Thursday, April 8, 2010

Our group is researching the way in which men act and women appear in advertisements in Edmonton. In his book, Ways of Seeing, John Berger explains, “[women] come to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another... One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” This relationship of how women react to men choosing women as an object of the gaze is the basis of our blog. We are examining the visual advertising utilized by nightclubs, bars, lounges, et cetera, that involve the objectification of women through their sexual appearances on billboards, and other visual marketing ploys in, and for the night life hotspots of Edmonton. Our research will be looking at the relationship of the viewer, and the advertisement through study of scopophilia, voyeurism, the gaze, and interpellation of the target market. The main form of documentation for this visual phenomenon will be photography, and digital copies of the advertisements seen every day.

Interpellation, as defined by Sturken and Cartwright, is “the process by which ideological systems call out or “hail” social subjects and tell them their place in the system.” While the image is summoning “you”, the intended “you” that the image is referring to is never defined. Althusser explains that “we are not so much unique individuals, but rather we are “always already” subjects. This means that according to the process of interpellation, we are always susceptible to being the recipients of a subject’s message, whether we welcome this interruption or not. As seen from the ad, the models are clearly pointing to someone outside of the frame. As a viewer, we assume that the women are seeking our attention, despite the fact that neither are personally calling out to each of us individually. As viewers, we assume that the women are summoning us specifically to join them to party at Union Hall to “Rock Harder”. The billboard implies that if the audience (specifically “you”, who is being personally hailed) leaves the dull life they currently lead and frequent Union Hall to “Rock Harder”, they will come into contact with beautiful, free spirited women like those featured in the billboard and will have an enjoyable time. Based on Lacanian theory, the subject is being told by the advertisement that they are lacking specifically what is being offered. By embracing the lifestyle being advertised, the component which they are lacking will be fulfilled, thus completing the self.

The gaze is a term that is often altered as it changes the hands of social theorists throughout time, though some underlying themes do remain constant. Universally, the gaze can be described as the relational act of looking between the subject (the looker) and the object of the gaze, embedding desire within the subject. But how is this gaze established? Why do we look, what keeps us looking? What role do we play within this entrancing relationship? As discussed further in this blog, our attempts to carry on our daily tasks without distraction are thwarted by the highly attractive scantily clad women, hailing our attention through interpellation. Our look is held by the socially constructed embodiment of beauty looking back at us (or not), thus establishing the relational act of the gaze, our role as the spectator, and implanting the desire for the object, or model of our gaze within us. These sexy advertisements have one purpose, and that is to bring customers to the door of the campaigning bar, and since sexuality within bar advertisements is such a common site, it must be a successful formula.

Attracting the relational gaze of the public is one of the main goals in visual advertising, and this tactic is greatly exemplified by current bar billboards, though these campaigns do not necessarily fit the traditional Lacanian canon of the gaze. Through the establishment of the spectator and the object, these massive advertisements act to create large amounts of mainly sexual desire within the viewer. This desire that is created within the subject by the model is hoped to create a link between the sexual desire for the model, and the bar that she is representing. In a traditional sense, the desire placed within the spectator is done through the gaze’s relational act of looking; the subject is looking intently at the object, while the object is projecting a message back to the subject through a reflected gaze. Although the women in these pictures do instil desire within the viewer, many of the models defy the idea of “relational looking” as a requirement to establish a desirable gaze. As seen above, women within the hyper sexualized world of bar advertising often totally avert their eyes from contact with the viewer, be it through looking down or away, or being presented as a faceless entity altogether. When being shown as faceless beings (through look aversion, or tactical coverage by a hat), the models often appear to be presented as a true sexual object to the viewer, without the identifying, or genuinely unique features of a face. In this way they are entirely objectified, stripped of features that make us innately human, being presented as a mere item for the subject to look at, and desire. An effective marketing strategy? Yes, but also a way of showcasing models as objects of pure desire.

Michel Foucault thought of the gaze as a method for conveying power, and the relationship of power between the subject, and the object of the gaze. There is an interesting variance in the amount of power given to these billboard models, ranging from submission, to near aggression. The power of the object, or lack of power, can be communicated to the spectator in multiple ways, be it camera positioning, clothing, surroundings, or body positioning, which appears to be one of the most important factors when establishing power. As displayed in the most recent pictures, there are vast discrepancies in the power portrayed by the object, to the viewer. When the model is looking down, and away from the camera, avoiding eye contact, she appears to be in an almost submissive state, conveying weakness and giving power to the subject. In a recent interview with local billboard model “Ms. S”, on April 6, 2010 she stated “[the photographer] really stressed keeping my hand on my hat, and my hat over my face. I had much more choice in the pose of my body than the view of my face.”(to read between the lines) When looking directly back at the subject, this is not a direct challenge to the power assigned to the passerby, however this eye contact, with a raised head, begins to deplete the feeling of submission. The image featured directly above, was used as a marketing campaign for Union Hall, where the model appears to be almost aggressive, portraying her power through her authoritative stance, head held up, and the positioning of the camera below the model (as if she is towering above the photographer). Although this woman may be a challenge to the viewer’s assigned power, she manages to do so while still remaining an object of sexual desire.

In psychoanalytic terms, scopophilia is the general pleasure in looking (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009). Many of these advertisements are directly geared towards male spectators based on the fact that there are no males in the advertisements, only attractive females based on society’s norms of femininity, but they also have an impact on females as engaging in scopophilia. Based on norms of heterosexuality, when men pass this billboard on the street they gain pleasure from looking at the models advertised as being the type of girls who attend that bar scene. As females observe this billboard they also gain pleasure from looking at the models, and think that if they attend this particular bar, they will be looked upon in the same desirable way as the models on the billboard. A sub category of scopophilia is called voyeurism, which is the erotic pleasure in watching without being seen and has
historically been associated with the masculine spectator (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009). There is a sense of power attached to voyeurism that the onlooker has over the object that is being watched. Take the example of the picture shown and how the girls are placed in such a position where you are suggested to be looking at them without them knowing. They are caught in a pose that signifies movement, and that they are carefree of their surroundings, which allows the onlooker to gain the pleasure of looking without being noticed. There is no eye contact made with the camera, and some of the models faces are hidden by props such as their cowboy hats, which makes them seem passive compared to the person who is asserting the power of looking upon them.

As much as women are portrayed in a sexual fashion within the billboard community, there has been an interesting recent marketing scheme deployed by companies under the same ownership as the Century Grill, by using sexuality, without the actual physical appearance of a sexual object. The company will use phrases such as “The Grill of Your Dreams”, “Not the Grill Next Door”, and “A Perfect 10”, assigning idealised feminine characteristics to a restaurant’s dining experience, attempting to tie a meal to meeting someone of the opposite sex.

A current billboard appearing on Edmonton streets advertises for Edmonton’s International BeerFest using a young, well endowed, beer drinking Caucasian model to promote this upcoming event. Stereotypically, men are perceived as beer drinkers, and “going out for a beer with the boys” is a common phrase used among Western males to symbolize male bonding. It is ironic that a female model (who epitomizes society’s description of beauty) is used in this advertisement. Instead of featuring a picture of men engaging in the tradition of “guys’ nights” and “male bonding over beer”, the BeerFest billboards use a female (who stereotypically prefer fruity, colourful drinks over beer) to promote the event by tapping into male Edmontonian’s sexual drives. The message sent to the audience is becoming a universal message appearing in all bar advertisements in Edmonton stating, once again, “the beautiful woman is enjoying herself; you should be here to enjoy it with her!” Does this suggest that Edmontonian’s agree with this value and the lifestyle portrayed in these ads? Furthermore, these billboards and flyers raise the question of accuracy in advertisement for Edmonton. Is this a good representative of the demographics who attend these bars and events? Does this influence the physical appearance that women strive to attain when frequenting these bars, or do these advertisements portray the image already possessed by the women? In the provided link you will find a youtube video of the making of a photoshoot for a cheer team calendar in the United States.

As you watch the video you see mass amounts of makeup, hair stylists, clothing stylists, and custom lighting all contributing to the process to get the end result of the perfect photo. The standards for achieving the perfect photo in Edmonton, are very similar as Ms. S admits on April 6, 2010, “They did a lot of airbrushing, to make everything look smoother. Don't get me wrong, I still look the same in real life, they just took what I had, and made it better.” The average Edmonton woman does not have all of these resources available at their finger tips every night before she goes out on the town, and therefore these billboards are setting a very high standard of an image for the woman of Edmonton to achieve. Based on the 2005 Canadian community health survey, the average Canadian woman’s weight is 153 pounds and a height of 5’3.4”. Although it is hard to tell the height of the models, the weight does not seem to be within the Canadian average, and therefore it is not an accurate representation of Canadian women themselves. We feel as though the advertisements influence the physical appearance the women try to achieve while attending these nightlife hotspots.

There has been a magnitude of nude/naked paintings, primarily of female models, throughout art history. However, there is a significant difference between “nude” and “naked” art. Nude art refers to an idealized depiction of the body, and is not of any one specific model (quite often “Venus” was used as a prototype), but rather depicting the “ideal”. Naked art refers to flawed images portraying imperfections, and in most cases, reality of the human body. “Until quite recently, most collectors of art were men, and the primary viewing audience of art was composed overwhelmingly of men. In a typical depiction of a female nude, a woman is posed so that her body is on display for the viewer’s easy appreciation. …[W]omen are posed as objects of an active or “male” gaze, and their returning looks are often more downcast, indirect, or otherwise coded as passive.” (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009) While all of the models featured on the billboards and in ads for nightclubs in Edmonton are clearly clothed, it could be argued that these pictures are representing a type of modern day “nude art”. The majority of ads for The Ranch Roadhouse were of women portraying the idealized definition of what femininity is today, with sculpted, trim bodies, large breasts, and long flowing hair. The women are posed so that their seductive image can easily be seen by viewers driving by in cars.

Yet, in the majority of the ads for The Ranch Roadhouse, the faces (and therefore, the identities) of the women are never disclosed. The women in the ads usually remain anonymous, and therefore represent an ideal depiction of women in general without specifically narrowing it down to the actual model. Another important aspect of the ads to mention, is that ALL women featured in the ads are Caucasian. This certainly does not represent the people of Edmonton, and does not represent the demographic present at the nightclub itself. Yet, the depiction of beauty and femininity presented by The Ranch Roadhouse and Union Hall is never questioned, and still manage to be one of the most popular nightclubs frequented by women of all shapes, sizes, and colours. This stylized realism representation offers a hyperbole of not only the ethnic concentrations within the city, but also the physical attributes of the women who actually attend these bars being advertised. Why this dense concentration Euro-American models? Perhaps these women are a representation of what our society classifies as desirable outer beauty, and desirable traits on a female. The establishment of this white, well endowed (ironically, the model’s breasts are larger than the bar logo) female norm, brings almost a xenophobic feeling to the advertising, but not xenophobia in a traditional sense. This unwillingness to promote any ethnicity other than Caucasian could be a fear of straying too far from cultural norms.

Sources Cited:

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 1972.

Sturken,M and Cartwright, L. Practices of Looking An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford
University Press. Pages 70, 123, 446.

Photo Credit:

“Edmonton Commercial Industrial Photographer”

“Women sizes: British, USA, Canadaian and Mexican, The age group with the best memory”
John Smith’s Blog,

Group Members: Brett Nisbet, Chelsea Kolstad, Kylee Quinn

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