Calvin Klein (CK) has always built their campaigns around positive moments in our sexual cultural history and exploited them in the most negative of ways. But with rising HIV rates is it correct to promote high risk sexual behaviour? CK’s proven formula is simple but effective. Take a point in cultural history that can be supported and then twisted into something scandalous and usually sexual and plead naive innocence. There has been one exception when CK forgot to start with a culturally relevant premise. CK used underage models scantily clothed and in highly erotic poses then realized their was no “naive” statement they could fall back too; “Oops you mean pedophilia is bad? We didn’t know.” Just didn’t cut it . But others of more lasting fame followed the same pattern of “We are just simple people making some nice pictures . . . ” This latest “same sex” campaign follows this pattern and I will explain later why it is most dangerous but first a little history.
In 1980 Brooke Shields was a very big film star and at age 15 she appeared in what seemed like an innocent enough ad for Calvin Klein jeans (see photo) but the tag line set the world ablaze. “Nothing gets between me and my Calvin’s”. CK’s response was, more or less, “she appears on screen with less on so what exactly is wrong with the pictures?” True enough, but having Brooke tell the world that someone would, or would not get in her pants may have been naive for a 15 year old child, but was very well understood by the adult who wrote the line.
This was followed a few years later by Marky Mark’s (who at the time was a Pop star looking to move into movies as Mark Wahlberg) underwear ads which featured fresh faced Marky Mark in one of the first male underwear ads. It was again just innocent, but the effect was full on. The gay world could not buy enough boxer briefs and if it was left at that it would have been fine. However, Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) at the time was strongly homophobic and that created, again, huge media scandal. Mr. Wahlberg went on record for using the “F” word in a response to a congratulations letter for his success from Elton John. Again we can say that at his young age Mark was naive, but the creators of the campaign new exactly the response to expect.
We now move to the latest campaign by CK where they are featuring the first same-sex advertisement ever. This seems like a very tame premise considering we have been witness to years of CK ads seeing gender blending in so many ways. I guess those were just orgies which is more pedestrian than the more progressive same sex ads they are now featuring. But again an innocent pretext with an scandalous hook. (Video) we see that it has little to do with same-sex rights making history and more about anonymous sex and hook up apps. As a gay man I have no issue with anonymous sex in fact I am on record as saying it is how we say hello. My issue is that under the thin veil of supporting same sex rights is the much more troubling consequence of HIV rates rising at a terrifying rate and the many other issues that come from high risk behaviour.
If CK is going to use this premise they should take responsibility and acknowledge early all that goes with it. The health, physical and emotional risks that come with random anonymous sex. This is no longer about mental imagery that comes from Brooke’s jeans or Marky’s boxer briefs. This is encouraging real world high risk behaviour and that has very real and immediate consequences. And as I stated in the beginning, whereas Brooke and Marky and myself at the time where too young to fully “get it” the creators of the campaigns understand very well, and now I am old enough to care.