Turning Gaze into Currency

I just luff women.

The Crown Royal ad is an interesting example of redirecting the male gaze, turning it briefly into a hermeneutic puzzle. The idea of the male gaze is an old one, one that has taken various forms and assumed numerous purposes over the past few centuries. In fact, the male gaze contained ad-like properties long before advertising became what it is today.

Here I will explore how the male gaze provides the narrative twist that drives this particular whiskey ad. My topic is the male gaze and the absent spectator.

My first glance at this ad revealed an artist (who, by his pose, reminded me immediately of Norman Rockwell) who seems to be painting the Crown Royal bottle after a model of a woman. She is posing as we imagine female models do for artists, subjecting herself to his gaze and his act of objectifying her on canvas. But, because the painting is actually not of her (body) as such, this ad seemed like a double objectification: once of her being painted by the artist, again being substituted for - or actually becoming - the bottle of whiskey.

Ah, but upon further analysis, I found the objectification ran deeper yet. For, although she has assumed the role of "appearing," she is actually not being substituted for a bottle at all - which would have some (jaded) sense of activity in it - but is completely useless, completely inactive because there is actually a bottle to the left of her, which Norman prefers as the model for his painting. The inclusion of the male gaze has been a tease, an invitation to participate in recognizing a twist of signifiers. If we get this, we draw the inference that Crown Royal is of higher beauty and desirability (value) than the winsome lass posed for us as the absent male spectator. And yet it is precisely her appearance which has lent value to the Crown Royal bottle.

Based on this new insight, we can add several more layers of objectification to her being in this ad: In addition to what we have identified before, she now serves not even as a passive utility, but is made also superfluous. Finally, the graphic which makes up this ad is an ad in-and-of-itself and therefore to be observed by yet another external viewer. She is objectified again.

by Arjan Schutte/ edited by Bob Goldman

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