Culture Jam: Air France Ad

This advertisement was largely circulating about a year ago on local bus stops, and every time I saw it I was overwhelmingly uncomfortable. The number of things going on in this ad are astounding, and yet surprisingly overlooked by many people I spoke with (people without a GRSJ background, at least). The first thing I notice is the sexualization of a female body. The woman in the ad suggests at burlesque dancing, something immediately sexualized in society. It is uncertain whether the woman is wearing anything but the shoes in the photo, and the feathers suggest she is not. Next is the strategic positioning of “Paris” on the woman’s body, near where one might assume her vagina would be. This, to me, is overtly sexual, but also has a hint of feminization and therefore sexualization of land – something that is inherently colonial. Much of the colonial language used to describe foreign lands compares land (for example, North America) as virgin land, mother land, or otherwise fertile land ready to be claimed, enjoyed, or conquered by the male colonizer. The combination of this sexualization of the woman, and the feminization of land, combines to create a much more sinister image than the ad initially suggests. It is this sort of discourse that allowed colonizers – which France, indeed was (one might argue still is) – to come to a “new land”, take its resources, and in many ways rape the land, as well as very literally the women who lived on that land as well. With a country such as France that colonized so many places in the world – Canada, Haiti, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, and many others – to have such colonial imagery on an add about travel comes across as very insensitive, and in my mind is quite dangerous.

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I thought of doing several things to jam this ad, but eventually this is what I came up with (feel free to judge me on my inability to make this on my computer, I already have!). I replaced the photo of a white woman with one of a woman from Cambodia – one of the many places that has been colonized by France. Instead of having her suggestively covered by feathers, I have covered her with the geographical shape of Cambodia, with the capital (not completely geographically accurately) placed above where one might assume her vagina would be. I have to be honest, making this ad made me a little bit uncomfortable, and I originally thought it would be more effective to have a woman naked under the country’s form, but I was not comfortable actually doing so. The form of the woman combined with the form of the country really emphasizes the colonial paradigm of female land, and the sexualization, as well as violation of that land. I replaced the words “France is in the air” (I assume this was originally a play on “love is in the air”) and replaced it with a very unambiguous “colonialism is in the air”, which I think emphasizes the colonial, western idea of being able to travel wherever one pleases without obstacles. the bottom term “just because you can”, which I added, also drives this point home. Much of the colonial history of countries such as Cambodia, as well as Canada, was based on colonizers simply taking what they wanted without a thought for Indigenous people already living on the land. I think my version of the ad really emphasizes how absurd this elitism is, and how damaging such ways of thinking and acting can truly be, however “harmless” their intentions.