Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do these Jeans Make Me Look Dead?

Well, I guess I'm sick, sick, sick because I actually like this ad campaign for Wrangler Jeans by the French ad company FFL. The company previously did a bizarre sexy animal ad for Orangina which weirded me out when I saw it everywhere in France. This one is also bizarre and evocative; but it works for me.

Clearly, I'm alone in this. Two images from the ad have upset people in the blogosphere. First, understand that the ad is supposed to show "nature shots" of wild people living in the woods. Frankly, my first thought when I saw it was that it rips off the Sigur Ros video quite a bit.

The two images in question are this one of a man's legs lying alongside a riverbed and the next one of a woman's sexy back as she swims in a creek or river. I see people in an animal state, to go along with the tagline. Others saw dead people.
Melissa McEwan at Shakesville: "Um, yeah. Because murder? Is so hot and edgy."
Brandflakes for Breakfast: "All the hottest dead people are wearing them."
The poster Vanessa at Feministing: "I honestly felt like I might throw up. I don't think I've ever seen the sexualization of violence against women so disturbingly portrayed on an ad before."
Hoyden About Town: "Fucking hell. Don’t tell me to suck it up like a goddamn lady and be dutifully polite and PLEASED. Not until this sort of thing goes away for good. "
Dorothy Snarker (excellent name!) on After Ellen: “WE ARE ANIMALS” apparently means we are animals who are into dead, probably murdered, possibly sexually assaulted women.
Jezebel: "this highly disturbing Wrangler jeans ad that seems to be saying, "murdering bitches in the woods is sexy!"

You get the picture. So to speak. There were also lots of commenters on the sites who objected to the second image. Many also objected to this commercial from the campaign, which they tried to reconcile with their idea that it was an ad campaign about murder: was this a pre-murder film of the wild woman who later got murdered?
The end result is that the ads are only going to run in Europe. Americans are too easily-excitable.

Where to begin? Well, first off, I'm a fan of the photographer Ryan McGinley, even though he is steadily turning into a professional shill. McGinley inspired the Sigur Ros video, and apparently helped with it, which explains the connection. He does a lot of pics of nudes in nature.
Also, the male legs in the first picture are clearly in an active crouching position. When you're dead, you just can't get your feet into that position. The rippling water in the second add is a giveaway that she's alive; plus the fact that she's holding her face above the water. Clearly, those two pictures don't really work though- at least, they do confuse people- but that's not the same thing as attempting to depict murder. And I'm not sure why some of these bloggers seem to have never looked at the other pictures in the series or even paid attention to detail.
But, you know, people can't always expect advertising to come down to their level of perception. The ads confused them, but I can't see where that's entirely McGinley's fault. I was able to figure them out and I'm not exactly brilliant. Moreover, McGinley is an artist and expecting him to think like a shill is probably a bad idea in the first place.
Lastly, I love the campaign. It's evocative, surreal, and richly imaginative. There's a whole world here that resonates in my subconscious anyway. I dream like that. It doesn't make me want to start wearing jeans, but who cares? It's art. Maybe it fails as an ad, but ads are supposed to be stupid and inoffensive and anodyne- and when they aren't, clearly they upset people. McGinley is a fool for making a deal with the advertising devil. Art is supposed to be provocative and evocative, and ambiguous. It's not supposed to sell jeans or hamburgers, or political ideologies.
Let the ideologues live in a world without ambiguity! Let the artists run wild.


Hiromi said... the first photo, the model has her pants on(assuming it's a her -- I can't quite tell). It seems to me that a rape/murder connection seems a little glib to me. And the second chick is swimming topless in dirty water.

But it'll take a lot to make Wrangler jeans sexy. They're the jeans the dorky C&W kids in elementary school wore.

rufus said...

That's true- maybe it's better to make people think of murder than low quality fashion!

Brian Dunbar said...

McGinley is a fool for making a deal with the advertising devil. ... Let the artists run wild.

Commercial work is a way of attaining the means to make that happen.

But ... sexualization of violence? Dead people? It's just pictures of some dad-gummed hippies swimming in a creek. Whoop-te-do.

rufus said...

Well, right. There's always the idea of "one for me, one for you"- John Cassavetes was the master of this and it's really impossible to argue that his acting in schlock like Incubus isn't completely justified by the fact that he got to direct stuff like Husbands and Faces. And, even though McGinley seems to be doing pretty well, I find that artists are never doing as well as people think they are.

I would just say that the problem with working for advertisers is that you open yourself up to the resentful, angry gripes of the willfully uncultured.

Incidentally, there is more beautiful stuff by McGinley on his website. It's highly recommended:

Brian Dunbar said...

Incidentally, there is more beautiful stuff by McGinley on his website.

As-if I don't have enough information flowing my way between work and various 'comp sci' interests.

Now I've got more pretty pictures to look at.

Seriously, thanks.