If you were watching that thrashing of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks last night, chances are you caught Axe’s Superbowl ad, which suggested that world peace could be achieved through heterosexual love.
In the ad, four scenes representing international militarism and aggression are interspersed: 1) Iranian nuclear armament, 2) the Vietnam War, via the iconic helicopter scene of Miss Saigon, 3) North Korean mass conformity, and 4) the tank of Tiananmen Square, reimagined with Russian players. In all four scenes, the love of a woman prevents each of the men from military aggression, and the ad concludes with the insipid message: “Make Love. Not War.”
And while that Coca-Cola ad — and the racist backlash against it — is probably going to grab all the headlines this post-Superbowl Monday morning, I gotta say: yes, this Axe ad was all sorts of wrong (video after the jump).
Of course, one of the most problematic issues here is the misappropriation of (largely Asian) scenes of war in a cheesy, Hallmark-esque ad — all while whitewashing (and White-washing) the myriad human rights violations that are associated with these scenes.
Kim Jong Un reimagined as a sad, lonely man-child looking for love forgets the countless men and women marked as “political prisoners” imprisoned in North Korea under inhumane conditions, including American citizen Kenneth Bae. Invoking the Vietnam War via a scene from a Broadway musical forgets the thousands of Vietnamese civilians who lost their lives in that conflict, including those killed in the My Lai Massacre. Recreating the infamous tank scene of Tiananmen ignores the thousands of Chinese men and women who were killed or imprisoned — some for life — during and following that protest, and the possibility that the unnamed “Tank Man” may have been himself executed by the Chinese government for his action. And, offering an adorable reveal of an Iranian leader pushing a red button to unveil fireworks for his beloved fails to acknowledge that the Iranian government leads the world in per capita human rights violations (Wikipedia documents many of these issues). The notion that all of these deaths could’ve been prevented by a little male-on-female lovin’ is patently offensive to the victims of these tyrannical regimes, and associated military conflicts.
Rather than to stimulate discussion of all of the very real, very human, costs of these conflicts, Axe instead offers a ridiculous, cheesy, and insipid message: Axe body spray can end global war.
In addition, Axe’s depictions of these militaristic scenes reinforce some pretty regressive gender roles. In all four scenes, men are the aggressors: soldiers, tyrants, and despots who pursue war because that’s what men do. In all four scenes women — and in most of the scenes, Asian women — are their silent companions (the only spoken word in the ad is a Russian woman who simperingly gushes “Mikhail” upon seeing her tank-driving lover; meanwhile, all the Asian women are silent). Implicit in the ad: the function of women is to subdue the hyper-aggressive saber-rattling of our men, through sex. Or, the power of women to end global war? Our vaginas.
In imagining women — or more specifically, the act of loving women — as capable of ending war, female sexuality becomes the lone defining characteristic of women in general and Asian women in particular. We aren’t individuals in our own right; instead, we are limited to existing only as the object of male affection. No more ironically is this done than in the ad’s reference to Miss Saigon, which is among the most anti-feminist depictions of Asian women — the musical’s lead is a prostitute who literally commits suicide when she loses the love of her man — in contemporary media.
The flip side of this message? All of the people who died in these real-life military conflicts died because some nameless woman somewhere didn’t sex up her man enough. Ugh.
Look, I get it: it’s Axe. This is the company that sells the fantasy to single heterosexual insecure men who honestly believe that smelling like car freshner will win them eternal love from Victoria’s Secret model look-alikes. This isn’t a company that’s particularly invested in not offending female consumers. This isn’t a company that worries about its female Axe-using market share — Asian American or otherwise.
But, here’s a thought: if you sell regressive, anti-woman fantasies to male consumers, you reinforce regressive, anti-woman beliefs in male Axe-using consumers. And being a regressive, anti-woman, Axe-using asshat who honestly thinks that we can “sexify our way to world peace” might lead to failure for these male consumers in appealing to intelligent, greater-than-the-sum-of our-sex potential female lovers. I’m just sayin’, Axe.
I’m all for ending world war. Let’s just not suggest we’re gonna get there through Axe body spray.