As my youth groups know, I like to deconstruct advertising. We ask what is being sold to us—a ‘mere’ product or a particular lifestyle and ideology? What kind of myths and desires are being appealed to?
Diesel’s “Be Stupid” campaign caught my eye in San Francisco the other day. Here’s a sample:
When I saw the words “Be Stupid” (with no accompanying photo) on the window of the Diesel store downtown, I thought the campaign was, well, dumb. “Be stupid? Our country has definitely succeeded in that area,” I thought.
So I went to the website to see how their advertising philosophy was fleshed out. Check it out here. Watch the video, so you can see what kind of idea of ‘stupid’ they have in mind: Creative, heartfelt, risk-taking, etc. Throughout the messy website, Diesel’s advertising campaigns are “fleshed out” quite literally. As is the case with most clothes marketed to young people, sexualized bodies (hyped up into a mythical ideal) has become a standard. Diesel goes so far as to create a campaign called “Sex Sells.” Obviously, they’re using models who go to the gym a bit more than I do.
In the end, I find that Diesel is not doing anything particularly novel with their campaigns. “Be Stupid” and “Sex Sells” are somewhat rote, boring, unoriginal in my mind. They rely on tired myths about youth culture: “We’re risk-taking and sex-crazed!” Their use of “Sex Sells” tries to appropriate a common criticism of advertising, but to want end? (In case you didn’t peruse the website, they put jeans in sex positions, but it appears as if the human bodies are invisible.) If there wasn’t so much standard-sexy flesh-photos in the “Sex sells” campaign and instead used ONLY the invisible-bodied jeans-having-sex, then I would consider it playful and original. (The subtitle of the campaign is, “unfortunately we sell jeans.”) Rather, Diesel is utilizing the standard Abercrombie and American Apparal sexy blah-blah.
What upsets me is how these myths of youth—“always risk-taking and sex-crazed”—are imposed upon youth BY ADULTS. These advertisers are not the age of their models or their targeted demographic. They are adults in an industry that imposes certain ideologies upon the adolescent and young adult experience. They say we SHOULD be taking risks and craving sex (at the expense of other desires, such as bodily health and meaningfully intimate relationships).
I advertise a different ideology and lifestyle. Don’t “be stupid” enough to think that intelligence is diametrically opposed to creativity. One thing the advertisers won’t ever tell you is that foolishness for Christ means to “be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
As Paul writes to the Corinthian church: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ… To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly.”
And then he said, “NOW LET’S ALL GO BUY $300 PAIRS OF JEANS!!!”
And all the people said, “Amen.”