Over the years Calvin Klein has shone brightly in the spotlight with their sexy advertisements. Calvin Klein has featured celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes in half naked, provocative ads. The fashion line aims to catch the attention of the public by using gorgeous models in little (and I mean very little) to no clothing. Whether they’re selling jeans or underwear, Calvin Klein grabs shoppers into the ad immediately by advertising what most young buyers are thinking about: sex.
This advertisement, part of a commercial for Calvin Klein jeans, was considered too racy for television. It was banned from American television. Even the billboards became the spotlight of extreme controversy around the world. The first ad depicts three guys and one girl all wearing Calvin Klein jeans. The girl is lying on top of one guy, while kissing another. The third guy lay sleeping on the ground. All four people are bear-chested and the men all look like they’ve taken “turns” with the one girl.
The approach I will use to help better understand the advertisements is semiotics. According to the text Critical Approaches of Television, “Texts are constructed out of sequences of signs arrayed in codes and capable of being experienced or interpreted in common ways by members of a society” (p.72). Semiotics uses the signs of a text as a signifier to decode the meaning, or signified, “to constitute a process of signification.” The approach of semiotics tends to also be ambiguous, meaning the text could mean two different things to two different people.
So, it’s time to take a look at this steamy Calvin Klein advertisement from my personal perspective. First, let’s start off with the half naked models (signifier). The models bodies are touching, caressing, and engaging in sexual activity. If it weren’t for the jeans they were all wearing I wouldn’t even know what Calvin Klein was trying to sell. The girl is entangled between two of the men. She is making out with one and being heavily touched by another. This signifier shows that the girl is under the control of the men. She is their property and they keep her in their grasp (signified.) Another signifier is the man sleeping on the ground. He looks exhausted, like he has already had his turn with the girl. Not only is this girl property of the men but they all get their time with her to do what they want.
Another signifier is the girl reacting to the men. She is submissive, touching and kissing them back. There is no struggle, she understands her place. This signified depiction can be understood by another approach used in class, the cultural aspect of hegemony. Hegemony, according to our professor, is the form of power elites can maintain over masses enabled by the consent of dominated. The men in this ad hold the power. They have consent from the girl to use her for what they want. The way she has enabled the men to wrap their hands all around her body and head shows she is almost like a toy to them.
Another photo from the same group of advertisements once again shows the women in the submissive position. In the top photo the woman is shown draped across two men. They are sitting upright while she is lying flat, below them. The meaning of this signifier is these men are almost like kings, and she is their slave, waiting for them to tell her to do something. The image on the bottom depicts a guy lying on top of the girl. He is using her as a pillow. Since he is the one with the power, he can use her as he likes.
So what does all this mean? Why take the time to analyze simple clothing advertisements? It’s important to analyze these types of texts to keep our mind engaged. We want to examine various texts to understand more clearly what we are looking at. Analyzing these ads will help readers to understand that things are not all cut and dry. Texts can have deeper meanings then what we originally believe just by giving it one glance.
Vande Berg, L. R., Gronbeck, B. E., & Wenner, L. A. (1998). Critical Approaches to Television . Boston: Houghton Mifflin.