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How often does anyone really contemplate what the quintessence of an advertisement really is? Do you ever consciously ponder or take notice of every possible innuendo or vested interest within a marketing campaign? Even with the overwhelming ubiquitous nature of contemporary advertising, I would venture to say that not only does a contemplation of the proposed questions rarely occur, but that any means attempted of creating a systematization of inquiry based on the criterion presented would be insuperable. Why I am bringing this query to the fore of this inquest with such avowal? In the researches of sociologists it has been demonstrated that within modern advertising or in the progenitorship of marketing itself, companies use overt and sub-cognitive imagery as well as communal allusions to achieve desired consumer responses or inducements. These methods also infect the language that is used within these promulgations. It is the very astute human who notices the tendentious nature of ads as they reside in the domain of media whose universality is becoming more omnipresent every year. Media has finally evolved into being proverbial in the application of any desired socially conditioned thought or behavior, and can be influenced by any vested interest which possesses enough capital, just as in all modes and manners of political economy.
My concern here is not necessarily about the nature of media per say, but instead is in the methodological usage of language in media to achieve desired social effects, dubious or otherwise. It can be assured that there will be no reference made to any standing conspiracy theory, populist consideration, or any other such crackpot speculation in this thought exercise. My interest here is to simply explore the manipulation of language to affect particular social thought processes by using the most rudimentary empiricism as a guide. The method that will be applied for this illustration is a philosophical maxim known as the absent referent. With the use of this tenet, it will be shown how advertising with selective media advertence is altered for the existential negation of gays and lesbians within all ecumenical social abstractions of gender roles.
The initiation of this philosophical device is to be found in the seminal and highly influential treatise The Sexual Politics of Meat, written by Carol J. Adams in 1990. In this critical theory, Ms. Adams postulates that within our society the existential meaning of language which is used to describe an animal’s death is evacuated for the purpose of re-inserting a more desirable metaphorical reference, and therefore a new existential meaning. The newly created referents can then be interchanged to achieve any cogitation wanted by utilizing syntax. Within her critique, the removal of the notion of an animal’s death allows their mutilated flesh to be transformed into the more palatable euphemisms of meat, beef, pork, etc. She then shows how women are also relinquished of their existential meaning within the view of patriarchy so that the referents of meat can be applied to women for use in their denigration and exploitation.
Ms. Adams then goes on to argue that the same technique of using absent referents can be applied to any marginalized group in society with the use of their gender, ethnicity or sexuality as the referent. The variant to this maxim that I wish to employ is that the referent can also be used to distill any social metaphor or meaning down to a singular assumption and negate any other unwanted inference. This new simplified referent can then be re-employed within any segment of the media sphere all the while manifesting any desired existential value. In effect, eliding an idea or person by the non-representation of their reality in any media induced social manifestation. When investigated, this new theory clearly shows itself at work with the noetic abrogation of gays and lesbians being easily observable within the context of the mainstream (straight?) media and its outlets.
I do not remember the exact moment or even year that I first noticed the absent referent of gays in social discourse, but it is a concurrence that once noticed, is forever burned into one’s mind. At any rate, it must have occurred around the time I began to coalesce all of my concepts on masculinity and its expression in all male relations, and most readily in consideration of my own sexuality. Now I have already written several discourses on this analysis of homosexuality and masculinity and its intonation in mainstream society, so an assumption is being made here that you the reader will take these other articles (some of which are found on this blog) into the consideration of this current one. Within this essay though, all that will be applied from the previous deliberation is that the assumptive employment of effeminate (masculine) homosexuality as an absolute universal allows for the nullifying of reference to gays (lesbians) in any discourse about men or women within any straight consideration.
Empirically this gay a referent can be found in any form of advertisement or social colloquialism, but for the purposes of this exercise, I will focus on the styling of television and print ads as these marketing tools utilize the combination of image and language which colludes to create the aforementioned referent. Also, being a man I feel I can only speak to androcentric examples, but know that all examples and assertions have a direct corollary to lesbians as well. Let us examine the most general approach to any advertisement aimed at a specifically male audience. The conditions upon which these ads are based is either in the vein of male specific hygiene products (men’s shaving accessories or body sprays, jock itch or athletes foot antifungals, colognes etc.) or what are touted as integral male preoccupations or needs (meat products, alcoholic beverages, tools, sporting equipment, video games etc). Where the ads utilize the absent referent is in combining these products with images or allusions to women, usually of a sexually provocative extraction. And it is the very presence of these women that informs on assumed masculine tendencies or the affirmation of a socially accepted concept of manhood.
Obviously this appeal to the implicit male enthrallment with sex is to be expected in a solicitation seeking a man’s attention, which is not my dispute here. Instead, the first contention I do have is that the enticement used is of a variety that would appeal only to a heterosexually inclined man; heterosexuality being only one aspect to male sexuality and extremely far from being a male universal. Secondly, the attempt is to use the intimation of the language combined with sexualized female images to assert that this particular heterosexual essentialism of men and masculinity is absolute in its conjecture. The concomitant that comes out of this referent is that gay men by their presumed feminine essentialism are negated from any consideration of masculinity or to the societal delimitation of manhood whether it is consciously perceived or not.
How complicated a marketing maneuver is it to delineate an advertisement as interesting to a straight man versus a gay man? What would the interest be in not having such delineation in advertising? What is the supposition being made here about men, does it serve a political purpose? There very much is a vested activity at work here, one that is specifically aimed towards the abstention of gays. Whether there is a cabal or not behind the deliberate segregation of gay men from their straight brethren within ads is incidental to the conscious manipulation of marketers and the denouement they place over the heads of everyday citizens.
Even as the pursuit for true equality and representation continues for gays and lesbians, it is rarely noticed that the described referent in media helps to perpetuate the segregation in thought about them and their position in the greater social milieu. It is not as simple as the clichéd adage “out of sight, out of mind” at work here either. It is the very ostensible desire by the straight (mainstream) segment of our society to keep gays and lesbians segregated and marginalized from the larger societal make up. We may be afforded our constitutional rights in full someday (?), but we will still be expected to have our gay neighborhoods, our gay publications, our gay clubs and bars, our gay TV networks. We have our ghettos in society and they may even be fully acknowledged, but it must always be explicitly understood that we are separate, that we will be forced into a sectarian position whether we like it or not. It is this existential reality that allows for our attenuation of licentious stereotypes and the furthering of heterosexual elitism. It is this presupposition and referent that also derides those gay men who have their masculinity intact and are forced by society to be untenably agglomerated with effeminate gay men.
As with any other portion of the human race, gays and lesbians are not monolithic in their genetic or behavioral makeup. So the power of the absent referent is not a trivial or exaggerated postulation in its ability to manipulate societal perceptions. This Orwellian use of language to facilitate specific and desired behavior and thought is not disavowed in its materiality or even in its utility, as seen with its application in advertising. Because of this fact, it has become so necessitous for gays and lesbians to become fully aware of all the ways in which we are kept down and sequestered within the world by straight elites and sexual hypocrites. And in the push back and nullification of this described referent, we must start demanding to fully be represented within all forms of social intercourse and end the ghettoizing of our existence. Only full acclimation into every stitch of society will affect the attainment of equality and the ending of forced tribalism and third-class status. With out it, no matter the legislative gains we attain, we will always be seen (and not seen) within society’s eyes–evanescent shadows living a spectral existence.