Friday, 10 August 2007

The Gay Jean; Levis and gay remixing

Image from Rotten Tomatoes

According to Adage, Levis’ have made two versions of their latest ad; one straight, one gay. It’s an interesting approach. And it begs the question, are we going to see more brands remixing adverts for the gay population? After all, it is when you think about it no different to the kind of localisation of campaigns that brands already do; re-shooting (or photo-shopping) different versions of the same adverts to fit different markets. Nokia did a similar thing a while back, offering two versions of the same advert – bizarrely one for the straight population in Germany and one for the gay population in other markets.

Significantly, this kind of ‘gay remixing’ or (gay ‘B-side’ if you will) is something that consumers are already doing; both with adverts but more frequently with movie trailers. Back in 2005 the phenomenon known as ‘Trailer Trashing’ took the internet by storm. Classic film trailers were cut-up and new and different stories created simply by editing the order and context of the clips. What was interesting about the phenomenon however, was the sheer numbers of gay parodies that were created. ‘Gay Trashing’ became an almost sub-genre of the trailer trashing trend. Indeed last year Virginia Heffernan reported in the
New York Times on the vast number of Brokeback Mountain mash-ups that appeared in the wake of the movie’s release. “Online parodies of the gay-cowboy movie” she declared were “proliferating faster than the curatorial video sites…can keep up with them.” Suddenly a host of old films were being re-crafted through a gay lens. Original dialogue was being re-contextualised and repurposed in order to hint at gay subtexts. We ended up with trailers for fictional films such as Point Breakback and The Empire Breaks Back. There are hundreds of examples floating around the web. Heffernan points out that although some may be crass and clumsy, others however are surprisingly slick and “as commentary on the forms and ceremonies of proto-gay relationships, they’re surprisingly sharp, and worth taking seriously.” And it didn’t just stop with Brokeback mash-ups. Since the trailer trashing phenomenon began the number of stories being remixed into tales of homosexual desire has rocketed. Some of the best include Top Gun Recut and the beautifully named, The Fast and the Curious.

So why the fascination with gay remixing? Well, stories are how we define ourselves, our history and culture. Ursula LeGuinhow once said “there have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” Stories are an integral part of our cultural identities. And yet tales of homosexuality are few and far between – it is only in the last few decades that gay texts have actually been allowed to enter the mainstream literature. (Oscar Wilde was on trial not so many years ago) Which begs the question just how many gay stories have been lost and suppressed over the years? How many have been locked away or silenced? Some critics for example argue that Terrance Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea was originally written as a tale of gay desire, later lost under a veneer of heterosexuality for reasons of acceptability. Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a huge unwritten and unspoken history to gay culture, a myriad of lost stories that will forever remain unpublished.

What the remix nature of the web perhaps demonstrates is a cultural need to reclaim the lost stories of the past, to find voices in the silences and re-assess the tales of our past. Indeed many of the most high-profile gay stories are set in past eras; Sarah Walter’s Tipping the Velvet in Victorian London, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion in Napoleonic Venice, and E Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain in 1960’s Wyoming. Levis’ are arguably well poised to take advantage of the fascination we have with gay remixing – what could be easier for example than some sort of ‘Twisted Originals’ site where old iconic Levis ads are remixed into gay versions; Brad Pitt eyed up by a guy at a pool table, or a girl watching an Amazonian bodied woman rising out of the river as she clutches what she thinks are her jeans.

Now that would give Diesel a real run for their pink money.

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