November 25, 2008
Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour
I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.
In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.
Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.
But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:
Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.
It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:
Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).
Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.
But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.
(For other posts in this series, click here)