Dior wants you to think Luxury, Femininity and Glamour when you view its advertising.
It doesn't want you to think about abuse, power, voyeurism, control or dehumanised sexuality. Yet this is exactly what the Dior Poison Girl campaign portrays. Watch:
When the campaign name alone is exploitative
The name ‘Dior Girl’ implies a young female. The noun ‘girl’, by its very definition, is ‘a female child’ or a ‘young or relatively young woman’. But despite the name implying an audience consisting of young females, the entire campaign evolves around sexuality, portraying girls as not only sexually appealing, but irresistible to men.
“Poison Girl is the fragrance of a modern-day girl, free and sexy. A delicious trap that instantly poisons and draws out the pleasure to the point of addiction. Poison Girl makes a direct statement, ravishing and addictive. An immediate, in-your-face effect”.
Let’s take a second to look at this more closely, before we even look at the campaign film itself. ‘Girls’ aren’t sexy. They aren’t ravishing. And they aren’t manipulative, ‘trapping’ others for their own benefit. I have an eight-year-old daughter – she is young, open, connected, adventurous and loving. She’s not a game-player, manipulating others for her own gain. She’s not an object or a symbol of sexuality that exists purely for the visual effect of others. And she’s cute, gorgeous and hilarious, but she’s not ravishing. She’s a GIRL. A CHILD.
The Dior Girl campaign isn’t about a ‘modern-day girl, free and sexy.’ It’s a narrative that positions the female lead in a powerless position, objectified and dehumanised, and the unwitting subject of male voyeurism.
A poisonous campaign
The entire 60 seconds of film depicts a lead male and female. She is the object of his gaze. Their eyes meet in a nightclub where activity is highly sexualised and erotic. She navigates from him, but he follows. They move to a staircase where she extends a leg to push him back down. He pauses briefly, but continues to advance. The film then cuts to the man sitting in an apartment controlling a screen, browsing through multiple shots of her in various stages of undress and erotic poses. The semi naked woman emerges from another room and the voice-over says "I am not a girl, I am poison."
So what does this mean?
Let’s stop for a minute to look at the dynamics of voyeurism. It involves the act of spying on unwitting people, providing the voyeur with a gratifying sense of power. The dictionary definition of a voyeur is “(1) one obtaining sexual gratification from observing unsuspecting individuals who are partly undressed, naked, or engaged in sexual acts; broadly; (2) one who habitually seeks sexual stimulation by visual means”.
Dior’s advertisement presents two distinct layers of voyeurism.
The first is with the audience. In film, audiences are afforded a level on anonymity as we view the characters. We ‘see’ and ‘watch’, spying on characters in the narrative. In Dior Girl, we are watching the female lead as the male perpetrator does. We are part of the ‘male gaze’, a gaze that has long been argued to consolidate a phallocentric (or male-dominant) position in society.
This is incredibly harmful – as the voyeur, we are ourselves viewing her as an object of his desire. We see her as he sees her – dehumanised and objectified.
We are the powerful. She is powerless.
The second level is via the narrative itself, which is led by a male protagonist. We see him follow her from the crowded room full of writhing bodies into an empty staircase. As they climb the stairs she turns around and pushes him back with an outstretched leg. The act itself is sexualised and gives the illusion of resistance, power and control. But the man has no such illusions about who is in control. He continues to advance before the film cuts to the male sitting in his apartment.
It is clear that the male lead maintains narrative development. The female object of his desire, however, is fragmented in a series of sexualised and near-naked images.
He is intently watching her on the screen – alone, in a darkened room. He flicks between images and videos. She is vulnerable in bed. She is positioned on all fours like a dog. She drops her clothes to the floor, naked but clearly feeling exposed as she covers her breasts and turns from the camera.
As a voyeur, he has removed her power. She is a passive performer, rendered a fetishised and erotic object. Dehumanised. All of this plays out against a sound track repeating the phrase "Nobody rules these streets at night like me."
Unmistakable irony comes from the comparison between the film campaign and the Dior Girl brand description. Remember this?
Poison Girl is the fragrance of a modern-day girl, free and sexy.
But she isn’t free. And she isn’t sexy. She’s not a person with a heart, soul and values. She’s not individual, and she’s not independent. She’s an object of desire, a delicious trap that instantly poisons and draws out the pleasure to the point of addiction. She has no name, she is just a face trapped in the male gaze.
As for modern - the apple shaped perfume bottle is described by Dior as a sultry incarnation of the forbidden fruit. Dior has positioned this 'modern-day girl' as both 'Eve' and the forbidden fruit. The idea that women are responsible for man's transgressions is as old as time itself. Her only words "I'm not a girl; I'm poison" suggests that, like so many women and girls before her, she has internalised this toxic idea.
There’s only one part of the Dior brand statement that rings true.
Poison Girl makes a direct statement. It does. And it’s poison.