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    Monday, May 01, 2006

    More on the Campari Red Ad

    The other day I got all excited about the new Campari Red ad. And I still am. It seems that the queer response is (surprise, surprise) far from unanimous (The Gay Agenda was unclear on the topic, I suppose):

    From Barbelith Underground:

    1. I wonder if this indicates a mainstreaming of "queerness" or acceptable aspects of queerness; an incorporation of gender-subversion into the marketing of a commodity, so that queerness becomes "transgression" as a selling point for an alcoholic drink (presumably meant, in this context, to suggest difference from the norm; a certain exclusivity and daring, like taking the Pepsi challenge.) So, queerness (or specifically cross-dressing here) has become... "tamed"? into a means of branding one product as daringly different from the rest.

    2. Although the moment of revelation in this narrative seems quite radical, actually of course the double-reveal presents a solution to the "problem" that the first one poses. We thought it was a man pursuing a beautiful woman: the romance/lust narrative dead-ends when both are shown to be men. But the possibilities open up again when the first man becomes a woman. The actors play this very well I think, and the unveiling of the woman seems to be met with suggestive smiles on both their parts, as if to say "OK... well, maybe we can get it on after all".

    3. However, I'm just taking my own reading from this and perhaps there are other, more interesting interpretations of the story - perhaps the two characters are just showing their true genders as a stripping of barriers, but without the implication that, if both did turn out to be men, the possibilities for sex and romance would be short-circuited.

    Skyscraper on Queering Me: how would YOU read this?:

    here's a Very Interesting and Problematic [i think] advertisement clip utilizing the trendy "tranny" topic for usual corporate capitalization. however, i'm offended by its mockery of the concepts of 'gender fluidity' and 'gender bending'.

    [to me it suggests that the people transitioning/trespassing the conventional gender rules (such as transvestite, transsexual and transgendered folk, butches, affeminate men, etc.) are not for real. that inside, underneath all the 'drag' and cross-dresses, they still retain their 'natural' gender-identification and pertinent heterosexual desires.

    i mean, these two are about to have passionate heterosexual sex, aren't they?

    As for the idea that "tranny" is "trendy" and that queerness is being used to sell products, I'm cool with it. I think that being used to sell products is a good "first step" kind of thing as it leads the way toward better visibility (cultural visibility in television and film, without being totally anomalous). I also don't particularly care if queerness is the ultimate in transgression: if these things are considered "tame," I think that will yield greater flexibility and, frankly, less danger to queers as queers represent less danger to everyone else. Yes, queerness is a threat to the heterosexist status quo, but it's also something unto itself.

    Feel free to disagree.

    As far as the "resolution" (i.e. a man and a woman are still a man and a woman who will have sex therefore), I think it actually does a couple of fairly radical things. One, it subverts the trans-trope of the "big reveal" wherein the non-gender-normative body is exposed and the person to whom the body is exposed recoils in horror. In this case, not only do both people do the revealing and the observing, but neither seems remotely horrified by what they find, in fact, it seems a turn-on. It is read as sexy to both people and, therefore, to the audience. These people seem devastatingly sexy and they remain sexy upon getting naked - this is not usually allowed for trans bodies on film. The clothes, makeup, actors, lighting - these all contribute to making them equally sexy before and after undressing, and it is not important that all the traits line up in a gender-normative fashion for them to be sexy.

    Another thing I love is that these people don't seem at all hung up on, "I wish to have sex with a man," or "I wish to have sex with a woman," but rather seem interested in having sex with a person who is sexually attractive. I like the fluidity there.

    Also, this is not heterosexual sex. This is not heterosexual desire. If it is, heterosexual desire is now so queer, that one can hardly recognize it. Heterosexism is as much (if not moreso) about sexual desire than it is about sexual acts. Simply desiring the gender-transgressive body is a transgression against heterosexual desire.

    Going Somewhere: The Myth of Monolithic Capitalism:

    So there’s this Campari ad that people have been talking about lately. Mostly over on Skyscraper but also on Barbelith. A lot of the discussion centres on whether the ad is meant to read as ‘queer’, rather than resolving into heternormativity — particularly at the end, when the protagonists reveal to each other that they are in drag, oppositely ‘dragged’ you could say. There’s also some critique of the way that this ad makes genderbending into a game, rather than a real, daily-life thing. (Well, what can one expect from an ad for Campari, anyway? Advertisements are hardly going to present the material conditions of gender-bending as a way to convince people they want Campari.)

    Some people are arguing that there’s a normal heterosexual, normatively gendered spectator out there who will merely read the ad on its surface, as a playful hetero game; that there’s no deep message buried in the ad about genderfuck being good, or okay, or sexy (Indeed, the ad is perhaps too sexy and objectifying.)

    Like I said above, I love how sexy the ad is. I love it because, while there's a truth that LGBT folks are almost always rendered in terms of their sex acts (which is not shown here, I might add), transpeople are almost always treated as disgusting when they are not fully in the appearance of one of the two polarized gender possibilities. To make them sexy is actually very "fuck you" to the film history that portrays them as sexually unattractive.

    Also, I don't think that the ad portrays "gender bending" or "cross-dressing" or whatever is going on here (I don't think it's clear) as a "game". It's not clear whether these people are engaged in a day-to-day trans existence or a once-in-awhile experiment. Never-the-less, it certainly doesn't come across to me as some kind of trickery, the way the trans body is usually.

    Also, as far as the "sexiness" goes, I think it is good for transfolks to be viewed as "sexy" for another reason - other groups have had to go through a process of de-sexualization in order to be accepted, and this process has made it difficult to turn back into sexual beings. We've seen this happen to gays and lesbians, to black women, to older women. I think that this ad does a cool thing by making both people in "drag" or "trans" (again, I don't think the nature of their non-normativity is clear from the ad) rather than one normative meeting the exoticized "other". This prevents, to an extent, a sort of narrative that is oppressive and locates these people as either sexual victims or sexual predators.

    Finally, I think it wouldn't be difficult for even the most heterosexually-identified people to find both of these people sexy, whether in the beginning or the end or both. I don't think these people are totally "unreadable" in the beginning (at least not to me) and I think they remain sort of ambiguous enough even after the "reveal" to challenge the sexual orientation of the home viewer.

    Another thing: I don't think this ad says these people are "not for real", but rather that they are more complex. I say this because there is no denying that the reveal keeps them partially in the original gender presentation. They don't "switch", but change around their gender expression when alone together (as, I would argue, a good many people, including the gender normative and even fully heterosexual folks do, sexually).

    It's definitely true that this ad doesn't somehow do justice to "the trans experience" but I don't necessarily think that doing so would make it a better ad. I don't think all cultural production needs to be in service directly of a civil rights agenda. I think this ad is in service of a civil rights agenda, but very quietly and very appealingly.


    Anonymous sasquatch said...

    Came here via Bitch/Lab. I don't have an in-depth reading of the ad, but: I figured the "man" in that ad was a butch woman from the first frame. Have I been in San Francisco too long?

    6:53 PM  
    Blogger EL said...


    I had a similar thought - "I thought to myself 'oh hot butch'" when ze first eyed the other character," but I'm in NY - same difference maybe.

    8:07 PM  
    Blogger Jami said...

    I first saw the Campari ad and blogged about it a couple of weeks ago. I liked it then, and I still like it a lot. The whole concept of gender-fluid (and maybe even gender-neutral) sexiness is very subversive - and I like that a lot, too. Both of the characters are obviously looking to hook up with someone, and the ending makes it clear (to me, at least) that both of them would be quite happy with someone of either gender.

    10:52 AM  

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