Monday, October 20, 2008

On Axe "Dark Temptation"

Okay. Maybe I'm too sensitive. Maybe I "can't take a joke." Or maybe this sh- is f-ed up.

So Axe body spray (a heinous concoction of carcinogens in a spray can, aimed at adolescent boys) just came up with a new "scent" that they call "Dark Temptation." The idea behind it is that the "scent" is reminiscent of chocolate, and since women "can't resist chocolate," they will also not be able to resist he who uses the spray.

Obviously, there's a lot wrong in that simple idea - but that's all about stupidity, and I don't really need to go there. No, I bring it up because I randomly saw an ad for the spray the other day, and it kind of bothered the Hell out of me.

The ad starts with a white guy spraying himself with Axe, and he suddenly turns into a dark-brown-colored "chocolate" man. The rest of the commercial is him going around town seducing white girls (I specify white here because there are no other races evident in this particular commercial) by his simple "chocolate" presence: women are licking him, biting him, chasing him, etc. And then it ends with the statement, "Axe Dark Temptation, as irresistible as chocolate."

And - again - there's a lot wrong with that whole concept on a sexist tip, as well - but that's the whole Axe commercial angle, and I'm sure somebody has addressed that better than me. What stood out to me was the overt racial implications of the NAME of the spray, "Dark Temptation," and the entire commercial. Because the white guy pretty much becomes a black guy when he sprays himself. Sure, he's "chocolate" and there are little jokes made in terms of that fact, but it's hard to miss the change in color (and tone) when he sprays himself and becomes "irresistible."

And I point out that all the women in the ad are white here because I've seen other Axe commercials, and - if I remember correctly - not all of the women in other ads are white. So this one stands out. And so I can't help but notice that it plays pretty perfectly on the whole racial stereotype and perceived dynamic between white women and black men. And, to finish it off, it's called "Dark Temptation." I mean - damn. It's not "Chocolate Temptation." It's "Dark Temptation." If you read that as a title of a romance novel (which it actually is), wouldn't you have some assumptions on what that "novel" was about (turns out the real one isn't, though)?

So then I go to check out the website to find the commercial to link to this post, and I see that they have an "Axe Dark Temptation" video game to play. So I boot it up, and guess what? The whole game is to be walking down the street as your chocolate-y "dark" self, trying to escape white women who can't help but try and get a (literal) piece of you.

I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm just getting too damn sensitive about everything, but this one really popped out at me. And I know that the people it's geared for (young white kids) aren't going to really be able to make that conscious connection, but it seems pretty obvious to me.*

But why take my word for it? See for yourself and let me know if I'm just too ready for a fight these days.

Axe Dark Temptation Commercial

* Not to mention the "chocolate man" looks pretty much like a white guy in classic "blackface" - what with his buggy white eyes and big, white teeth (mirroring the painted-on white smiles of minstrel shows of yore).

** And the "d--k in the box" reference with his "chocolate" fingers . . .


Anonymous said...

No, you're not the only one. The first time I saw this commercial I stopped, stared, and couldn't believe it. I thought it was wrong. Just wrong. I even wrote about it in my personal journal and my friends thought I was a little too sensitive about it.

ThingsOFARandomCollegeTeen said...

Yeah its black face 2008. I cant believe it. The character looks just like the minstrel figures of decades past. But where it the outrage?

Kate said...

Do you think it's intentional? I mean, do you think any of the people who made, designed, wrote the ad sat back and thought 'I know. I'll buy into racial stereotypes'... or did they just obliviously buy in? i dunno which is worse though, really.

I am working on a sexual network diagram for work, for an HIV/AIDs education program. And we didn't want to make all the people white, like in our last one. But... it's a sexual network diagram, you know? It's sooooo loaded, almost any pairing I make is controversial. I'm trying not to make too big a deal out of it, but also to keep those things in minds and not play into them any more than is inevitable. I don't know how well I'm doing, though.

Although may I point out that almost all of these play into gender as well (obvs). Can we imagine an opposite ad where a white man was chased by black or latina etc etc women?

pduggie said...

Hey. I saw the ad, and thought: "I wonder if anyone will think this is racial".

I did a google search and found this blog! Cool.

I think the authors probably thought the racial connection would be there (semiotics are out of anyones' full control).

I think its so subtle and plausibly deniable (the jokes are endlessly about actual chocolate activities) that the racial subtextx becomes "fun" and neutered of any hostility. Like someone going to a comedy show and listening to a comedian making some jokes about our tendency to stereotype. We recognize the stereotype, but "get" that the comedian is using it in a subversive way.

The question is: will this ad reinforce any messages that are negative about actual blacks? No.

Greg said...

Have you thought about writing to Axe with a short critical analysis of the commercial, explaining how it perpetuates racist stereotypes (the hypersexualization of blacks) through similarities to old blatantly racist forms of entertainment (blackface)?

It reminds me of a reaction I had to an ING commercial ( a few months back in which a woman is about to buy a $9000 purse, but a man comes to her rescue, telling her she should put her money in an ING account rather than spend it on the purse. This scenario is bad enough, but the third figure in the commercial is the short, effeminate, (presumably gay) salesperson. The whole scene creates a disturbing dynamic between the three figures: Figure 1: "Regular guy," moral high ground, common sense, rescuer; Figure 2: "Damsel in distress," moral middle ground, must be taught common sense, rescued; Figure 3: "Gay guy," moral low ground, origin of temptation, others must be rescued from this individual. Their moral locations are actually reinforced by their comparative heights.

I did some research on ING after that and saw that they are actually pretty good to gay employees and give money to LGBT causes, but does that excuse such a depiction? The advertisers responsible for commercials like these must know what, on the surface, they are trying to convey, but do they really understand the implicit assumptions and connections that are being made between their forms of "humor" and institutionalized and internalized forms of discrimination such as racism and homophobia? If not, they should be made aware. And even if they are already aware, and move forward with releasing their commercials anyway, they should know that people recognize it and are upset by it.

hopkimi said...

Thanks for the link to the commercial. It was one of the dumbest ads I've ever seen and how it got past whoever gave it the green light is a mystery.

That was one of the lamest commercials I've ever seen.

But as a black male, I didn't catch the blackface vibe at all. I really think they were trying to create just an irresistible chocolate man-thing with no hint toward the supposed hidden desire of white females for black male studs.

I think you are being too sensitive this time, but I understand. You get tuned into the conversation about race and you can get into a mode where everywhere you look there's something offensive.

You've only got so much time and energy. What are you going to focus it on?

CVT said...

I think this one is more than just coincidental, but I don't really think it was too conscious on the part of those making the ads (especially the "blackface" part), but it's good to get some outside takes.

As I said, it's hard sometimes to just let things be and allow "chocolate" to just be chocolate, you know? Although, Hopkimi - do you really think "Dark Temptation" holds no implications? Why wouldn't it be "Chocolate Temptation"? I don't know. I'm so used to getting racially knocked around these days, that it may just be that I can't turn it off when I should . . .

hopkimi said...

Hi CVT, no I don't think the phrase "dark temptation" implies anything other than the supposed higher quality of dark chocolate over milk chocolate.

If they were trying to play the racial angle, the music is all wrong if the guy is supposed to be black all of a sudden.

Pure coincidence that in the chocolate world, darker is supposed to be better.

If anyone should be offended by this walking piece of crap(that's how I see the chocolate boy) from Madison Avenue, I think it should be women.

The ad portrays them as chocolate obsessed bimbettes with no self-control.

My $0.02

Jack Rogers said...

I just happened upon your forum, here after googling to see if anyone else had seen the little commercial i just saw!.. I'm appalled at it. I think it's pretty f----d up, myself!.. kinda pissed me off!.. I won't be buying anymore AXE (believe i have a can in my gym bag that's going in the trash as well...)... anyway.. my 2 cents. Have a good one.

Anonymous said...

So how are they supposed to portray the idea that this fragrance smells like chocolate, and that ladies will find you irresistible? (that is after all, their objective) i am well aware of the hypersexualization of black people by the media but we are talking about axe body spray here- that is being advertised as smelling like chocolate. If you see the goofy look on his face and how women cant resist him and you think "black guy", maybe it is you that is injecting racism into this commercial. I, for one, take it for what it is: an axe plug about chocolate, that's actually relatively tasteful, and hardly explicit by most standards

Anonymous said...

i think anyone who interprets this commercial as racist is probably racist themselves. why would a black man hate this commercial? for the first time, he is presented as an objective of desire, instead of like a criminal in most media outlets. why would black women hate this? cuz it shows white women chasing after "their" men so of course the yare going to hate it and call it racist cuz they are racist against whites in general, especially white women who date/marry black men. why would women hate this? cuz it shows women going bonkers and trying to get with a man just because of what he looks/smells like. some may call that sexist, i call it reality. why would white men hate this? could it says u have to be "chocolate" to attract horny white women. and he will find that insulting cuz that same white guy think he is better than any black man, so how dare someone try to imply he needs to be like a black guy to get his own women?

People are way too racist in this country to just let the axe commercial be what it is, a commercial! i saw no blackface in this.

Intelligent (and non-racist) Black Man

Anonymous said...

thank you for this blog post. i am extremely bothered by the commercial as well. even if this wasn't the immediate intention of the advertisers, they should be less ignorant about what such imagery and wording implies in the context of an American audience.

stuffstuff said...

There is a historical precedent for the portrayal of black men as wildly attractive to white women, as sexual "bucks" who are teaming with sexual power.
I dont think that reverting to another stereotype instead of the black-man-as-criminal one is anything to be happy about.

jason said...

There's a key thing that everyone seems to have let slide here- You imply that the name "Dark Temptation" sounds like a romance novel that's about a white woman/black man tryst, and go on to say that "Dark Temptation" is indeed the title of a romance novel... and it gives neither you, the author, nor any of the agreeing commenters pause that the novel IS NOT about dark Mandigo plundering the lily-white female or vice versa. (I googled it and it seems to be something about pirate ghosts and some minor British royalty).

By the way- have any of you seen a chocolate bunny around Easter before? The buggy white eyes and general appearance of the "chocolate man" are pretty obviously inspired by that age old traditional rabbit... that I'm assuming is fairly bunny-race-neutral.

I think that noting the commercial and wondering if there might have been some intentional or unintentional racial undertones is one thing, but getting mad about these perceived nuances is another- I think you need to look less deeply into the commercial and more deeply into the reasons for your own reactions.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And to add one more cliche- racists see lots of racism: when you're a hammer all you see is nails. Everybody calm down and check your heads.

jason said...

By the way- I stumbled on this blog searching the commercial because I'm trying to find out what the song is playing in the background, heh!

Anonymous said...

i dont think its even offensive to women either. polls and studies show that women love chocolate, so of coarse they would love a chocolate man. its supposed to make you as desirable as chocolate to women. i think people are trying to seem like there one of those "good white people" by saying things like this commercial are racist. in fact, it makes you seem more racist to think black people are ignorant enough to fall for that.

Anonymous said...

OP: This commercial is indeed racist.
Everyone else: You're a moron.

P.S. Don't respond to me, I'll never be back here.