symbolise the disruption of sex-gender-desire continuity and form part of some successful advertising campaigns. Advertising depends heavily on associative meaning and the principle of 'commodity fetishism' (i.e. if you buy this lipstick/perfume/pair of jeans you will look like - or even be - the woman/man in the advertisement), which in turn forms part of a wider framework of consumption as identity formation (Warde, 1994:877). Thus, how can we explain the success of gender-ambivalent and queer images in advertising? Or to put it another way, do men really want to be (associated with) the camp sailor in the Jean Paul Gaultier advertisement?

Subversion is contextual, historical, and above all social. No matter how exciting the "destabilizing" potential of texts, bodily or otherwise, whether those texts are subversive or recuperative or both or neither cannot be determined by abstraction from actual social practice.
--
Susan Bordo

As we noted in the Introduction, these gender-bending advertisements are largely confined to promoting designer fashion, therefore a consideration of the rather 'fickle' nature of the fashion industry can begin to account for their success. Status in the industry is acquired by the ability to set new, 'innovative' trends, and generally speaking, by being as avant-garde as possible. Constantly, fashion tries to update itself: 'What was "in" is now "out"; what was attractive yesterday is dowdy today; last year's model never looks right, and try as you may, there's nothing you can do to make it look right; etc., etc.' (Davis, 1992:103). Moreover, sociologists have noted that as a result of intensive capitalisation and the expansion of consumerism, this process has quickened considerably:

The cycles in fashion get shorter and shorter. How many times have the 60s been revived since the 60s? They're never out long enough to be completely out. Soon all the decades will overlap dangerously. Soon everything in will simultaneously be out.
-- Hochswender, 1991.

Hence, running out of ways to be different, what better way is there for designers to be 'creative' than to be queer - for the name itself suggests transgression. The motivation behind adopting images from queer culture is not political - in fact, rather than wanting to normalise queerness, the pleasure and motivation is in the transgressing. The norm of heterosexual sex-gender-desire continuity still has to exist for fashion to have the pleasure of breaking it (Barthel, 1988:77). This, of course, filters down to the advertising practitioners that promote these products - though the transgression principle applies to advertising in general, as much of its success depends on its ability to shock, to make a product be noticed next to all those others being promoted.

This emphasis on 'being different' is also at work at the individual level of style in contemporary society - individuality is what is in fashion. Discussing the relationship between masculinity and popular culture, Mort notes that 'What's now cool is not the assertion of a fixed masculine identity, but a self-conscious assemblage of style… stressing the plurality of signification' (1988:204-205). Thus we can deduct that when individuals borrow from gender-ambivalent fashion/advertising imagery, the emphasis (and degree of acceptance) is on signifying (rather than being) queer. Advertising, fashion and consumer culture all incorporate an ideology of commodity fetishism which has led individuals to believe that they can 'define themselves through the messages they transmit to others through the goods and practices that they possess and display' (Warde, 1994:878). As a result, 'appearance replaces essence' and 'artificiality substitutes for the genuine development of self' (Giddens, 1991:197). Hence appropriating, or identifying with, the queer 'look' bears little relationship to appropriating the politics of queer theory into one's consciousness.

Madonna can be as queer as she wants to, but only because we know she's not.
--
Douglas Crimp and Michael Warner

Discussing the various queer representations constructed by the popular music icon Madonna, Lorraine Gamman and Merja Makinen assert that this principle of commodity fetishism is of major significance. 'Madonna is not what she is pretending to be: there is little reference to "utility" function in terms of the way Madonna uses products to carve out identities for herself' (1994:186). In recent years, analysts of popular culture have begun to comment on the political potential of Madonna's depictions of gay and lesbian sex, her borrowings from gay subculture, and the way this aligns itself with Butler's call to cause 'gender trouble' (in the way one could suggest that the gender-ambivalent images discussed here do) - see Skeggs (1993:71-72). In particular, her music videos for Vogue, Erotica and Justify My Love, her film Truth or Dare: In Bed With Madonna, and her book Sex have attracted scrutiny. Equally, however, some analysts have begun to note how her queer representations actually undermine 'subversive' gender politics. These arguments can be used here to shed some light on the limitations of gender-ambivalent and queer representations in advertising.

Commenting on how Madonna borrows from black (as well as gay) culture, bell hooks critically points out that she 'publicly name[s her] interest in, and appropriation of, black culture as yet another sign of [her] radical chic' (1992:157). In the same way, her appropriation from camp/queer culture is reducible to what Gamman & Makinen refer to as the 'Queer aesthetic' (1994:183). Indeed, discussing Madonna's book Sex, Douglas Crimp & Michael Warner note:

The gay men in the book seem to be there more as suppliers of sexual glamour than as actual sexual partners, either with her or with each other… they keep their clothes on and look louche and exotic and show us how "interesting" faggots can be… It's more about their exotic appeal for a spectator than it is about gay sex.
-- Crimp & Warner (1993:97).

In another advertisement for Jean Paul Gaultier (Figure 14), the female model is surrounded by gay men in much the same way. Thus, while consumers are willing (and advertisers allow us) to identify with and appropriate queer style, the actual practice of queer is rejected, or at the very least, overlooked.

It is not surprising that Madonna, and the advertising and fashion industries have picked up on this 'queer chic'. George Mosse notes that when gay subculture established itself in the 1970s and 1980s, 'gays distinguished themselves as designers and creators of fashion, colorful and for the most part unorthadox' (1996:189). Similarly, Frank Mort notes the 'exaggerated movements,' 'extravagant gestures' and 'hype' in the repertoire of camp (1988:193). However, while for gays this formed a basis for solidarity and political mobilisation, for Madonna and advertising practitioners it formed the basis for the creation of profit. As hooks continues:

To white and other non-black [and heterosexual] consumers, this gives them a special flavour, an added spice. After all it is a very recent phenomenon for any white girl to be able to get some mileage out of flaunting her fascination and envy of blackness. The thing about envy is that it is always ready to destroy, erase, take-over, and consume the desired object. That's exactly what Madonna attempts to do when she appropriates and commodifies aspects of black culture.
-- bell hooks (1992:157)

Following this, just as with the New Woman and New Man, advertisers have embraced queer representation with a consumer-driven motivation rather than with a conscience. And inevitably, once more, the politics underneath the look are falsely represented, if at all. Like Connell noted of the New Man (above), Pamela Robertson claims that by denying their real antagonisms and political struggles, the appropriation of these subcultures 'can never be more than a form of subcultural tourism at the level of style' (1996:135). Indeed, Fred Davis claims that 'The symbolic aim of these [androgynous] fashions is to dramatize cross-gender tensions, not resolve them' (1992:36). Indicative of this is Figure 15, which depicts two models posed, ready to kiss: it is difficult to determine whether we are looking at a man and woman or two women, whilst we are invited to guess if they are 'friends' or 'lovers' since, claim Morgan, '[lesbian] love is in fashion'.

Interpreting queer politics through style is different, however, to misrepresenting the politics of women's and men's liberation movements. Whereas the latter aim to reform the two genders at an emotional and functional level, queer politics aims to expose the social constructedness and arbitrary nature of gender itself. Thus by reducing gender and sex to the level of 'fashion and style rather than biology and identity,' gender is exposed as 'a put-on, a sex toy' (Schwichtenberg, 1993:134-135). Following this, it is possible to say that we cannot criticise advertisers (or fashion designers) for adopting queer culture at a 'superficial' (visible) level, because it is this very superficiality that is political.

Indeed, if we look to the practice of queer culture itself (which was established long before the type of theory formulated by Judith Butler), we can see that it is based on 'an aesthetic of performance and display, and one which, appropriately enough, centrally emphasises the body. The way in which lesbians and gay men dress is often itself a political statement: sexuality inscribed on the body' (Wilson, 1993:108). In this way, claims Elizabeth Wilson, 'politics is aestheticised - that is, given aesthetic expression… And anyway, isn't this also a way of politicising fashion, which is a form of art (among other things)?' (ibid:108). Queer politics, then, is intimately connected with visual culture, hence fashion and advertising seem to be apt mediums through which to express it. Moreover, Charles notes that 'Queer culture is urban and metropolitan, not universal,' (1993:98) and therefore like all urban/street culture, style is inevitably a major component.

Although queer culture is a visual culture, however, its expression through style at the individual level, "on the street", in gay urban space, carries different meanings and implications to its expression through a mass medium like advertising. Two related factors are at work in the latter medium of expression; first, the mass audience of such a medium is invariably assumed to be heterosexual, and second, all mass mediums are commercial operations and as such, must not upset their audience. As a result, incorporation of the queer aesthetic into mainstream media has led to the watering down of its critical and political edge - to what Paul Rudnick and Kurt Anderson call the creation of the 'world of heterosexual camp, Camp Lite' (Robertson, 1996:122; Rudnick & Anderson, 1989:120). Queerness becomes a tool for postmodern pastiche, rather than an aggressive, defiant subversive act (Robertson, 1996:121). Thus, the political message is abandoned by advertisers and overlooked by consumers. Moreover, this 'heterosexualisation' of gender-ambiguous and queer advertising imagery is probably why it has been integrated into the industry and into mainstream media without any sign of resistance.

In conclusion, as with the images of the New Woman and New Man, it appears that in theory gender-ambivalent and queer representations in advertising can communicate the politics of queer culture. In practice, however, the confounding factor of commerce, and the contemporary struggle for 'individuality' through pastiche, are at work. Thus in real terms, these representations do little to undermine the oppressive depictions of gender that were manifest in advertising at the end of the Second World War - and that still persist today, for queer images only form a small part of a whole system of representations. Nevertheless, what can be said of such advertisements is that, although in glamorising the queer look they are exploiting and trivialising a serious political issue, one cannot deny that they participate in two socially radical acts. First, they make gays, lesbians and queers visible, and therefore 'normal', in mainstream media (and this also allows an empowering 'gay gaze'). Second, they do so in a positive (if superficial) manner.


 
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Liz Allen & Paddy Stamp (1987), 'Work - Images of tradeswomen' in Kath Davies, Julienne Dickey & Teresa Stratford, Out of Focus: Writings on Women and the Media, London: The Women's Press.

Diane Barthel (1988), Putting On Appearances: Gender and Advertising, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

---- (1992), 'When men put on appearances: advertising and the social construction of masculinity' in Steve Craig, Men, Masculinity and the Media, London & New Dehli: Sage Publications.

John Berger (1972), Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin.

J. Bristow & A.R. Wilson (1993), Activating Theory: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Politics, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Judith Butler (1999), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York & London: Routledge.

R.W. Connell (1995), Masculinities, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Douglas Crimp & Michael Warner (1993), 'No sex in Sex' in Lisa Frank & Paul Smith, Madonnarama: Essays on Sex and Popular Culture, Pennsylvania: Cleis Press.

Fred Davis (1992), Fashion, Culture and Identity, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Nigel Edley & Margaret Wetherell (1997), 'Masculinity, power and identity' in Máirtín Mac an Ghaill, Understanding Masculinities: Social Relations and Cultural Arenas, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Tim Edwards (1997), Men in the Mirror: Fashion, Masculinity and Consumer Society, London: Cassell.

J. Elliott & A.J. Wootton (1997), 'Some ritual idioms of gender in British television advertising', The Sociological Review, vol.45, pp.437-452.

Caroline Evans & Lorraine Gamman (1995), 'The gaze revisited, or reviewing queer viewing' in Paul Burston & Colin Richardson, A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture, London & New York: Routledge.

Jib Fowles (1996), Advertising and Popular Culture, Thousand Oaks, London & New Dehli: Sage Publications.

Lorraine Gamman & Merja Makinen (1994), Female Fetishism: A New Look, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Erving Goffman (1976), Gender Advertisements, London & Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Richard Gross (1996), Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hamilton, Robert, Brian Haworth & Nazli Sardar (1982), Adman and Eve: An Empirical Study of the Relative Marketing Effectiveness of Traditional and Modern Portrayals of Women in Certain Mass-Media Advertisements, Lancaster: Lancaster University School of Management and Organisational Sciences.

bell hooks (1992), 'Madonna: plantation mistress or soul sister?' in Black Looks: Race and Representation, London: Turnaround.

Sut Jhally (1987), The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society, London: Frances Pinter.

Trevor Millum (1975), Images of Woman: Advertisng in Women's Magazines, London: Chatto & Windus.

Ken Morrison (1995), 'Karl Marx' in Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought, London, Thousand Oaks, New Dehli: Sage Publications.

Frank Mort (1988), 'Boy's own? Masculinity, style and popular culture' in Rowena Chapman & Jonathan Rutherford, Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

George L. Mosse (1996), The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sean Nixon (1994), 'Check out the beef! Masculinities, the body and contemporary men's magazines' in Celia Brackenbridge, Body Matters: Leisure Images and Lifestyles, Eastbourne: Leisure Studies Association.

---- (1996), Hard Looks: Masculinities, Spectatorship and Contemporary Consumption, London: UCL Press.

Pamela Robertson (1996), Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna, London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co.

Cathy Schwichtenberg (1993), 'Madonna's postmodern feminism: bringing margins to the centre' in The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory, Colorado: Westview Press.

Beverley Skeggs (1993), 'A good time for women only' in Fran Lloyd, Deconstructing Madonna, London: Batsford.

Dominic Strinati (1995), 'Feminism and popular culture' in Theories of Popular Culture, London & New York: Routledge.

Gaye Tuchman (1978), 'Introduction: The symbolic annihilation of women by the mass media' in Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels & James Benét, Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, New York: Oxford University Press.

Liesbet van Zoonen (1994), Feminist Media Studies, London, Thousand Oaks & New Dehli: Sage Publications.

----(1996), 'Feminist perspectives on the media' in James Curran & Michael Gurevitch, Mass Media and Society, London: Arnold.

Alan Warde (1994), 'Consumption, identity-formation and uncertainty', Sociology, vol.28, no.4, pp.877-898.

Janice Winship (1980), Advertising in Women's Magazines: 1956-74, Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.


Illustrations: Unfortunately, the figures from the original essay could not be reproduced here. But for some relevant pictures see the unofficial Calvin Klein images collection


This essay was written as a 'Communications Long Essay' in spring 2000, when Reena Mistry was a Level Three student at the Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, UK.

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