From this month on, Africultures proposes its new « Black Logo » column. Written by Pascal Blanchard, the column was initially published in the now-defunct monthly journal Dynamiksud (see the February 2002 issue, Des Ailes pour un ange noir!/Wings for a Black Angel!). The idea is pretty straightforward. We will select and briefly analyse a current French advert that is somehow related to Africa or African people. This month, the Paris bus and metro company, the RATP invites us to travel
In January 2002, an eye-catching advert posted up around Paris caught our attention. There were no obvious stereotypes. On the contrary. Or maybe not anyway
The ad features a young, mixed couple. Smiling, good-looking, they are symbols of the « Black-Blanc-Beur » multicultural society that rides on the metro everyday. They are clearly in love (Weekend in Rome!), complicit, and happy to be alive. A perfect campaign. It even won the CB News Communication prize. So why have we chosen it for Black logo?
For three reasons. Firstly, because this advert is seen to be perfectly correct. Secondly, because it was consecrated by the advertising moguls. Thirdly, because it depicts the white man/black woman couple. It is « perfect » for our column, therefore, precisely because everybody thinks it is « perfect ». But, excuse me if I beg to differ!
The young woman is conspicuously mixed-race, a choice that reinforces the exoticism and eroticism of the situation. We must desire her. Just like the young man, we must want to accompany her to Rome. Whether fantastical (literature) or historical (the colonial relation), this clearly relates back to the ancient relationship to the black (here mixed-race) woman who offers herself up to the white conqueror. The opposite – a black man/white woman – would be hard to imagine in this sexually connoted relationship, or considerably less effective at any rate. It indeed involves a play on a very ancient fantasy. Since Loti, Bordeaux, Doctor Jacobus and even Céline, the literature of a certain period (that of colonial France) always constructed the relationship between our two continents in terms of a sexual relationship. The words they chose demonstrate this most clearly: conquest, peaceful penetration, domination, submission The French Union. Ever since the turn of the century, advertisers have also been seduced by this black body, not only in chromatic terms, but also to signify a sexual relationship with these powerful and fascinating bodies. From Josephine Baker to Grace Jones, the entire century tells the tale of this strange relationship in which white men see all that is forbidden in this black body.
They « are » bodies, essentially bodies, good at dancing, fighting, and loving. They fulfil an aesthetic function, a social function. Their skin colour reflects the blackness of their souls. By « positively » sexualising the black, mixed-race body, this advert indeed fails to break away from these very deep-lying prejudices. It reworks them, transgressing the forbidden, holding her out to us as if she were an offering, a forbidden fruit. We can see her body, but can’t touch it! This couple remains contrary to nature. Swathed in mystery, will this black Venus emerge from purgatory and transcend the myth of Sham, the biblical curse? Quite clearly yes. She’s going to Rome An optimistic note, a redemption for her soul Go on, why not, let’s admit it, this is a « good » ad. Which doesn’t mean that it is « innocent ».
Pascal Blanchard is the director of the communications agency, Les bâtisseurs de mémoire. [email protected]///Article N° : 5630