Week 11; March 24th-31st Blog Entry #3 (Done by M).

Axe: Preserving Stereotypes

            Over the years, Axe has made a name for itself through hyper sexualized commercials that feature women swarming men because of their distinctive Axe scent.
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            This new Axe commercial, titled Make Love, Not War attempts to diverge from that tired and misogynistic premise; in doing so, itdepicts some of America’s biggest foreign political threats, like the nuclear weapons crisis in Iran, as well as the communist threat in North Korea. However, things are not as they appear when the commercial takes a twist and displays the ostensible leaders of Iran and North Korea performing a gesture of love for their respective partners; hence again the title, Make Love, Not War. This blog will examine the abundances of gendered and radicalized messaging to ultimately conclude that the social constructions that make women subordinate to men, and the ‘whiteness’ that is essentially a prerequisite to heroism, run rampant in this Axe commercial.

            At the outset, it is obvious that Axe has not entirely changed its sexualized marketing scheme as evident by the not-so-subtle sexual undertone in the commercial title Make Love, Not War. Axe insinuates that making love is the antonym to war, and love can be achieved presumably with the simple application of Axe body spray. This implication is even more obvious in the first scene; a seeming male aggressor in an army tank turns a corner to find a classically beautiful woman staring down the tank’s barrel. Despite disastrous battlegrounds, the woman’s makeup is perfectly intact, and her six-inch vibrant red heels are without tarnish. In a typical Axe commercial, it would not be uncommon to see women undoing their tops and relentlessly pouncing on the male subject. However in this commercial, the females are given slightly more agency by showing their fearlessness towards heavy military artillery, complimented with eye-line camera shots that convey authority. This challenges the general societal view that women are “nurturing, self-sacrificial, and empathetic” (Tolmie). Still, when the tank’s operator rears his head, the woman can’t help but throw herself at her seeming boyfriend, ruining any independent authority she once had. Similarly in the next scene a helicopter lands on a desolate field, and another soldier is reunited with his seeming wife. Again, the second wife is classically beautiful, and regardless of the flailing dust from the helicopter propellers, her white garments remain pristine. To account for both women’s faultless appearances, consider the first lecture when professor Tolmie discussed how in advertisement, women are often portrayed as perfect, and can do no wrong (Tolmie). This ties back to professor Tolmie’s discussion on the “politics of rescue”, which essentially outlined the male-female rescuer dichotomy that places females in positions of distress, and males in positions of power to save them. This in turn works to perpetuate the social constructions that have determined men to have “dominance, wealth, competitiveness, physical prowess, violence, and physical perfection”, and women as being helplessly reliant on men for saving (Tolmie). Axe chose to subtly exploit these societal conventions in this commercial, which work against the equal society for which we strive.
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            Underlying racial messages play an important role in this commercial as well. For example, the second scene in which the soldier comes to the rescue of the Asian woman is a classic example of man being a ‘white knight’ and forcing cultural hegemony. Along with the obvious sexist undertones mentioned above, this scene is indicative of the Western mentality that countries like America and England can be saviors to less developed Eastern countries. Amidst the chaos in this scene, a community of Asian people is shown as running away, terrified at the sight of the military helicopters. Professor Tolmie discussed orientalism, a concept that suggests the East to be “exotic, mysterious, secret, uncivilized, a binary opposite to the West” (Tolmie). Upon close examination of this scene, it is obvious Axe attempts to convey this Asian community uncivilized by showing huts made of wood, and a rural location that suggests exotic lands (Tolmie). As professor Tolmie put it, this type of orientalism creates an ‘other’ effect (Tolmie).

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            It is important to note Axe is a brand from the United Kingdom, and accordingly this commercial is made from a British perspective. However, this does not excuse the blatant racial stereotyping that is evident from the onset. Not only does Axe heighten the perception of ‘Western greatness’ by showing white people saving the day time after time, but Axe actually evokes a racist nuance by assigning the first instinct audiences have of Iran and North Korea to terrorist threats. With missiles being driven across the scene, the commercial flips to an ostensible Kim Jong Un presiding over a military assembly with his wife next to him. With this, Axe wants the audience to associate North Korea with communism and terrorism. In spite of all this, the North Korean leader presents his wife with a portrait of the two of them as opposed to an outward terrorist display that was implied by the ominous music. As if she’s relieved, Kim Jong Un’s wife grabs his hand. While this scene appears harmless, it is another prime example of sexism. It says that women cannot handle violence, which corroborates professor Tolmie’s point that women are seen as too delicate for violence and war (Tolmie). The same situation happens in what appears to be Iran. The Iranian leader is handed what seems to be the trigger to a bomb. When he pushes the trigger, fireworks explode in the sky. Axe used racial profiling here; axe implies that Iranians are prone to acts of terror. Similar to the North Korean leader’s wife, when the Iranian leader’s wife discovered it was merely fireworks exploding in the sky she gave her husband a forgiving laugh. This prompts one main question: is the falsehood that women cannot handle violence a product of Eastern societies only, or is this a universal belief? Either way, because Axe is a Western brand, this commercial comes off as unashamedly racist and sexist.
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            Overall, this Axe commercial is not unlike the others. It involves female subordination to men, as well as a component of Axe commercials I have never witnessed—racism.

– M

            

Tolmie, . “Gender, race, and Popular Culture.” Lecture 5, 7, 11. Queen’s University.             Kingston, Ontario. . Address.

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4 Comments

  1. Week 11; March 24th-31st – Comment/Response (Done by S).

    I think I’m becoming very disillusioned with the world of advertising. Gone are the days of watching movies or television in the comfortable bliss of ‘being in the moment’, Thank goodness for knowledge and awareness. Now I find myself looking through the multiplicity of messages conveyed and employing intersectional analysis to dissect what lies beneath the surface. Like you articulated in your blog; Like old Spice, Axe does have a reputation for its commercials. At the end of this particular blog assignment I feel a sense of outrage at the messages that each of the ads we’ve blogged about portrayed. As I read your blog I felt a personal connection with your comments regarding the politics of rescue; the entire notion of the ‘damsel in distress’ syndrome that females require rescuing because they’re weak, because they mess up, because they can’t handle what ever they’re faced with, because they’re not strong enough, smart enough….shall I continue to list the many ways that women do not live up to someone’s standards? For a brief moment I held my breath in anticipation watching the first women stand defiantly before a military tank as the turret turned and the gun pointed towards her. What a victory to overcome characteristics of emphasized femininity only to be replaced by an all to familiar scene depicting a heterosexual relationship where the male holds the position of authority and power and the woman submits to her place. The fact that Axe would choose to perpetuate the stereotype of the ‘helpless women’ juxtaposed against images of the dominant, self-assured, powerful and in-control male speaks volumes about their respect for equality in western society. The addition of humour just adds insult to injury!

    – S.

  2. I thought that not only did this blog identify the obvious racial oppression that is going on in the commercial, but also the sexist undertones. The women all fall to the knees of their men and as you said, are all portrayed with a flawless and un-obtainable beauty. When I watched this commercial I was shocked at the harsh stereotypes that were portrayed by the different races as well. I was really surprised by the portrayal of the Iranian man representing a terrorist, especially after 9/11 when the ‘stereotypical terrorist’ image exploded and so much oppression had been put on their race and similar races as well. Your blog did a great job of also referencing to Professor Tolmie’s lectures and you covered the two extreme aspects of racism and sexism in this commercial.
    -R

  3. I agree that Axe commercials have a history of being misogynistic and sexist, but the introduction of racism to their advertisements is a new twist that makes me an even smaller fan of theirs. I will acknowledge that I enjoyed how all of the woman were wearing covering clothes and not bikinis. It is unfortunate that by attempting to have a more multicultural and diverse commercial than their previous ones, they focused on and glorified some of the biggest and most threatening stereotypes about the different groups of people that they included. I don’t think that the idea of women not being able to handle violence was entirely communicated in this commercial as two of the women were directly faced with threats (one directly staring at a tank pointed at her and another walking towards a man with a gun) and did not back down. Although these women did not seem afraid it would have been more advancing to see one of the women in this commercial playing the role of a soldier.
    -L

  4. Your blog does a great job at identifying the major problematic components of the Make Love, Not War Axe commercial. I specifically like your interpretation on the depiction of women. Along with the first two women who were conveniently – or not so conveniently – flawless despite the surrounding tragedy, the Iranian women at the end of the commercial was a fairly poor representation in my opinion. Her facial features were very westernized along with her extremely pale face. I personally don’t think Axe chose actresses representative of their implied culture and ethnicity. I also agree with you and find that the general plot of this commercial sends a negative message about the featured countries. I got the impression that if it wasn’t for the axe body spray, then missiles would have been fired, the solider would have shot, and the tank would have killed. Even though the commercial doesn’t end this way – because of the saviour cologne – the stereotypes are implied.

    – J.

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