The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

I Am Not An Animal!

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 18, 2008

Sorry to channel The Elephant Man there, but John Merrick’s infamous cry was the first thing I thought when encountering Wrangler’s new “We Are Animals” ad campaign.

These disturbing images, seemingly evoking discarded dead bodies, were created by French ad agency FFL Paris. Clearly their brief was to move the Wrangler brand away from folksy cowboy imagery and into the edgy territory already occupied by Diesel. It’s very tempting to join in justifiable criticisms that these ads are aestheticising violence against women: to decry the “deeply screwed up culture” behind the imagery and ask angrily if murder is the new black.

But as Trendhunter notes, the TV commercial puts the confronting print ads a little more in context. The models in the ad are meant to look like wild animals caught on film, and the jeans are meant to be their skins or pelts.

And let’s not forget that there are other print ads in the campaign too:

This isn’t really using the imagery of violence against women (I’m pretty sure there are men in the ads too). Instead it’s some kind of weird zoomorphism that aestheticises an inarticulate corporeality: a kind of “hey, look at this magnificent, unknowable beast”. As Copyranter writes, appropriately enough, at Animal:

And, to the eyes of this Irish adman, they fail dreadfully. Yes, “we are animals.” Animals with cognitive ability. Animals who can look at these ads that say “we are animals” and respond ‘WHAT?”

The ads are meant to be weird and confusing – in the same way that you’ll see a video of an animal in the wild and not know precisely what the animal is doing. Sure, these ads have a violence in them, but not necessarily a raping-and-murdering-women kind of violence. Their true violence lies in their wilful disavowal of human civilisation and sophistication in favour of a savage consumerism. The savage “we” in the tagline could also refer to the viewer, who is encouraged to see the jeans as hunting trophies and the models as dumb beasts to shoot and trap like rabbits and bears, drown like kittens or run down with your car like deer or kangaroos.

Of course, it’s problematic in another way to object to zoomorphism on the grounds that humans are ‘higher beings’ than animals. But these ads do demean women (and men) because they make such an obvious analogy of that divide between ‘thinking’ humans and ‘dumb’ beasts, and the attitude that men’s power lies in their mind – seat of rationality and cognition – whereas women’s power lies in their bodies – seat of beauty and sexual desirability.

5 Responses to “I Am Not An Animal!”

  1. Clem Bastow said

    Gosh, that ‘deer in headlights’ one is particularly… something.

  2. mscate said

    My first instinctive thought on looking at the ad was “Don’t wear those jeans or you’ll get murdered/raped”.

  3. Daphne said

    We should keep in mind that the photos are by the much-hyped Ryan McGinley (youngest person to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art). He tends to take photos of beautiful young people joyfully cavorting around the wilderness naked – these ads reference his aesthetic but with a darker mood ie. there is an expectation that the public sees the ads as ‘Ryan McGinley endorsed’ – McGinley being typically associated with depictions of youth, vitality, freedom etc, so maybe it’s not so macabre…

  4. Clem Bastow said

    I wouldn’t mind them so much if the women had faces/heads. I think that the objectification combined with the slightly creepy mood is what pushes the ads somewhere a bit naff.

  5. Mel Campbell said

    Hmmm, the problem for me is that the youth, freedom, vitality and other qualities are being presented as animalistic qualities rather than as human qualities, and despite the ‘we’ in the tagline, there isn’t much empathy – I find them quite alienating.

    I think it’s troubling that clothes can be sold on a platform of denying the humanity of the wearers.

    WWRD? (What would Rousseau do?)

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