Gucci: Selling a Stereotype
The ad I chose for the culture jamming assignment was produced by Gucci in the mid-2000’s. The ad features 2 cars, 2 women, a man and a handbag. The main goal of the ad—presumably—is to sell the handbag, but there is a lot more going on. Gucci ads are known to be sexually explicit consisting often of women in hyper-sexualized and submissive poses. This particular ad follows that trend and features lifeless and servile women—though hyper feminized—front and center laying on an expensive car with the hand bag. There is a man standing to their right, though his body language is quite different; he is standing erect, strong, and stoic. This ad is attempting to sell a handbag but is essentially a meme for our modern consumer culture that celebrates traditional gender roles, sex, and consumption. The three are intertwined in this ad and I will unpack their significance in what follows. In particular, I will be discussing how this ad conflates the sexualized female body with consumption; it is hard to tell if the ad is selling the female body or the bag, as they are both featured in similar objectified ways. To deepen my analysis, I will take up the theory of the ‘male gaze’ conceptualized by Laura Mulvey in ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975) to explain how the pleasure of looking is used to sell products in this modern consumer culture, and how this is centered around the dominant gaze of hetero-sexual men.
To begin, I found this ad interesting as the women and men featured in it have markedly different poses. The two women are in the center of the ad lying down on a car–one holding the object that’s being sold–with their eyes closed and their bodies exposed and open. Their facial expression is sexual, and they are wearing heavy, feminine makeup and clothing. The way they are situated conveys the women as pieces to be bought and consumed, like the Gucci handbag. The women do not have agency like the human beings they are, they are lifeless, limp, blind (eyes closed) and there purely for the pleasure and consumption of the viewer. They are among objects of desire; expensive cars, expensive bags, and thus become objects of desire themselves.
The man—on the other hand—stands tall and strong, in control and sentient. He personifies the ‘strong, silent’ type that society celebrates in men. He is emotionless but exudes strength and control. This stands in stark contrast to the women and represents traits of ‘toxic masculinity’, or the upholding of norms associated to the male gender that contributes harm to society and men themselves.
The perpetuation of gender stereotypes is problematic but, I would argue, not as problematic as how Gucci likens and compares the sexualized female body to the product it is selling. The women are beautiful, lifeless, and there for the taking, just like the bag. This is all seen through the dominant masculine gaze which offers pleasure to the (male) viewer with a scopophilic instinct or the pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic subject (Mulvey, 17). The image of the women are passive, and stand in contrast to the active male gaze which dominates consumer advertising and culture, as a result upholding the patriarchal order.
This Gucci ad is not just selling a handbag, it is selling a way of being which centers around the perpetuation of traditional gender stereotypes that keep women powerless and passive and eroticize their bodies for consumption by the dominant male gaze.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, vol. 16, no. 3, 1975, pp. 6-18.