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