Is it Progressive or is it Just Good Marketing?

“However radical your message is, the fact that you’re doing it through self expression is feeding the ideology of modern consumer capitalism.”

James Charles, Covergirls first male ambassador. Oct. 11th, 2016

Emerging marginalized identities appearing in mainstream advertising is not a reflection of progression, but an illusion, constructed to sell product to a larger audience, and appear relevant to social causes while still maintaining and exerting power through capitalistic and inherently exploitative means. This is especially true in that these fleeting breakthroughs, are by and for individuals, who will not see the benefits of their labor being put into their own communities. This is a system of control, and a retrograde way of creating representation.

“I started my instagram one year ago to inspire others and as an artistic outlet to challenge myself creatively. I truly hope that this shows that anyone and everyone can do anything if you work hard.” ^This statement implies that hard work gets people into positions of power, and not inheritance, beauty, gender, class or race privilege. James is also cisgender and fits into traditional beauty standards. (Would we see a black trans woman covergirl on this same platform? Or someone with a different body shape? And without it being fetishized /tokenized?) Again, I am not discounting James’s own talent and work , and I think that it is a common narrative to think that hard work gets people where they are. Poor people, disabled people, and others work hard, but do not succeed because they are not meant to succeed in our current economic system. Sometimes people do, its true, but not without strings attached. We should not set our goals on acceptance from exclusive industries but work to create new, alternative and more inclusive systems of representation.

Getty images diversity training / constructing the illusion of equality.

“We need to change the status quo and better represent everyone equally, moreover our clients are demanding diverse content based on race, gender body type, and ability.”

Translation: We need to “catch up with the times” and start to represent people other than thin, able bodied white people, more importantly, our clients are realizing that they can expand their market by allowing other formerly taboo subjects, to represent their newly accepted selves by having their identities sold to them through the commodification of their political expression. It is these same people (who historically exploit marginalized people- people of color, women, trans, queer, disabled, for labor, identity and ultimately profit) who now want to appear subversive and separate from the very industry they have pioneered.

Covergirl’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble has a revenue of 76 billion dollars. It is currently run by a David S. Taylor , who has an annual salary of 4 million dollars.

“We are in the business of programming peoples lives.” — Josh Harris in the We Live In Public documentary.

Since the beginning, ideas of beauty have been decided for and by men. Diversity is purely symbolic without economic power for marginalized people. The beauty industry, as it exists, is designed for our exploitation.

Founders of Revlon Cosmetics
James Gamble: Co-founder of Procter and Gamble ( owns household chemicals and Covergirl)
William Randolph Hearst: Founder of Hearst Media (Currently owns 31 TV stations and 20 US magazines)
Eugène Schueller: Founder of L’Oréal and one of the modern founders of advertising.
Condé Montrose Nast: Founder of Vogue
Tom Lyle Williams ( founder of Maybelline).

Edward Bernays, the founder of “engineering consent”, and a nephew of Freud, was hired by the American Tobacco Company to encourage women to start smoking. Coinciding with the suffragettes movement, Bernays staged a dramatic public display of women smoking during the Easter Day Parade in New York City. He then told the press to expect that women suffragists would light up “torches of freedom” during the parade to show they were equal to men.

Suffragettes smoking cigarettes —Freud told his nephew: “Cigarettes were a symbol of the penis and of male sexual power…Women would smoke because it was then that they’d have their own penises.”

Maybe there shouldn’t be any monolithic symbols of beauty or power at all. And maybe there are no marginalized people in the history of advertising because marginalized people were never meant to be represented in the capitalist imagination of society? (and maybe this is a good thing — a truly advanced society being one that allows for self representation outside of consumerism.)

“It’s always been problematic to talk about the liberation of women because that presupposes that we know what women are. If both women and men have been organized into the forms we currently take, then we don’t want to liberate what we are now, if you see what I mean.” -(Sadie Plant, from Inventing the Future: Post capitalism and a World Without Work).

Even diverse representation conforms to traditional beauty standards: Beyonce before and after L’Oréal’s digital manipulation. (www.beautyredefined.net)
Hari Nef modeling for L’Oréal

A black president will not change the fate of millions of black people living in poverty or incarceration. A woman president will not get rid of sexism or rape. Prisons won’t get rid of criminals. Laws won’t keep people safe.

“There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.” ( Aaron Swartz’s, Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, 2008.)

“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”(Audrey Lorde). Representation in an unjust system does not mean justice. There is no way to change an industry, rooted in exploitation and sexism, for the better. And there will be no successful movement to create equality until we learn to denounce individualistic success as progress. Collective power is the only future we have if we want to overcome the ritualism of our own oppression. Without our support, corporations will suffer, and without them, we will see ourselves be free.

This is not an ultimatum or an obvious answer. This is a call to critical consumerism and genuine reflection about the economy and our intake of information.

This article was written by Ada Rajkovic, an artist, curator and organizer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She runs @s_u_n_d_a_y__s_c_h_o_o_l and is a member of Get Artists Paid. Like this article? Paypal her at adarajkovic@alum.calarts.edu Thank you for reading! :)