Erins Blog

Media Criticism Spring 2011

You’re selling…jeans? March 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — enr702 @ 1:34 am

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.


3 Responses to “You’re selling…jeans?”

  1. dschroeder88 Says:

    I believe that people in America are very materialistic and this is a representation of it. I thought it was great how you introduced how Calvin Klein advertisements feature celebrities in little or no clothing, which brings out the sex appeal. Sex does sell. Even though some people think it is provocative, everyone wants to look sexy and feel good about them. If these advertisements show that they are “living the life” and they have the materialistic things in life then they will be happier.

    I think it is good that American television banned these commercial advertisements from airing to viewers. We talked a lot in class about the “Tween” and I feel like they will start to act like that and be portrayed in that kind of light. You chose a great approach to relate semiotics to Calvin Klein advertisements.

    I think it is interesting how some times you can’t tell what the advertisement’s main focus is; whether it be sex or selling certain products to the media. I never noticed how it appears that the girls in the advertisement are under control of the men, relating it to ideological criticism. That is funny you said that the guy laying on the floor had already gotten his turn with the girl which could then lead to what were they doing right before it was shot.

  2. […] Erin’s blog called, “You’re selling…jeans?” caught my eye. I believe that people in America are very materialistic and this is a representation of it. I thought it was great how you introduced how Calvin Klein advertisements feature celebrities in little or no clothing, which brings out the sex appeal. […]

  3. You started off strong with a good introduction that gives a little background on Calvin Klein jean advertisements. For those of us who have not seen that many Calvin Klein jean ads, especially the controversial ones, it tells us Calvin Klein puts out advertisements like these often. This is helpful to know because it shows that they are consistently and intentionally putting out the same signs.
    Also, you did a good job breaking down the signs and meaning behind certain aspects of the pictures. Like recognizing that the girl in the picture entangled between two half dressed guys is a signifier that shows that the men are in control of her.
    I liked the title You’re Selling…Jeans? because it fit perfectly with your blog post was about. You talked about how these advertisements are really selling sex and how they do not seem to have anything to do with jeans. As a reader the title catches my attention and makes me want to read the story.
    I think you should of provided links to additional sources, so if a reader didn’t completely understand signs and signifiers they would have a source to learn more.

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