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Monday, May 7, 2012

The Sweet Spot: Ads That Mock Domestic Violence Go Way Past Grotesque

Posted By on Mon, May 7, 2012 at 7:30 AM


"Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn't have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. "

click to enlarge 66.jpg

So reads a 1970 ad for Mr. Leggs. Its glaring grammatical error aside (hello, dangling modifier), the ad is so revolting it almost seems laughable. As does the one for Chase & Sanborn coffee: "If your husband ever finds out ..."

It makes us (as a society) wince, or at least I hope it does, but it can also produce a shrug. "Oh that's just Mad-Men-ish retro kitsch and no longer our problem." We can feel smug, thinking we have achieved something in the past 40 years. We might continue, "No one would dare print something like that now."

Right? Wrong.

This ad below for Belvedere Vodka came out last month with the accompanying Twitter post that read, "Unlike some people......Belvedere goes down smoothly."

Because of public outrage, the company apologized and made a donation to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Okay, groovy, but the image has already done its damage. It exists.


A few years before, I would have been offended by that kind of ad, but (like the frowning woman who coughs at my cigarette smoke), it would have only affirmed that I am against sexism. These images now make me ill -- physically, gut wrenchingly, bile-rising-in-my-throat, slapped-in-the-face, ill.

click to enlarge belvedere_vodka_rape_ad.jpg

Why? Because a year ago, my sister ended up in the emergency room with a broken arm, a black eye, and all of her hair pulled out. This was only the most extreme version of the steady stream of abuse that a boyfriend had inflicted on her for months. Sadly, like many a domestic violence victim, she went back to him. Such is my personal problem. A squalid, cliched, ugly problem. A problem I don't want to expose my friends to because I don't want them to have to share in the horror of what I feel whenever I think of it.

click to enlarge Gang bang, anyone?
  • Gang bang, anyone?

And it is often an awful, brutal image that provokes these thoughts, as often as three to four times a day. Just one glimpse of a stupid photo posted on the Internet, and I instantly feel a sickening rage -- rage that a person could render such destruction on the body of my sister, or on anyone. The rage passes and then I am left with a terrible, helpless ache. Every time, it takes a supreme effort of will to not howl so long and hard that I won't be able to speak anymore.

If this were just an issue of family trauma, then therapy -- or perhaps a team of cowboy vigilantes -- might be more useful than writing about it publicly. But it isn't just personal -- it's cultural.

click to enlarge Um, yes sir. Indeed it is. - COURTESY OF RETRONAUT
  • Courtesy of Retronaut
  • Um, yes sir. Indeed it is.

The images around us are powerful and perversely influential. They linger, stored in our memory, forever ready to come to mind without warning and without permission. These ads don't just reflect violence, they actually contribute to it. A contribution that we really don't need.

According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, "nearly one in four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood, and each year approximately 2.3 million people are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner." The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that "Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police record are killed by an intimate partner." A number of sources report that each year about 1,500 women are murdered as a result of domestic violence in the United States.

These statistics make even more revolting the choice of advertisers to capitalize on and condone the eroticism of brutality. Not convinced yet? Take a look.

"Yeah, that'll get their attention. That's some sexy shit."

click to enlarge strangled_234x300.jpg

I imagine those ad execs saying that while plucking at their trousers and grinning ex-frat boy leers. My imagination may be running away with me, but in fact, it has long been an accepted business practice to use shock tactics as a sales method. Remember Calvin Klein's sexy 1970s adolescent ads? They almost violated one of the only laws that inhibits advertisers, the one against child pornography.

Because I am okay with shock but not violence, I want to run to the courts and insist images violating women be made illegal. But I won't. Mainly because that is a little too histrionic, and also because I am not a fan of laws that inhibit free speech.

click to enlarge It's an awful ad. But how much more awful is the thought of rinsing your vagina with Lysol? Yeesh. - LYSOL ADVERTISEMENT. COURTESY OF RETRONAUT: HTTP://WWW.RETRONAUT.CO/
  • Lysol Advertisement. Courtesy of Retronaut:
  • It's an awful ad. But how much more awful is the thought of rinsing your vagina with Lysol? Yeesh.

I can demand, however, oh ladies and gentlemen, that it is time to protest in big way. Lawsuits, outcries, and boycotts (hello, Belvedere Vodka) are imperative. Removing the image will not solve the problem, nor will it help my sister. But making a big stink about it could. An organized protest by feminists forced the creation of a commission to regulate feminine hygiene ads and the product itself.

We now have douche ads showing a woman enjoying an ocean breeze -- instead of a woman begging her husband to be let back into the house. It's a small change, but its a powerful one. It is on us to enforce regulation on content of the images that affect us every day. It would be vastly inappropriate to use an image of a lynching in an ad for sheets. It should be equally inappropriate that an image of a scantily clad woman in a noose be used to sell pants. We need to start shouting out, and loudly, that any form of brutality, in the media or otherwise, is undeniably and absolutely unacceptable.

On a positive note: Last week, the Republicans finally approved the renewal of The Violence Against Women Act, which first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, increasing federal penalties for domestic violence and provided funding for groups and services that aid victims of domestic abuse.


The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Ginger Murray


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