Much ink has been spilled about Fluid Salon’s (admittedly appalling) ad campaign featuring a woman with a black eye. Earlier this week, the American advertising blog, Copyranter, posted on the already-a-year-old ads, which depict the woman’s apparent partner holding out a necklace (presumably apologetically); the copy reads “Look good in all you do.”
The story had good legs for the interweb, where commentary correctly pointed out that the campaign glamorized victims of domestic violence. One of the best responses was from The Edmonton Journal‘s Paula Simon, who pointed out the intertwined history of domestic violence and cosmetics:
“[F]or generations, women trapped in abusive relationships got the same message from society; hide your bruises and your tears, with make-up and hair-dos, and fake smiles. … For a hair boutique to market the same message in 2011, as a way to drum up business, is beyond vile.”
The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton’s director of public education, Lily Tsui responded via Facebook:
It’s unclear to me how this makes trivializing domestic violence acceptable in any way. Is using abusive imagery a privilege society now offers to witnesses of abuse? The experiences of the designer does not justify an image, created to sell salon services, that minimizes the impact of domestic violence by claiming, even satirically, that it’s not so bad if you have fabulous hair.
Tsui links to the following screen shot of the model having her make-up done, which the salon captioned with the excellent “the hottest battered woman.”
The statements issuing from the salon itself are comically self-contradictory (see official statements from the creative director responsible for the ad and the salon owner, once and twice); it is the stuff of shooting fish-in-the-barrel to try to respond critically to their statements. (The creative director’s mother, even, tacks on a nonsensical coda to her daughter’s statement, accusing those who are criticizing the ad of being the real domestic abusers.)
What no one picked up on was the bizarre hermeneutics Fluid proposed:
In response to the recent controversy regarding one of the ads from our “Look Good In All You Do” campaign, we launched over the past year, we respect everyone’s right to their interpretation of what they perceive the message to be. Similar to music videos, works of art, media, books, the ads were our interpretation of a particular “art form” – we are a Hair and Beauty Salon – our business is to make people “LOOK GOOD”. Is it cutting edge advertising? Yes. Is it intended to be a satirical look at real life situations that ignites conversation and debate? Of course. Is it to everyone’s taste? Probably not.
Weird scare quotes aside, this notion that “art forms” (or “interpretation of ‘art forms'”) have no social responsibility is an ethic that was reiterated in the owner, Sarah Cameron’s statements to the Edmonton Sun. In short, you can only be offended by her art if you have some “connection or a story behind anything” (by which, I think, she means “something”).
What’s particularly disturbing, in my mind, is not just that they’re crazies when it comes to representing women as victims of domestic violence (or nonwhites, or prostitutes, in images that were, apparently, not deemed controversial enough).
It’s that, in the hermeneutic they propose, women who have been affected by domestic violence are no longer eligible judges of art. Women who are uncomfortable with these ads are similarly dismissed by virtue of a “connection”… it’s as if their bodies keep getting in the way of their cerebral, art-appreciating activity. (We could probably similarly disparage men who are upset about the ads, too.) These individuals are excluded from the (presumably, popular) “taste” that distinguishes those with a more evolved sense of aesthetic judgment.
Props, then, to the graffiti artists who responded with an arguably more cutting edge style of advertising last night: