For the third edition of our « Black Logo » column, Pascal Blanchard analyses a recent advert depicting our relation to Africa. This time, three women sprawl across a car
On our TVs, city’s billboards, and in our magazines, the car manufacturer OPEL has been tempting us with a new hot streets version of our urban world since February 2003. As the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, draws media attention to the « oldest job in the world » by chasing girls off France’s streets, proposing to scour our consciences of this guilty desire for the flesh (it’s evil, and what’s more, they are exploited!), this brand – prostitution = car, everyone knows that from Vincennes to Boulogne, Paris’s notorious sidewalk pick-up points! -dishes them up as advertising icons. « Fresh ideas for the best cars », the manufacturer even has the gall to put it…
But what does this have to do with our « Black Logo » column? The fact that today, prostitution is synonymous with three origins: « African », « the Eastern block », and « Brazilian ». Our little car (a Corsa) suddenly becomes a sexual emblem, a living totem, a machine to cool off these « dogs » on heat This is incredible at a time when Raffarinism and a well-meaning pseudo-moral are lulling France to sleep. Comparing these three women to whores is already shocking enough, but, what’s more, it implies that they need to be cooled off It’s innate, like an uncontrollable organic need. These women need calming down. Their origin is significant. In her stilettos, the « Eastern-block girl » flaunts the bad taste of her situation: leather belt, skimpy shorts, and a bare navel – a « cheap quickie ». The Brazilian is more typical, more installed, more professional: thigh-length leather boots, bare back, and combat gear. As for the young black girl, her body is partially hidden, out of modesty no doubt. She is seen face-on (unlike the others, who are just bodies, their behinds stuck to the car), her Afro hairdo blowing in the wind. Trendy, dolled up, smiling, romantic (almost!), she is different to these « hot creatures » who cors(a)ly drape themselves over a bodywork whose interior air-conditioning gives off a few pearls of freshness. But why?
Because of their guilty conscience, no doubt, for hooker and black would be a bit much and, whilst meeting the expectations of the stereotype and preconceived image (prostitution today), one has to avoid overdoing a character’s negativity. No quarter for the « Eastern-block girls » or the « Brazilians », but there is a hope of redemption for the black girl. Moreover, her protective, almost maternal pose seems to suggest that they are of a different, or dual, nature. Every black woman is a mother at heart! Hence this tender and carnal posture towards the car; hence this difference in attitude vis-à-vis the two other young women.
But does the consumer spot this? Only the strict minority in our view. Indeed, swamped by the mise-en-scène, the young black woman is proffered to the future consumer’s gaze as an object of desire, on the same footing as the Corsa. In advertising dialectics, this is also a mise-en-scène of the car, instrument of sexual conquest. Thanks to the Corsa, the « girls will come flocking »! They will even « rub up » against the bodywork like cats, begging for the coolness of the air-conditioning. This bestial, sexually titillating pose reinforces the use of the black character. We already pointed this out in a previous column, discussing a young mixed-race woman, accessible to the young white man, in a RATP (Paris subway) advert. The black woman is offered up to the white man’s gaze. She is available, accessible, she’s « easy », destined to be the white man’s sexual object the « Eastern-block girl » and the « Brazilian » too for that matter. By acquiring a car, you at the same time acquire this sexual force that will enable the driver-stud to « take » these three women, who symbolise a sexuality up for grabs.
It’s reassuring. The white man (or not necessarily white, for that matter) takes back power. At the same time, one might say, there is a degree of equality in this advert – an equality in its exclusion, for the young black woman is on a same footing as the other prostitutes, or even in a better posture, as we have seen. But it is an equality in inequality that is offered here – like in the colonial days when the natives were equal to one another, but never to the coloniser. That is without a doubt the lesson of this advert. The normality of the situation, the pseudo-equality of the positions, the humour of the mise-en-scène, its irony that the advertising campaign’s creative team give as a pretext in reality hide a standardising of the populations situated on the margins of our world. Populations from Brazil (mixed-race) or the Eastern block (emerging from post-communism), are the proscribed of our time, joining the ranks of the proscribed of the past: black people. Just one woman is missing from the picture: a belly dancer! But in the current climate, with the second Iraqi war, people might not have appreciated her presence
Pascal Blanchard is director of the advertising agency, Les bâtisseurs de mémoire.
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