Opinionista Paul Berkowitz 27 January 2012

You have a dream, I see sex

So much has been said about the DASO poster there’s little to add, except to congratulate the organisation on an effective campaign and to tease some of its more sincere supporters. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

That DASO poster. It could have been a one-hit gag, but it’s become the gift that just keeps giving. It’s spawned a number of parody Photoshop jobbies – some have even been mistaken as part of the official DASO campaign by more breathless commentators. Trillions of pixels have been used to express the joy, the outrage, the moralising (and many other predictable and boring responses) of South Africans who live in the Internet.

It’s been dissected and probed by people who are very earnest in their approach to the politics of race, gender and identity. Some of them have wondered whether a black man embracing a white woman would have been acceptable to the DASO’s target market (probably not, in my opinion). Others wanted to know why the woman in the ad has a weave and suggested the DA is conspiring to create more self-hating black women (maybe, but then so are half of the female members of the executive, and they’re all in the ANC).

The poster has pushed everyone’s buttons because it encapsulates the two subjects guaranteed to provoke a reaction: race and sex. If it were only about race, it may not have generated the amount of chest-beating it did. Contrast the poster with this old Dulux ad for example. There’s a black dad and a white mom giving birth, and there must have been sex sometime in their past (because that’s how you get babies, mostly), but sex is not being used to sell the product. A sweaty lady in the throes of parturition, her hair like string cheese around her flushed cheeks, is not sexy. Not in AdvertisingLand. It’s a great ad and part of a memorable campaign, but the levels of outrage were muted.

On the other hand, the dusky beauty making up the chocolate half of the DASO Top-Deck-o-Love is designed to provoke the libidos of the male students (and some of their female colleagues, and maybe some of their dads). Of course, if you mention this you might be accused of missing the more important messages of love, tolerance, liberty and forward thinking – the DAY federal chairperson has written an impassioned defence of these lofty ideals here and linked them to the poster.

As some of the brighter comments on Facebook have pointed out, if the poster is designed to foster tolerance and a post-racial society, why do the models have to be naked? If they were wearing clothes and embracing, would the signal-to-noise ratio of the message be higher or lower? I don’t normally take a second look at mixed-race couples, but I certainly let my gaze linger on naked people, particularly on attractive female naked people. I am too old to pretend to be more virtuous than I actually am, and I spent a good 20 seconds wondering where I could get a copy of the poster without the blue DASO block obscuring the female model’s breasts. In my future, if I’m not stealing a second peek at naked women then I am probably dead.

The poster campaign is well-designed and the use of naked models was not by accident. Sex is an effective tool to market anything to anyone, and to students in particular. The welding of sex to race in this case also served to sensationalise the (purported) message of tolerance and non-racialism. In our future we’ll use biceps and boobies to cut the Gordian Knot of our racial past. If you object to the use of sex to sell our product, you are stuck in the past. If you point out that the emperor has no clothes on, you might just be a racist. 

As I mentioned before, I have absolutely no problem with seeing naked people. I can’t feign moral outrage on behalf of my non-existent children. I don’t even have the meta-outrage that my smarter friends have expressed at the way the poster insults their “intelligence”. You used sex to sell politics, one of the most boring products on the market. Well played, DASO, well played.

Of course, you did use sex the way most attractive people do to get what they want. You touched our studios ever-so-briefly and then ran away giggling, denying us any consummation and leaving our genitals and our pea-brains inflamed and throbbing. Nice parties don’t have sex on the first vote.

Contrast your protestations of no-sex-please-we’re-the-DASO with the latest season of Californication. The show is also using sex to sell itself. It may have started out as an interesting and edgy (and the jury is out on this) portrayal of one man’s meltdown, but now it’s a self-referential parody of itself, seemingly just going through the motions. Its inclusion of a young sexy interest for an aging David Duchovny has parallels with the DASO poster except for the fact that the series appears to be more honest about its intentions. Pairing Duchovny with the very edible Meagan Good is more about maintaining ratings than about any great social message of racial tolerance.  The relationship between old man and sweet young thing is as much a metaphor about the health of the show and its need for a shot in the arm, but at least nobody is pretending otherwise.

Watch a trailer for Season 5 of Californication:

Anyway, back to your detractors. Ignore all of those jealous, non-so-attractive parties accusing you of cock-‘n-clit-teasing the young electorate. They’re just sick because they didn’t think of it first, and they’ve taken the stupid step of branding themselves as anti-sex. Cosatu says that you want to maintain white supremacy, and the Christian Democratic Party has linked your sexy teasing to farm murders. The linking of your poster to the Immorality Act is a fair point, seeing as you tried to equate racial tolerance with Jungle Fever outtakes, but that was the only thing in the Cosatu press release that made sense. (Next week, the ACDP will claim the poster causes hairy palms and blindness and Cope will claim that it convinced Philip Dexter to return to the ANC.)

I would bet money on this poster campaign paying handsome dividends – soon, for the DA and not just the DASO. We’ve forgotten about the ANC’s centenary party already and even Donovan Moodley’s latest version of the truth hasn’t managed to dislodge this story from the national psyche. While the DASO uses its rumpled bedclothes to cover its strategic bits and defend its virtue, expect it to capture a growing share of students’ hearts and minds, along with their genitals. DM

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