And a happy Labor Day to you, too!
In the spirit of such a delightful American holiday, and in celebration of all the office workers who will not be working in the office tomorrow, I’d like to share this ad that I saw on TV two days ago:
Although the “any press is good press” philosophy probably prevails down at Axe HQ, I feel obligated to deal with this publicly (or, you know, as publicly as a little-read blog can be public). I’m a long-time Axe iconoclast; over the summer before my sophomore year of high school (that was 2004, for those of you who want to know), I wrote a piece for a Pop Culture essay writing class I was taking on another Axe masterpiece, which I found leafing through an issue of Maxim.
The image, featuring a man-sized armpit with legs and conveniently placed pit hair (and, I dare say, a more conveniently placed female hand), objectifies the man most literally, but also turns the female into both a sex-driven presence and a sex object. What is the marginal copy suggesting about “winning,” anyway?
The Axe oeuvre has, apparently, retained the classic motif of bipedal body parts over the years, and in its latest addition presents us with both a walking head of hair and a bipedal pair of breasts. While I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain what’s problematic about this kind of objectification, let’s skip to the end. Implicit in the closing message – “Hair. It’s what girls see first.” – is the notion that the first thing men notice about women is their breasts.
Oh, wait. Did I say men and women? Excuse me. Sorry. I meant: the first thing boys notice about girls is their breasts.
Now that that’s sorted out, I need to address the imbalanced imagery. Although the little head of hair provides a subtly phallic presence in the ad, it’s also reminiscent of Cousin It and an iconography of cute, weird little fuzzy things (Furbys included). The isolated breasts, on the other hand, lack any otherworldly charm, and in their styling – somewhat exposed, cleavage galore – become little more than an object of lust. Although, ultimately, the ad seems to be poking fun at male immaturity – women notice hair, men notice boobs – the breasts are still the implicit punchline of the subtextual joke.
Oh, goodness! Did I say “women” and “men” again? Silly me! I must have meant girls, because really, what are breasts if not a sign of burgeoning sexuality? They certainly wouldn’t be a sign of maturity, motherhood, or womanhood in anyway.
On the other hand, a “boy” is almost certainly the appropriate counterpart for the exaggerated, isolated breasts. A boy, ridden with immaturity, inexperience, and ignorance.