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Dolce and Gabbana controversial Ad March 9, 2007

Posted by ajaramillo in "the gaze", bodies.

I just came across this article recently about a controversy over Dolce and Gabbana’s newest ad campaign. The company has decided to pull one of their ads from this season’s campaign after it was criticized for depicting a scene of “fantasy rape”. Here is the ad in question:

D&G ad

At first I was very surprised that such a strong reaction has surfaced over this particular image. While I can see where the image might elicit these attitudes, I do not find this particular ad as much more risqué than other high-fashion ads. Dolce & Gabbana insist that the ad was never meant to be controversial and that it represented “an erotic dream; a sexual game.” The ad ran in the March Issue of Esquire magazine, and the President of the National Organization for Women said that “…the idea that even a stylized image of rape appeals to a broad readership of men is disturbing.”
After reading her comment, I began to have second thoughts about the image. It struck me that maybe I have just become so accustomed to seeing images of women in compromising positions in other ads, and that was what prompted my indifferent attitude towards this particular image. Could it be that this image is actually upsetting, but the portrayal of women in this way has become so commonplace that it does not even shock me anymore? This revelation startled me, and I was hoping I could here some feedback on other people’s opinion of the image. Has it gone too far?

Here is a link to the article:



1. robynbahr - March 9, 2007

Looking at it at first, I wasn’t struck by the “rape” aspect. To me, it’s somewhat sexy – I see more of the fantasy part than the rape part. Also, and I know this sounds a bit strange, but the men are too androgynous for me to even see as sexual forces – in other words, they look too much like women for me to even see them as powerful or aggressive enough to commit a rape. They look like pansies, gynoids. I guess I have a closed mind to different images of rape, or have a set picture of what a rape is supposed to look like. All in all I’m just not disturbed by the photo – maybe it’s that it has, as you pointed out, become such a commonplace visual that I’m desensitized to it? I’m just curious as to how such images become commonplace in the first place.

2. jenniferlewk - March 10, 2007

This ad made me start thinking of why “sex sells.” This all-too-common marketing ploy has become so efficient, that companies such as Calvin Klein and Herbal Essences have based their early marketing strategies off of sexually exciting ads. I came across a Gallup and Robinson Article on the web, entitled “Sex in Advertising” , which revealed that sex has not always been used in advertising. Due to the Puritan, city-on-the-hill origins of our country, sex used to be considered taboo. However, with the emergence of WWII’s Pinup culture, sex became a red-hot, acceptable visual in advertising. With the advent of Playboy magazine, sex was launched in the mainstream. The article continues to examine sex and its wide audience–men, women, age–sex sells to just about everyone. Perhaps that is why the three of us do not seem particularly disturbed by the article. We are so socialized to associate product with sex–product “desire”, product “want”–that I am having trouble picturing a consumerist’s world without sex selling. Kind of sad.

3. andyw - March 10, 2007

First, let me say that the picture posted on the blog site is not offensive. I looked at it, read the comment, looked at it and couldn’t understand the comment made by Kim Gandy (President of NOW).

Unfortunately, I then found the entirety of the picture and it became much more complicated. It begins to look much more obviously like a rape scene, but I want to quickly give possible objections to that. First, the position of the women’s body seems to indicate that she is not fighting the man. It would make no sense to lift her midsection, since that would inevitably force her arms and head down (as well as bringing the most vulnerable portion of her body closer to the source of its danger) and accept being held by the man’s arms. Second, both of her legs are positioned to one side of his body, where the seemingly more natural placement for them if the man were trying to rape her (or have sex with her) would be on either side. Those two facts aside, it is fairly clear that she is being held, and that the man has sexual intentions upon her. Indeed the first objection to it being a rape can be reinterpreted to suggest that the woman desires this encounter. (I’m not sure how to respond to the second objection.)

I would tentatively suggest that the picture does represent a gangbang, and that it takes the first part of that term (gang) seriously. The person sitting far behind the scene has the mean yet casual look of a gang leader who is not enjoying the sexuality of the scene (as it seems the person most immediately behind the woman is, with a stare that appears to be directed at her breast), but rather, with a drink in his hand, coolly reflects on the initiation process of a new member. He is the farthest removed from the scene, giving him authority over it, and is the most relaxed figure (both sitting down, and slouching a little by putting his arm on his knee). Seated almost impossibly (both in terms of the box of light that he is sitting on, and the way he is positioned in relation to the water), it is clear that if the rape scene is the focus of the shot, he is the one directing and controlling it (possibly playing on the stereotype of male detachment; obviously the person most intimately involved with it, however detached by his facial expression and the glasses, isn’t the one in control: only the man far removed from it truly has power).

Hopefully that analysis wasn’t too much of a stretch. From a separate perspective, I find it extremely interesting that (despite the picture being removed from the ad campaign in both Spain and Italy) this piece is receiving a large focus, heightening the awareness of people across the globe of DnG’s clothes. The original purpose of the ad couldn’t have been a simple “stare at the clothes and be impressed by how they look”, since the focus isn’t on clothes but rather on a fantastic sexual scene. Thus, the larger number of people viewing it because of the controversy will play into the hands of DnG, and they will probably end up selling more clothes because of it (since we, after having viewed the picture, will take away an impression of the clothes that will fade into the back of our minds, not being the center of our focus, but when we see them for sale we will feel called to them through an unconscious act of recognition). Thus, as Susanna Schrobsdorff in a Newsweek article on the ad, wrote “But when is an onslaught of attention ever bad for a company looking to stay on fashion’s leading edge?” One of Gabbana’s comments to Newsweek was extremely interesting. He wrote, “From both human and emotional points of view, we certainly do not want to attack women, a sex for whom we have always declared our love, as the feminine market represents 60 percent of our worldwide sales. We are businessmen and the results that our company achieves demonstrate it.” This weird equation of being businessmen with a ‘human and emotional point of view’, and of love with the market, is extremely instructive. Whatever they initially planned with this ad, they have succeeded if they make money off of it, since they are businessmen. I suggest that this controversy will prove successful for them, and encourage them to be more scandalous to make money. The professed declaration of love will only hold them back if it leads to a net decrease in profits through backlash, but I fear that that is a very minimal check indeed.

As a brief aside, I find another picture, which is approximately the equivalent of this one with a man taking the place of the woman, very interesting. In it, there is no one holding the man’s hands down, eliminating (arguably) the impression of rape that haunts the other picture. See it here: http://flickr.com/photos/liveu4/141502253/

4. lanadouglass - March 12, 2007

I don’t find this image particularly upsetting either. The sexual intent is obviously there, but as Robyn pointed out, the men do not just seem to be powerful sexual forces; they are much too androgynous and distant. I mean, you do have the one man who seems to be pinning the woman down, but there is no sense of extreme force to it, and the two men in the background seem much too relaxed and cool to make this image seem threatening or bothersome to me. If anything, this simply just appears to be a sexual fantasy to me, and it could easily be the fantasy of man or woman alike. But who knows… I probably have a set image of rape in my mind, and since this doesn’t exactly conform to that image, I can’t see it as disturbing.

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