Masculinity, Homophobia, and Racism in Advertising

Nike's 2008 Hyperdunk
Historical Context
"That Ain't Right"
"Say Hello"
"Punks Jump Up"
Further Information
Sexism and Racism in Advertising Homepage
The shrinkage of the concept of man into the narrowed and hierarchical conceptions of masculinity of the various work and consumption ethics also goes hand in hand with an increasing social division of labor, and an increasing shrinkage of the body’s erogenous potentials culminating in a narrow genital sexuality (hooks 1992:94).

Here, quoting Paul Hoch, bell hooks (1952 -     ) is referencing the profound effect that advanced capitalism has had on black conceptions of masculinity. She argues that because of the economic scarcity of the black community due to unequal divisions in the labor market, the conception of the category of “man” within this community has symbolically been diminished due to this narrowing of labor potential, and thereby the opportunities to claim male status along “traditionally” delineated qualifications. This contraction leads to what hooks describes as a primarily phallocentric designation of what it is to be a culturally defined man. Without equitable access to capital, that is the means by which a “man” would support his family, an “established” modality of manhood, men outside of the bourgeois framework had to find a way to gain a male status. Therefore, a primarily genital distinction was formulated. The mode by which one could claim masculinity became designated by a single signal: the penis.

If we look at the Nike Hyperdunk Campaign, and specifically the “Say Hello” advertisement, we can see an embodiment of this theory. The “Say Hello” image signifies all that hooks characterizes as included in the phallocentric model of masculinity: physical domination, hyper-aggressive assertiveness, and the embodiment of sexual conquest. The dominator firmly thrusts his phallus into and against the man whom he is dunking on, the dominated. The dominator is using his penis to declare and affirm his masculine status in opposition to the de-masculinized status of the dominated. This is reaffirmed by the text itself, “Say Hello.” The text is playing, albeit in a dangerous way, with violent, hypersexualized forcefulness. Not only does this show that the phallus is being metonymically utilized to denote an unambiguously identified masculinity, but the image also shows the incredible amount of hostility and competition can be, and many times is, created between subjects as they try and claim themselves as men. This ethos of aggressive antagonism, we would argue, is also a byproduct of the hegemonic, white capital structure and the exploitation of black subjects and their labor power.

“Commodification of blackness that makes phallocentric black masculinity marketable makes the realm of cultural politics a propagandist site where black people are rewarded materially for reactionary thinking about gender” (hooks 1992:109). We would argue that this reactionary thinking is not only confined to gender, but more broadly to the complex relationships and negotiations between sex, gender, and sexuality. It is because of this dialectic that the category of gay is between used as a tool to contrast masculinity against un-masculinity. “Gay” becomes everything that “man” is not and thereby it is something assigned a hazardous status, something to be avoided at all costs. This can be seen visually by the slanted positioning of the words “Say Hello.” While these words do connote a type of playful quality to them, they seem to imitate a “restricted” or “censored” stamp as if to connect the ideas between this situation as something to be evaded, or representing something that is not to be seen, and masculinity itself. In this way the advertisers slyly push for the audience to reject this “gay” or “un-masculinized” scenario, which in the context of this ad means buying Nike Hyperdunks. To claim manhood is to wear this shoe. Máirtín Mac An Ghaill claims, “Black youth systematically encounter among white sectors of the population situations of degradation and violence that serve to deny their black identity,” (1994:186). The Hyperdunk signifies, or is attempting to signify, the way in which black youth, the targeted audience, to reclaim this black, male identity through an exaggerated violent/sexual expression of “masculinity.”

Nike's 2008 Hyperdunk // Historical Context // "That Ain't Right" // "Say Hello"
"Punks Jump Up" // Further Information // Sexism and Racism in Advertising Homepage