Exploring Backyards

July 6, 2009

Firefly%20backyardMany years ago, in her seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, film theorist Laura Mulvey described two main ways in which women were portrayed on screen – “voyeuristically” and “fetishistically”. The former portrayed women as the archetypal ‘whore”, while the later saw them portrayed as “madonnas”.

 Feminist studies have developed since. We have learnt about the “male gaze”, that is, the way things or bodies are arranged for men to look at, and how the female body is often used as a vehicle for a variety of purposes such as sex, violence, beauty, suppression and marginalisation. And in this post-feminist, post-AWARE age, it is always surprising to see good old fashion sexism.

The advertisement above is for Malaysia’s new budget airlines Firefly. It’s not an obscure advertisement and can be found in the 6 Jul 2009 issue of TODAY. It exhorts us to explore Malaysia’s ‘backyard’ but instead of stereotypical visuals of sleepy idyllic kampongs, we have an array of air hostesses’ bums to choose from. More than merely sexually suggestive, it is an indication of how the female body has also come to signify Asian culture and how heterosexual ideas of sex still remain.

Ever since the late 1970s, scholars have observed how colonial perspectives have always cast Asian or Eastern culture as a feminine one. Docile, submissive and subservient, the mild mannered natives often served the needs of white men. Such perspectives have, of course, not died but have been reincarnated as neo-colonial mindsets that present Asian culture and women as objects of fun and delight for white men, most effectively illustrated by the famous Singapore Girl in pictures such as this:

 SingaporeGirl2

But while such overt displays of sexism are not uncommon, the Firefly advert seems to hint at something more. The bum that is the object of sexual desire must belong to a woman, and not a man. Malaysia has several sites of tradition from religiosity to patriarchal sentiments, and they continue to impress upon everyone, both in law and in advert, that anal sex is only permissible between man and woman. The woman’s body has become a signpost for a society’s conservative fantasies.

It is too easy to observe that sex sells or that one must capitalise on one’s selling points. These types of arguments are fine for big soul-less corporations that only care for the bottomline. But as communities made up of women, children and other vulnerable people, it is important to reflect on how we are portraying ourselves to others. It is a delicious irony that capitalism and mass consumerism have succeeded where liberalism has failed – displaying sex and sexuality in public spaces.

But as the global financial crisis has shown, while market logic and capitalism may still be the best methods for the distribution of wealth and advancement of societies, they need to be regulated and checked. And if this is true for financial instruments, it is also true for advertisments. Especially airline ones.

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One Response to “Exploring Backyards”

  1. sushibar Says:

    我看到这则广告时也不怎么舒服,谢谢分析。


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