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Hung Up on Obscenity - The LAMP

Hung Up on Obscenity

By March 24, 2010 News No Comments

I have a thing for obscene ads–how they are defined, who gets offended by them, what they’re selling, etc. So today, when I was catching up with old posts on The Cool Hunter, I was particularly interested in this New Zealand billboard advertising HBO’s television series, Hung. I found it kind of brilliant. It tells you what the show is about in an extremely basic way, and I love the appearance that the billboard canvas is actually sagging off the frame. The texture suggested in the bulge is another nice detail. I like to imagine someone walking by and shielding a child’s eyes, only for pesky logic to creep in: Nothing is being shown that isn’t also shown on the cover of underwear packaging at kid-level in a department store, or that can’t be found on the beach. Of course, context does come in to play, and, um, size matters too.

Other obscene ads that are among my favorites (meaning, most memorable) are the Ashley Madison ads encouraging people to have affairs, the Tom Ford fragrance ads that I sometimes find difficult to look at, New York City Health Department ads railing against sugary beverages, idiotic ads for Axe Body Spray, vintage ads that might not have been offensive fifty years ago but which are horrendous to contemporary viewers, ads which just plain lie, etc. The list goes on and on, and although a few are posted below, you can find many more in Ad It Up!, an archive of print ads assembled and maintained by those of us here at The LAMP.

I’m barely scratching the surface here on my love-hate relationship with obscene ads, and obscenity in general. It serves a multitude of purposes, and can be both beautiful and horrific at the same time. The definition changes for every culture and individual, and the things we designate as being obscene tend to reveal more about us than the things themselves. It follows, then, that the conversation is more interesting when more people participate in it, so jump in–talk back to the ads which are already up, tag your own favorite (or least favorite) ads with aditup in Flickr, or email them directly to me for addition to the archive and help it grow. Media literacy is more fun when everyone plays.

–Emily Long

Ad for Ashley Madison

Ad for Tom Ford Fragrance

Ad for Axe Body Spray

A version of this post also appears on the IFC blog, Make Media Matter.