Benetton A contemporary investigation of racial advertising wouldn’t
joined together by handcuffs. Both men are dressed identi-
be complete without taking a look at the controversial ads
cally, with the exception of the black man’s jacket, which is
produced by Oliviero Toscani in the 1980s and 1990s for
cuffed at the wrist.
clothing manufacturer Benetton. Toscani stirred controversy with campaigns that put provocative subjects on large billboards and asked the public to consider the subject matter (Eye Magazine). AIDS, war, death and racism were all subjects within
The ad ran in the United States but was pulled when groups claimed the photo was racist and that it labeled the black man a criminal (Cortese 10). On closer inspection, however, a different narrative unfolds. There are no visual cues to suggest who is the criminal and who is the officer—
Benetton’s reach. Because Toscani was known as a
no visible tattoos, no grimy clothes, no cuts or bruises, no
photographer who stretched advertising beyond its norms
labels or pins.
of sterilized models and cute puppies, his work with the
The symmetry of the photo suggests an equal balance
clothing company took a normally shallow field and opened
between black and white. The slightly clenched hands give
it up to social critique (Eye Magazine).
way to a certain tension on both sides, which could be a
In terms of race, take, for instance, the ad that featured
reflection of society’s view toward the overall subject of
one black child and one white child. The black child’s hair
race. In the end, it’s impossible to tell who is the criminal
has been styled to resemble horns while the white child’s
and who isn’t. But it is clear that both men are linked, that
hair falls in blond curls to her chin. She is smiling and looks
what happens to one will affect the other (Burrell 25).
angelic while the black child stares with large eyes and
The only conclusion as to why people complained about
a flat expression. The children have their arms wrapped
the image is that society has been taught through social
around each other.
conditioning and the media to view the black man as a
The image raises a number of thoughts. Is good embrac-
criminal (Burrell 25).
ing evil? Or is evil embracing good? Is black bad and white good? Is the girl smiling because she’s privileged while the black child is just enduring the moment? Benetton banked on this type of provocative advertising to gain attention. However, some of the ads received negtive feedback, regardless of the clothing manufacturer’s original intent. Another ad showed a close-up of a black man and white man handcuffed together. All the viewer sees is two wrists
Published on Jun 14, 2012