Date of this Version
A teenage girl kneels on the backseat of a car in short shorts, turning toward the camera with a look both innocent and wanton. A young man lounges shirtless, his top fly button open, gazing with lazy invitation through the frame. "What’s the story in these ads?" I ask students. "Well, you know," they shrug, "sex sells." Frustrated at how this aphorism closes down discussion, I have begun to consider its status as a commonsense response to some advertising. Antonio Gramsci and others have written about how "commonsense" beliefs become naturalized, taken for granted as "the way things are," and thereby obscure their own ideological foundations. "Sex sells" precludes further analysis: "Well, what can you say? We all know that sex sells and that advertisers use sexualized images of women/men/ teens/whomever to market products." The common sense of "sex sells" masks the relationship between sexuality and commerce, discouraging analysis of the particular ways that sex is articulated to marketing and ignoring the limits placed on visible manifestations of sexuality in advertising and commercial media. To put this another way, when might sex not sell? What manifestations of sex are not commercially viable? How do some forms of sex preclude selling?
Date Posted: 22 April 2008