Gatorade and Androgyny3 July 2008
A Gatorade ad being run this year in the UK features a topless man, a swimmer, bronzed and gleaming. He has been digitally connected, however, to a woman in a lab coat, clearly a scientist of sorts. The advertisement, of course, seeks to assure athletes that they are getting the maximum amount of technological research with every swig of their sugarwater. Why not do so with an eye-grabbing way androgynization that may even express a kind of equalitarian sentiment?
The ad is unsettling, however. The man and a woman are set up as comple a kind of hieros gamos, a kind of yin-yang which works together as non-competitive complementarity. Yet the man-half makes up 60% or more of the human hybrid in the picture. Moreover, I find it striking that the man is presented as the archetypal athlete while the woman plays the technical – but supportive – role. Or, in a kind of post-Victorian expression of modern college enrollment patterns, is the binary oriented around the male-brawn and female-intellect? Or is it actually reversing the pattern of the sexualization of the female body and the authoritative garbing of the male in a uniform? I’m not sure if there are other ads in circulation reversing the roles.
Perhaps the bigger question regards the social function of such product images. Slavoj Žižek notes how the multiplication of “couples” in the West may be, after all, an attempt to gloss over the unspoken dualism at the core of our society. The he-she unity of the Gatorade ad may simply help “introduce a balanced duality into the minor spheres of consumption,” just like restaurants pair blue and pink packets of artificial sugar, displaying “an attempt to supplement the lack of the founding binary signifying couple that would stand directly for sexual difference” (The Puppet and the Dwarf, pp.25-26). Have we really dealt with identity and difference by smashing the two together, or is this precisely the avoidance of such questions?