Monday, February 18, 2013

And Beyond

In the previous post I discussed AXE's new advertising campaign which utilizes the Astronaut archetype to sell their new product. Essentially, AXE promises that their product will transport the consumer from the real world to the land of mythology, where anything can happen. This is the basis for pretty much all advertising: a Subaru will bring you love; eating McDonald's shows intelligence; drinking Budweiser makes you a part of something greater. These are all things that happen in the hero's journey. I.E. At the end of the quest, Mario gets Princess Peach, Desmond learns the way to the Truth, and, well, Call of Duty soldiers cheer that they survived.

All the heroes go through amazing journeys to accomplish amazing things. They move and shake the world to protect and better it, allowing them to gain happiness, success, and immortality. Society takes note of their actions, and emulate them however they can in the real world. No, they're not literally shooting up the whole plantation house, but they're standing up for themselves and demanding change. Now, most of these heroic acts, whether through buying products, playing a video game character, or watching them in a TV show or movie, are performed by male heroes.

At the end of his Astronaut journey, Pi finds unshakable Faith
Life of Pi, Fox 2000 Pictures, 2012
 I have already gone over the implications of hyper-masculine heroes, as well as the exclusion of girls from movie culture. This post is not an argument for more heroines, but one that explores the implications of male archetypes as a heroes/role models for females. Not in the Freudian sense, which where the male hero would be a father-figure type that she would find sexual attraction to. (After all the friend-zone actually exists.) Is it so hard to conceive a woman identifying with Capt. Jack Sparrow, Batman, or even Simba? Just because society says that Hollywood stars are sexy doesn't mean that women can't learn from their characters' struggles.

Let's take Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. This Cowboy wants to be free, independent, and rich (in rum), and is very adamant about maintaining these characteristics. On the other hand, Elizabeth Swan, the female protaganist, starts out as a fairly demure dame, who seems rather resigned to marry the stuffy British Navy(?) guy. It's not until she's kidnapped by Sparrow that her heroic attributes appear; she's emulates her captor in order to escape him, and become her own free, independent, and rich (in love) person. So, even if the female viewer is looking to Swan for guidance, she's really looking to Sparrow.

Now, we have a young woman using the techniques of her male heroes in order to get what she wants in life: a free, independent, and rich. She's not above bending the rules, not telling the whole truth, or or drinking her fair share of liquid courage. I mean, that's what Capt. Sparrow did, and perhaps she wants to continue living out her bachelor-ette life in frivolity and fun.

Elizabeth Swann manipulates Capt. Jack Sparrow using her sexuality. and targeting his weakness (for rum).
In this clever and piratesque act, she gains control of the rum stash, and proceeds to burn it, thereby saving herself (and the Capt.)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003  

People, however, don't expect that out of a woman. After all Swan ends up sacrificing this, that, or the other thing in order to be with her have a true love (and a baby). It's the the fairy-tale status-quo happy ending for heroines: meet guy, fall in love, have baby, the end. Meanwhile, Sparrow (and Turner) gets to trapeze the seas and continue to pursue his dream of immortality, as in never ending. American myth/society expects women to eventually end up in the domestic role, never mind what the woman actually wants for herself. We can argue that the women have a biological desire to have children, or just concede that its a sociological pressure.

A Pirate-Woman's Bliss: Where you get to raise a child on your own and see your immortal husband every 10 years.
Puts another twist on Sparrow's "Now Bring me that horizon"
 (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, after credits scene, 2007)

A 'tomboy' attitude is acceptable to a point; wanting to be a leader, express your opinions, acknowledging a sex-drive, and (heaven forbid) being independent don't sound like inherently bad things for a woman, but when put into action people become off-put. Whether they be the woman's coworker, boss, love interest, or stranger, the masculine personality clashes with expectations and causes friction. Some people reading this are thinking, 'not at all, sounds like an awesome woman to me.' Which is true, but is it because the standard is different for women than it is for men. Exceeding expectations is nice, but that is not the same as being judged differently because people don't expect you to succeed? Do you expect this woman to obtain her happiness, which may or may not include becoming mother or other 'domestic' role?

No one believes in the true female-hero. As Anne-Marie Slaughter discussed in her article Why Women Still Can't Have It All last year, everyone has an opinion about what a woman ought to do in order to be 'feminist', 'proper', or 'realistic'. A man moving in with his girlfriend is considered manly and making a commitment.* Society congratulates him on becoming an adult. Meanwhile the woman is seen as giving up on a career and resigning to a life of homemaking OR as a floozy who can't keep up appearances OR as a poor decision because romance isn't real. A no win situation. A Girl's situation.

I could write a whole post about how Merida didn't fulfill all our expectations.
Brave, Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, 2012
So while AXE encourages young males to blast into space and enter the world of mythology, young women look on with contempt, while celebrating the woman who will be an iconoclast. She won't be a woman who became an Astronaut hero. Her own aspirations of as an individual will be eclipsed by the larger message. She'll be a woman who infiltrated the male hierarchy, who exceeded the expectations that society put on her.

I don't want readers to get the wrong idea. I support women's rights, promoting gender equality, and showing off its amazing women heroes. What I mean by this post is, women are not seen as equal to men. Even with a male mindset, females have to battle against society's conventions. Society (as a generalization) does not think women capable of residing in the land of mythology. It's a reality that can't be escaped: Women who emulate their masculine heroes may go 'beyond' expectations, but still fall short of reaching infinity.

* Yes this is a generalized statement. But when was the last time you heard a man criticized for moving in with his girlfriend because 'he needed to go to college' or 'Was being immoral'? I would be a lot less times than if they were directed towards a woman. Please tell me if you think this is unfair. I don't but, hey, maybe I'm a feminist bee.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Infinity

AXE, the adolescent fragrance line, has taken a note from Redbull. They're sponsoring a private trip to space and using it to advertise their product line, Apollo. However, the 'astronauts' on the trip won't be some daredevil or the CEO; they're holding a competition where contestants must be up-voted. The top ten will then go to space camp, and the two that do best there will strap in and ship out to space.

Both AXE and Redbull produce products largely aimed towards males, and, arguably, towards white males. AXE, obviously, is made for males only, so it makes sense for them to only advertise to males. They do have some commercials featuring non-whites (see below), but they all give about the same message.


As in all AXE commercials, the spot implies that using AXE products negates women's sexual selection process, and they will all but lay down and spread their legs for you based on the scent. Effective for a teenage boy. The product supposedly allows the teenager to enter into a fictional realm of happily ever after. It will create an aura around him of sexual worthiness, much like that of the hero of myth.

The new product line, Apollo, takes it one step further. Watch this commerical:

Earlier AXE commercials merely gave ordinary boys (I will not say men) the ability to catch a sexually willing woman without any sort of effort. No clear job, no saying hello, no smile. Divine women would lower their standards for him, just because he smelt good. With the Apollo line, boys don't even have to compete with the handsome, athletic, and productive. It doesn't even the playing field, but gets rid of it with a mask of musk.

I love, love, love these commercials because they are pretty clear evidence of my theories on New American Mythology. "Nothing Beats an Astronaut ... Ever" I mean, come on, that's awesome. It reverses the 'angels fall to earth' scheme to 'we'll send yo to the heavens'. Even the tagline for the space academy competition creates a sense of epic purpose: "Leave a Man. Come back a Hero" Its so beautifully full of New American Mythology.

AXE is using the Astronaut to sell their products to teens who subscribe, subconsiously or not, to the mythology behind the archetype. The Astronaut always wins, the Astronaut is the hero. And its not a phenomenon only AXE has picked up on:

This minute-long origin story implies that all babies (read: the winning sperm) are Astronauts.  They go through an mystical epic journey launching from an eden [West] to the unknown of Space, to arrive here on Earth. How heroic.The fact that the dad 'saves the day' (obscures the truth) and turns on the CD player via voice command serves to reinforce the idea of the fictionalized world as better than reality.

That is to say, the ideas behind Mythology hold a more valuable lesson than those of science. And this is an American truth. You, small boy, were one out of a whole planet, chosen(?) to launch into space and arrive here. You are special. E pluribus unum. Because you did that, you can do so much more, like get any girl to throw herself on you, and all will be well.

Star Trek, 2009
AXE Apollo worked for resident nerd Spock.
How else would he have gotten Uhura over Kirk? Brains? psh.

 It is a much nicer thing to say than: After a lot of maturation, courting, and financial stability, your mother and I did the horizontal mambo, where one of my sperm happened to run into one of your mom's ~400 eggs at the right time, and made it through the crazy thing called gestation without any major mutations or hiccups. One day you can do that too, but only after you figure out how to make your advantages stand out more than your flaws to a woman, then convince her its a good idea to commit to you (or vice versa), and then hope that everything will not be disastrous.

The odds are against us all. We need mythology to give us some direction in our lives, to give us aspirations, to give us examples of what we could do. AXE is tapping into the mythology blurring the line of reality even more. Whoever goes up is not going to be a real astronaut, not in the sense of James Lovell or Buzz Aldrin- they won't be in charge. They will get a simulacra of an experience in which all will be real except for their actual roles as astronauts. But that's not the point. AXE isn't just offering a free ride to space; it's offering an escape from reality.

Plan B: Cosplay!
Found here.

AXE Apollo promises to the males out there that they can, in fact, become the Astronauts they see in the movies. The AXE Apollo campaign will send you to Space, to infinity. Just like Disneyland and Universal Studios, AXE Apollo Space Academy allows you, the person from reality, to enter the realm of mythology. Just a a fashion photo shoot in TeenVogue promises young girls buying such-n-such products will make you more like a 'princess'/heroine, therefore more appealing, and therefore happier, AXE Apollo promises to make boys more of a hero, more appealing, and therefore happier.

Emma Watson in TeenVogue, August 2009
The situation is a bit ridiculous, but, hey, I'm jealous.

The difference in a fashion magazine and a TV commercial, however, is very, very different. In the relevance hierarchy of New American Mythology, print media is always at the bottom AND heroic epic always trumps fairy tales.* If 'nothing beats an Astronaut', where does that leave Ms. Watson? As far as I could tell magic couldn't launch her into space, and those ponies can't pull a carriage10ft, let alone to the moon.

Advertising heroism to only men has multiple implications to both male and female psyche. However, I'll save that rant for the next post: And Beyond

*Or not. I'm currently working out the new fairy-tale fad.