Sex and Its Depiction in Art and Advertisement
Sex, being a part of the human experience, has for very long been depicted as an intimate activity. However, sex has existed as a marketable commodity since the Roman Empire, and still exists as such to this day. Eduardo Manet’s Olympia, 1865, confronts its contemporary society with prostitution, depicting a reclined prostitute staring directly at the viewer, making the viewer see the scene from the point of view of the customer’s. Manet’s criticism of sex as a commodity is shown in the discomfort and unease intended to be caused by the prostitute’s bold gaze. In the service industry, people are expected to fill their roles happily and willingly for the sake of the customer, yet the figure in Olympia’s defiantly direct stare without a trace of joy shows that this is not always the case. This confrontational message concerning the role of sex in society is comparable to the message in modern advertisements for Trojan condoms. Both these advertisements and the Olympia deal with the roles of the parties involved in sex, and the reactions of each party to the other.
The Trojan condom advertisement depicts a dark bar, in which there are several pigs seated with drinks in their hands at different tables. At each table, there is a young woman who seems disinterested in the pigs’ advances, or otherwise clearly off-put by their attention. At the bottom of the page is a table of pigs sitting along without a woman at all. In the back of the bar, however, illuminated, stand a man and a woman smiling and enjoying each other’s company. Of the women in the bar, only the woman in the back standing with the man allows the man near her, while the rest of the women lean away from the pigs around them. The bottom of the advertisement reads, “Evolve. Choose the one who uses a condom every time. ” (Fig. 1. Trojan Evolve campaign) Therein lies the sex and leisure element of the advertisement: the promise that the man who buys and uses this product will be the one who gets to take home a woman from the bar in order to engage in sex.
The context of this image is similar to that of Olympia, but not entirely. Both the advertisement and Manet’s Olympia have scenes leading to casual sex in their respective time periods. The nature of the ad being a condom advertisement in itself implies that the bar is meant to be a place for people to meet and seek someone to spend the night with. The scene depicted in Olympia is commonly interpreted to be a brothel or someplace similar, the woman lying down being a prostitute. In both scenes, the men are the ones making advances towards the women: the pigs towards the ladies in the bar, and the viewer, as the customer, towards the prostitute. The main difference in context lies in the different social stigmas of the time of Manet’s painting, and now. While both images deal with issues concerning sex, Manet’s painting deals with the issue of the commodification of sex, and confronting the viewer with the reality of how the prostitute feels about her position. The figure in Olympia stares directly at the viewer with a bold, blank stare, forcing upon him the discomfort and confrontation involved in requesting sex as a commodity. The figure in the Olympia is also covering her private area firmly, as if to confirm her control over the situation. Traditionally, in paintings of nude women, such as in the Venus of Urbino, the women are depicted as perfect, having perfect skin and gentle bodies, meant to be pleasurable to view to the audience. In this painting, however, she is far from perfect. Her skin is like “grotesque India rubber […] apes on a bed […]”. In this is Manet’s criticism of commodified sex, confronting the audience with not only the reality of what the female body becomes under such a profession, but also that those providing these services do not always provide them with the same enthusiasm as the customer. The advertisement, on the...
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