Deconstruction of Ad:
The ad that I’ve chosen was made by American Apparel during the time that founder Dov Charney still ran the company. Charney ran the company from 1984 to 2014, branding American Apparel through provocative ad campaigns, until he was fired for sexually harassing his employees. Charney was known for using sex, namely through the female form, to sell his clothing. Over the course of his tenure at American Apparel, numerous ads were banned, often due to gratuitous nudity or the sexualisation of minors. Despite that, Charney’s ad campaigns were award winning, earning praise and helping to establish a commercially successful brand. For my culture jam, I chose an ad that was run in one of their print magazines. In the ad, the viewer is introduced to the model Dana, through the inclusion of the following blurb:
“Meet Dana. She’s from Etobicoke, Ontario. Her father has been in the auto industry for as long as she can remember and taught her everything there is to know about cars. She’s passionate about music, riding on the backs of motorcycles and hot dudes with big muscles. She loves wearing sexy outfits, especially stripper clothes and high heels. Her favorite color right now is mint but sometimes she likes white. She loves the film Wild at Heart and she’s infatuated with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. She graduated from Silverthorne High with a just-passing 50% average, and all she remembers about her school days is cutting class and smoking weed. Fortunately for us, Dana recently quit her job as a waitress at a restaurant in Toronto and hopes to model for American Apparel in the future.”
Beside the enlarged figure of Dana is the above wall of descriptive text. While the brand name “American Apparel” is large and legible, the descriptive “Meet Dana” blurb is printed in a small and compact font, forcing the viewer to have to consciously read it. The ad’s lack of focus on the product itself is interesting. Without previously knowing that American Apparel sells micromesh bodysuits, there is no indication towards a particular product. Instead, we are introduced to Dana, an aspiring American Apparel model. Her face is overcast in shadow sending it back from the viewer’s focus, while her body—specifically her chest—is brightened, in a technique used by designers and photographers to control where the viewer’s eye focuses. The darkness of her nipples creates a contrast, the “chiaroscuro” technique, made famous by Leonardo Da Vinci. The composition is consistent with the practice of objectification common in American Apparel advertising. The woman and her body are reduced to the status of the clothing itself: a product made to be consumed. In addition to my main Culture Jam project, I have adjusted a second American Apparel ad and included it to highlight the company’s consistent theme in the dehumanization and gratuitous objectification of female body parts.
In my Culture Jam, I want to address the dehumanization and commodification of the female body present in this ad. First, I wanted to address the model. I decided to highlight the composition of the ad’s “subtle” dehumanization of her person and face, by cutting her head from the image altogether. The viewer focuses on her body as something to be consumed, rather than viewing her as a person with agency. Therefore, cropping the image highlights this separation of her body from personality. To reinforce this, I addressed the block of text, headed “Meet Dana,” to the right. I found an interesting contrast between the content of this section of text, and its format and in comparison with the other elements of the ad. I decided to rewrite it with the purpose of disillusioning the company’s supposed interest in Dana’s person, and the ad design’s specific use of formatting techniques, like small font and large word count, to negate the content’s purpose and successful reception. My line “don’t worry man” calls attention to the way this ad caters specifically to the male gaze. My re-write goes on to explain to this assumed straight male viewer that the product (which in this case is an unmentioned mesh bodysuit) doesn’t matter, the purpose of the ad was to showcase the “goods” of American apparel: women’s bodies. There is an notable connection between the writing style of this ad and pornographic magazines such as Penthouse and Hustler. Both give some details about their models, highlighting qualities such as clothing choice and activities that create a sexually charged fantasy-narrative for the reader. This style choice reinforces the idea that the ad is selling a woman’s body. I finish off my culture jam with a final change to the line at the bottom, adding the nickname “Daddy” to Charney’s name. This is a reference to his self-given nickname that he would use to harass his employees at work and infamously in emails, and further highlights the sexual undertones of his American Apparel ads.