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How Booze Ads Fuel Rape Culture

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UPDATE: Dewar's has removed this video from YouTube

"Whiskey Lassie", a New Brunswick-based blogger named Johanne McInnis, recently drew the Twittersphere's attention to "Meet the Baron," a Dewar's whisky commercial that is spectacularly offensive to women. She is circulating the ad and asking people to sign a petition against it -- something you sorta hate to see, since, well, any publicity is good publicity.

But, at risk of feeding the beast, we have to support her efforts. Here's why: The Baron, a sad and originality-free rip-off of The World's Most Interesting Man, jumps in front of an approaching overweight woman in a bar, saving his friend from having to speak with her. His brave action is literally compared to jumping on a grenade by the narrator, suggesting that, yes, talking to a fat chick in a bar is comparable to death in combat. Later, they are safe, playing pool and comfortably flirting with three Swedish bikini models of an acceptable size. All is right with the world.

If this were it, we could just chalk it up to another instance of an unsettling trend towards misogyny, prescriptive hyper-masculinity and/or casual sexism in the marketing department. In Canada, we have The Wiserhood, a mostly just stupid ad campaign for Canadian whisky that has men devising strategies to avoid being emasculated and/or contaminated by girl cooties when they are asked to hold their girlfriend's pink purse. Especially when it comes to liquor, it seems the advertising world is channeling Don Draper and his pre-modern attitudes about race and gender. The intention of Mad Men may have been to critique the era, but, to me, at least, it looks as if the show's driving force is to provide porn for people who wish the world was the way it was back in the Swinging Space Age Bachelor era.

Anyhow, I digress. The point is that the bar scene in the Dewar's ad is correctly being singled out as offensive. But the bar scene is nothing compared with the car scene, something most people won't notice. I immediately did, though, since I am almost as obsessive about Kubrick as the crazy folks in Room 237.

Dewar's "THE BARON" from Isaiah Seret on Vimeo.

The Dewar's commercial opens up with a shot of a man running to get into the Baron's car. When the close-up is the Baron, the visual cue is unmistakable -- a clear and blatant reference to Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Which scene? Oh, only the one in between the botched gang rape and the ultra-violent gang rape/home invasion that is the crux of the entire movie.

If you think I'm making too much of what might just be a visual coincidence, watch the ad. Then watch the car scene from A Clockwork Orange on YouTube.

After the gang plays chicken with oncoming traffic, there is a tight, square frame around Alex's face. It's nearly identical to the one framing the Baron. The color scheme is extremely close. And, then there's the narrator, who has the same cadence as the man about to commit the ultra-violence.

This is not accidental. So, we can only imagine that there is some creative boardroom somewhere, in which people sat around a table and decided it was a good idea to make a reference to a film about gang rape in a commercial about men going out to drink and pick up women.

If that doesn't shock and startle everyone, then we are in serious trouble. I got into some Facebook trouble for comparing this to the silly stereotypes that the Wiserhood uses that demean both men and women, because it's not in the same league. This is correct; this is not in the same league. That said, it is all part of the same picture -- ads scoring points off women and construct hard-drinking men as the masculine ideal. And I worry that we are getting worn down by the little insults, to the point that this blatantly disturbing Dewar's advertisement got a pass from a well-paid creative team and the people at Bacardi who bought it.

And, frankly, in the context of the recent gang rapes of drunk girls (Steubenville, West Auckland's Roast Busters and Halifax, to name a few of the most shocking) liquor marketers should start thinking about the optics and their own fairly flimsy commitment to responsible drinking. Thus far, responsibility has generally been translated into talk of driving and personal health. But corporate social responsibility needs to extend towards perpetuating dangerous attitudes about women, too. And booze marketing is full of them, although, this, by far, is the most offensive I've ever seen.

What to do about it? Well, there's a petition out there to get rid of the advert. That's not enough. I suggest a full-scale boycott of Dewar's until a public apology is made. While this doesn't address the severity of the systemic problem in booze marketing and culture, at least it's a start.