| The advertisements
Nike has been known to be a 'gay-friendly' company through its support of gay civil unions2 and equality in hiring3, as exemplified by the Human Rights Campaign’s president in 2005, Joe Solmonese, stating, “Nike knows equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s sound business practice.”4 Salmonese’s quote conflates capitalistic business methods with the ‘equality’ involved in public advocacy for or condemnation of homosexuality. These two cultural ideals intersect within the advertisements involved in Nike’s 2008 Hyperdunk campaign. As Sut Jhally notes, the elements of advertisements are not “conducive to thinking. They induce feeling” (1995: 84). If our emotions are being sold to us in a symbolic interchange, then Nike’s ads at hand present homoerotic images of black men to the public and that public can then either relate to or oppose the individuals and emotions within the ads. Since Nike’s historical advertisements generally feature young, muscularized black men, as our advertisements at hand demonstrate, then those more apt to connect to Nike’s ads on an emotional level and place themselves within such ads are similarly racialized, young black men.
The power regimes of sexuality, race, and gender all arise within Nike’s Hyperdunk ads, which reflects a culturally charged time of race and sexuality relations. When these ads were first posted in March of 2008, Barack Obama was leading the race for the presidential ticket on the Democratic party, thus becoming a collective index of African American politics. The debate over sexual equality was also extremely saturated with controversy in 2008 with the national discourse over Proposition 8, which attempted to ban gay marriage in California and eventually was passed in November. This discourse over equality actualized a cultural spectacularization of homophobic agenda by amassing signatures for Prop 8 (which was gaining force and eventually received enough signatures on June 2, 2008 to quality for the ballot on November 4) and an equally powerful response of homosexual support. Looking from a racial aspect, the 58% majority of African American voters opposed gay marriage.5
Both Nike and Wieden+Kennedy reflected the culturally charged debates of 2008 within their own public discourses. Nike’s president filed a formal apology for their 2008 Hyperdunk campaign on July 23,
“They [the ads] look great but why keep hitting that same ignorant drum that its not "right" to have your face next to some dude's junk. There are plenty of dudes that have to deal with this bigoted idea in a real way every day. Love the others though.”
The two following comments moreover represent approval for the advertising campaign:
“Great ads. They don't have anything to do with homophobia. Nobody wants to get dunked on. Get over yourselves. Not every media ad is an attack on your sexuality. Your hypersensitivity is embarrassing.”
“As a gay male and a black male, I find that some of the commenters are jumping the gun and crying wolf for an ad that I feel is in no way homophobic. Growing up, what made dunking on someone embarrassing was and is not a man's genitals in your face but the fact that you were slammed on…I can't help but to feel that these comments are coming from people who don't play or enjoy basketball to get the point of reference.”
These two comments attempt to disintegrate the ontological possibility of homophobic influence in Wieden+Kennedy’s advertisements, and thus these messages' sentiments bring us back to our initial goal in analyzing them. It does not matter if the 2008 Hyperdunk ad campaign, or any other advertisements for that matter, straightforwardly represent homophobia or not. Perhaps, as many posters on the Wieden+Kennedy blog believed, these ads truly are rooted solely in sport, but it is the discursive power of the advertisements’ semiology that frames battle scenes at the intersection of sexual and cultural power regimes and potentially create violent and permanently polarizing cultural consequences. Such violent modalities of discourse are elaborated within the three specific ads of the Hyperdunk campaign that we chose to analyze: "That Ain't Right," "Say Hello," and "Punks Jump Up."
1. Dougherty, Philip H. (February 21, 1986). The Rising Regional Agencies. New York Times.
2. "Nike Letter in Support of Oregon Civil Union, Non-Discrimination Law, 2005," last modified June 25, 2005. <http://www.hrc.org//issues/marriage/civil_unions/7007.htm>.
3. "Nike Goes the Distance for Equality," last modified January 10, 2006. <http://www.hrc.org/1257.htm>.
4. "Nike’s Endorsement of Civil Unions Is Good Business Practice," last modified June 22, 2005. <http://www.hrc.org//issues/marriage/2221.htm>.
5. Patrick J. Egan and Kenneth Sherrill. "California Proposition 8: What Happened, and What Does the Future Hold?" National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. January 2009.
6. Hunsberger, Brent. "Nike responds to Hyperdunk ad critics." The Oregonian, July 23, 2008.