Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cake and eat it

Despite our best efforts to be fresh and cutting edge, advertising generally is - and is generally perceived to be - somewhere near the end of the pop cultural food chain.

We're not helping ourselves by ripping off YouTube all the time, but, unpalatable as it is, I suspect derivativeness is inevitable.

Anything that's too avant-garde and confrontational is unlikely to strike a chord with a mass audience; even if it would, you'd have a hard time convincing a client of the fact.

So it's refreshing to see an area where advertising is - inadvertantly, no doubt - leading the charge.

For a long time, it was acceptable to sell certain products - booze, cars - simply by showing them in association with sexy girls.

Than at some point (someone older than me will have to tell me exactly when; I suspect it happened earlier in NZ 'cos we're quite PC) social mores began to dictate that women oughtn't to be viewed as mere sex objects.

But creatives weren't quite ready to give up such a powerful means of persuasion/ good excuse to meet hot girls. So they discovered irony.

You could still show girls in bikinis. You just had to make a joke out of it, preferably at the expense of a bloke.

It was perfect: the ad equivalent of a final reel redemption. On one hand you showed you were socially aware by satirising sexist attitudes. On the other, you still got to look at hot girls.

Now consider first-time author Ruth Fowler, who has written about her experiences as a stripper. On one hand, her public persona and the promotion of her book revolve around questions of what modern feminism really means. She writes opinion pieces for The Guardian as part of an ongoing conversation about how the exploitative realities of the industry bely its 'girl power' rhetoric.

Yet, at least if the excerpts on her site are any indication, parts of the book are unashamedly erotic. I mean, check out her author pictures.

It's not a new phenomenon either. Australian journo Kate Holden's memoir "In My Skin" juxtaposes harrowing passages about heroin addiction and street walking with the odd spot of erotica.

Now there's no doubt an argument that nuance is all-important here. That a bunch of leering ad lads trying to get tits on the telly is worlds apart from middlebrow lit that investigates issues of gender and sexuality .


But because they both involve taking pleasure in something you're simultaneously condemning, both rest on the same fundamental contradiction. And people don't like contradictions. Unless they're very, very familiar contradictions.

It was ads that got 'em used to this one.

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