Monday, August 4, 2008

N Is for Nipple

Gotcha. Just like the television ad for the new Calvin Klein fragrance flanker--Secret Obsession--got up the hackles of the American television network censors. Why this is even newsworthy is a mystery; it's not as if the ad, starring Eva Mendes, might imply the deviance associated with a 1995 Calvin Klein jeans campaign that warranted the involvement of the F. B. I. When you get the guys in navy suits and starched white shirts involved, you know you're in deep doo-doo.

A brief note: We are a nation of prudes. We're in trouble. We can take titillation, but we can't take tit. We are appalled at the French and the German attitudes towards nudity, sex, and sex on TV, but we are simultaneously excited de haut en bas by its apparent freedoms, until we realize that such license on American airways would corrupt not only our innocent children but also the raging libidos of our adult male population, most of which have thus far been kept somewhat in check, the Internet notwithstanding.

This is why we must broadly hint at full exposure (and by (hard) extension, sex), through suggestion and shadow only, a curve here and a swell there, as excitable as the Victorians who dressed their piano legs in modest skirts lest someone get aroused and hump a claw-footed baby grand. Our response never changes, because we've been conditioned to respond with fear.

To further complicate the issue, American television is sacred ground. This isn't Berlin. You don't touch TV, America's fallout shelter since what has been labeled the "golden age of television," which ended in the same year that the Russkis shot down the U2. Nearly fifty years down the line, our view of reality hasn't really changed. We have that patriotic (and endearing) next-stop-Gomorrah attitude towards everything, be it smoke, sex, or drunkenly sitting one's naked patootie on a Xerox copier.

They didn't call it banned in Boston for nothing. That prim city, still not so far away from the Puritan boundary as the college population might suggest, ran quite a lot of quality entertainment out of town, including literary works by William Faulkner, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, and Ernest Hemingway, the last for the humid, Lost Generation promiscuity of The Sun Also Rises. This is not to make a direct comparison between a fragrance ad and hidebound classics of English department academia, but to illustrate just how insidious a little censorship can be. Cover your eyes, boys, while another inferior corollation between perfume and sex rolls by.

Mendes' commercial, in which she rolls around naked and exposes half of what the British call--in the singular--a "bit," is more interesting for what it says about the American attitude towards nudity than it is about Mendes' half-visible nipple . It also didn't have to air to be successful; if the Internet is good for anything in the demotic, it is good for furthering notoriety far longer than notoriety should have survived.

There are very few breakthroughs in advertising, and the Secret Obsession commercial isn't one of them. The American attitude towards sex and nudity in advertisements is more or less static, and not reflective of any progess made, or dramatic leap taken, by the advertisers themselves. Monroe could have made this commercial, near the end of her life and to far wider appeal.

The type of wrist-slap censorship that bans the Secret Obsession commercial serves no purpose other than to excite us into impotence, even if the accompanying print ad will run as intended and have a brief but exciting life upon a dormitory room wall at Boston College. Print ads evolve more quickly than television commercials, but if history is any indication we won't be treated to a half-time spot of a geriatric Mendes's nipple in 2048.


lady coveted said...

it's so true what you are saying about the us/prude thing. take american apparel for example.... in the us it's so controversial, every time i post about it there are comments (mainly from americans) who are so offended by aa.

i've been living in europe (germany)for some time and have noticed that it's such a non-issue, the porn-like advertising may induce snickering, but offense? no.

Suzanna Mars said...

LC, I'm glad you rang in on this one, since you are in a perfect position to observe the differences. Thanks!

enc said...

During the time I spent in Europe a couple of years ago, I realized that we are indeed prudes here in the US. I was really refreshed by the nonchalance in the general Euro attitude to nudity on tv.

It's interesting to me that people think sex and nudity are "bad." I'd challenge the "why" of that.

WendyB said...

Damn, I wish I could generate so much attention for showing a nip! But I'm afraid if I did, the world would just yawn and turn away.

Suzanna Mars said...

WB, tis true for the majority, I fear.

However, let's remember when belly buttons provoked the same type of controversy, and before that ankles and toes.

K.Line said...

Wow, this post rings so true. I'm American by birth (and family all lives there) so I have that (albeit subtle) window onto the culture. On the other hand, I'm very "Canadian" in my attitudes. We're rather live and let live here. (Starting in the 70s, City TV did run soft-core porn on Friday nights for years, after all. Fashion Television was showing tits 20 years ago, unapologetically, during the dinner hour.)

The dissonance between generalized prudishness and hypersexualization of media figures is so intriguing... Maybe that's what you get when mores start to change? What I mean is, maybe it's a (strange) step on the path to a more tolerant outlook?

susie_bubble said...

This is something I've semi-noticed whenever I've been in America but then again Brits also have our own prudish issues to deal with that is a little different from the US attitude....I can't quite figure it out myself....

KATLIN said...

Ah, so true about us Americans. We get all crazy over Eva's not even there nipple or a brief flash of Janet Jackson's. Controversy erupts and headlines flash. Yet, nipples made multiple appearances in W's Summer Camp editorial, which didn't come in plastic wrap, and the Playboy bunnies have their own show. I think this whole thing also says a lot about the differences between our Playboy and France's Playboy. Their girls are presented tastefully and I wouldn't even mind hanging some of their stuff on the wall. Ours, however, is trying way too hard to be sexy and not something I would necessarily call art. The only awkward thing would be for me to have to watch a nipple filled commercial sitting next to my dad. Haha.

CoutureCarrie said...

She looks incredible!!

And I love the title of your previous post - so true!

TheSundayBest said...

A long time ago America decided that if it was going to be prudish about something it was sex, not violence. As such it is perfectly acceptable to show men beating each other into comas, but not a woman's nipple.

It's like constantly being in grade 4.