Keep what pure, K-Swiss?

So I bought Lucky magazine Thursday because I was jonesing for something to read outside of information about Constitutional Criminal Procedure.  Aside from being annoyed that besides a one-page write-up about the Persian furniture technique Suzani influencing fashion designs (and Oscar de la Renta has a kickassed zippered cropped jacket with awesome patterning), every other mention of clothing with varied patterns and intricate beading is characterized as “ethnic” or “ethnic-inspired,” I caught one of the latest advertisements from the K-Swiss campaign.  

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My instant reaction was, “Wow.  How… Aryan…”  Besides the fact that this picture of Alona Bondarenko will likely be added to the spank banks of “pure”-thinking males everywhere, the presence of the K-Swiss bars only blocking her legs and lower half sends a different message of what “it” is we’re keeping pure about this beautiful blond-haired white tennis player.  The tennis court with the mountainous background, as if we’re protecting the resting player from the outside world.  Seeing this in print just clubbed me over the head, like “Whaaaa…?!?”  

A few of the other advertisements from the same print campaign are coupled with action shots, like this pretty innocuous one of Tommy Haas.

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When I looked at this one, I thought, “Eh, maybe it’s not so bad.  Slogan’s placed in the middle of the second half; there’s a better perception that this is an advertisement for athletic gear with the action shot.  Maybe I’m overreacting.”   But then I saw the second Alona Bondarenko advertisement with the same layout and it adds a whole new dimension of interpretation.

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Same concept; same execution as for Tommy Haas.  But once again, a whole different message.  This time, the bars are blocking Bondarenko from the waist up, and the slogan… Well, it’s in the same place as it was in Haas’s ad; but he wasn’t wearing a tennis dress at the time.  “KEEP IT PURE” is blazed right across her crotch.  Haas isn’t wearing the exact same thing because his headband’s gone in the second half; the bars in his first half only partially obscure his face.  But Bondarenko’s in the bra top from the initial advertisement, with bars plastered over her entire upper half.  

Plus, with Haas, you can recognize him fairly easily in both shots feature-wise.  With Bondarenko, her face is averted in the first shot, and in the second, she’s slightly out of focus.  Plus, her action shot looks more like she’s trying to fend something away with her backhand.  Haas’s action shot, on the other hand, is a more aggressive, crouching save.  

(Yeah, tennis fans and players can probably tell I don’t know shit about tennis; if you do, tell me what these shots are!  :-p

From Kai, Resident Problem Chylde Sports Expert: “The dude is doing a forehand volley; the action shot of the lady is a follow through after a top spin forehand.”  So that’s what I meant.  Yeah… *cough*)  

So I decided to look for more advertisements (because I’m a masochist that way) and I found this jewel of WTF? featuring Anna Kournikova:

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Here, we see a darker male (POC?) standing next to her, holding an umbrella a parasol over her head as she walks.  The bars are clearly over Anna Kournikova’s entire body this time.  The man, rather significantly, remains uncovered and focused on holding her umbrella parasol and luggage.  (Focused on his job wearing mostly black formal wear; staring at blonde-haired Anna Kournikova clad mostly in white tennis wear — same difference, I’m sure.)  Kournikova’s head is completely turned away from him and her body is moving forward as he remains somewhat stationary.  She has the tennis shoes draped over her shoulder; he appears to be wearing them.  “KEEP IT PURE” once again finds itself screened across another blonde woman’s crotch.  The strange positioning of the two people makes it difficult to see that he’s the one holding the frilly pointless parasol above her head and it’s not just springing out of her skull a la Athena’s birth from Zeus.  Plus, the second half of the shot shows her with undeniably more covering, and for some reason she’s no longer wearing white.  She’s holding it via the K-Swiss tennis shoes.  Focused on where she’s going like a pure, oblivious trendsetter and holding her white talisman.

You can see more of Kournikova’s shot by watching one of the television commercials, where you see a group of different athletes, male and female, “in action.”

In this commercial, you see Chris Lieto and Sébastien Foucan in their respective sports (Lieto is a triathlete; Foucan is free running — the sport he helped to found).  Both men are either shown with full body shots or from the waist up, in action.  The first thing we see of Alona Bondarenko are her legs and her feet in K-Swiss shoes.  You wouldn’t know they’re K-Swiss unless you’re familiar with the brand; so let’s just say her legs in shoes.  Anna Tunnicliffe doesn’t even get a decent shot of her face because she’s busy manning her sailboat.  Ah, and then we see Kournikova, moving away from her airplane, darker man in tow behind her that’s… leering creepily at her…  You can see him more clearly holding the parasol, too. After that point, Foucan’s in mid-air looking rather stellar; then we move to Haas playing tennis with a couple solid action shots and a focus shot on the fact that he’s wearing K-Swiss socks, concentrated on the ankles.  And then, through the rather restrictive black tennis net, we see… someone.  A woman, yes (possibly Bondarenko).  Her figure clothed in white and completely out of focus.  And emblazoned upon the black netting, we get our slogan “KEEP IT PURE.”  

Keep WHAT pure, K-Swiss?  The campaign seems charged with racist and sexist imagery to me.  Am I alone in this?

So finally I get fed up, and I go to the website to see if I can find out more about the campaign. I learned more about the athletes spotlighting, and then I watched the flash rotation of the two features.  Bondarenko’s ad where she’s sprawled out on the ground is first, the bars more clearly covering her from the waist down.  She’s on the ground of the court, eyes closed and at rest, net behind her… pretty identical.  (In the print version, the bar isn’t as obviously on her crotch as it is online.)  The second?  Foucan in mid-air.  High above the ground, with bars completely blocking his Afro-European body.  Appearing to reach out, and he has to land somewhere.  Rotation back to Bondarenko, on the ground, eyes closed, “KEEP IT PURE” over the bars.  Then back to Foucan, mid-air, “KEEP IT PURE” not quite on the bars but hovering near his outstretched hand…  

The other half of his spotlight is his (very hot) face.  

Almost like a wanted sign.

About problem chylde
"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6

17 Responses to Keep what pure, K-Swiss?

  1. joankelly6000 says:

    Well, here’s the thing in my view. To believe that none of the overtones you see are intentional at all or even a possible “reasonable” interpretation, I would have to believe that you are irrational and have something invested in seeing racist, sexist imagery/messaging where it doesn’t exist, because you get something out of it that you want to get, you benefit in some way from imagining it.

    I would also have to believe that the people who created this campaign exist completely free-standing from the rest of the world and history and present day social systems. Somehow they found an advertising person(s) who maybe was frozen and thawed out like Encino Man and so nothing he/she does or says or creates is connnected to sexism or racism, no matter how it may look.

    It feels like I would have to work kind of hard to believe that “it’s just you.”

    That is not to say that you as a person could never be mistaken. Or that advertising people could never be unintentionally implying things they didn’t consciously mean to imply.

    Again, though, I feel like I have to go to greater lengths to convince myself that your self-interrogating analysis of these photos/video clips is some lark you went on, because you are having PTSD from everybody ELSE’S racism and sexim that makes you start seeing it where it isn’t. Meanwhile you show no other symptoms of having a psychotic episode. And meanwhile, the shots look that way to me, too.

    And, I would have to believe that an industry that, by its own declarations, lives and breathes by targeting subconscious and unconscious believes/wants/urges in the viewing audience, is somehow in this one specific instance just making choices for no reason whatsoever. Completely without intention. When their whole thing is about perfecting and amplifying intention.

    Or, on that end, I would have to believe that there is some other completely obscured intention in these ads than what you see, and what I see. In which case, at the very least, one would have to conclude that the campaign fails, that it has failed to elicit the response it specifically intended to elicit, and paid people tons of money to figure out how to best elicit.

    None of the explanations I have to reach for make any sense. So even if I were approaching this from an unpoliticized view (which of course I am not), it would be hard to dismiss or disagree with your assessment, unless “oh get over it, you see racism/sexism everywhere because it’s what you want to see,” gets defined as disagreement rather than baseless reactionary hostility.

    My long winded two cents.

  2. Donna says:

    I think part of the message is white=purity. K-Swiss is best known for their white tennis shoes (the classic K-Swiss), I’m wondering if they are clueless as to how white=goodness, purity, etc plays into racism? So I think the pure message is mostly the association people have with their most famous and well known white shoe and the fact that people associate white with purity, pure as the driven snow, and that sort of thing.

    I definitely think that the Anna Kournikova part is racist, pure white beauty and her dark pervy servant ogling her and wanting what he can’t have. It’s also classist as is other parts of the commercial. Like the part where Foucan is leaping, in the print ad you can see that he is leaping off of a yacht. And the location looks exotic, in the wealthy vacationing way, you don’t see any of the brown locals.

    The Bondarenko ad with her lying on the court makes no sense, why would a tennis player take a snooze on the court? It’s definitely sexual, she’s supine waiting for you (male viewer) to have your way with her (virginal white purity) right there on the tennis court! K-Swiss has even marked her lower body so your eye will automatically move to the most interesting part of her.

  3. cripchick says:

    ditto to what donna said, 100%.

  4. thebewilderness says:

    No, it’s not just you.
    Racist, sexist imagery in an ad campaign urging that “it” can be kept pure by purchasing a product most likely made in a sweat shop is a perfect example of how far backwards we have gone in the past thirty years.

  5. Kay Olson says:

    Definitely not just you. Thanks for the excellent and detailed descriptions of exactly what you see in each image. They assure me we see the same things.

  6. I totally heart you, Joan. And everyone else. And especially you Sylvia, because this is an awesome deconstruction.

    Nope, not just you. My easily accessible white straight middle class male just looked over my shoulder and winced, because that was really obvious.

  7. Kai says:

    Nice breakdown, Sylvia. Yes, it’s all in there.

    I’ll also add two more subtle triggers to the overall effect of these ads. First, the word “Swiss” conjures a certain image from the get-go: a snow white country that remained “neutral” about WWII. I mean, Switzerland is the country where this political ad ran last year. Second, the sport of tennis is historically a country club sport steeped in overt racism and classism. While brands such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas have focused on basketball and “urban” markets, K-Swiss seeks to “keep it pure” on the tennis court. It all fits together to create a certain undeniable impact.

  8. Bq says:

    Ew…I remember my AfrAm lit prof last year talking about how creepy the advertising around Kournikova tends to be (one girl from Russia felt offended and cried). I see what he meant.

  9. Sylvia/M says:

    Heh, first, thank all of you for letting me know I wasn’t losing my mind on this one. I saw that first ad and my two questions were 1) is this real? and 2) are they high?

    @ Joan: I wouldn’t take all those beliefs for granted because people willingly believe those things everyday to avoid thinking. But I’m glad you muscled through them all because it’s more than what a lot of people would prefer to do with their time. :)

    @ Donna & cripchick: Exactly, they went beyond the threshold of selling just sex in this ad. It’s pretty sickening.

    @ thebewilderness: I think before all the imagery popped out at me, the first thing that made me stop and look at the advertisement was “it.” Because I had no idea what “it” referenced. There was no obvious product on the page; but there WAS a person, a woman, lying on a tennis court. It’s just careless bullshit. And thanks for visiting; I’m not sure if I’ve seen you comment here before. :)

    @ Kay: No problem. :)

    @ Magniloquence: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any way to get around seeing either message in that picture. If I were to go a step further, as Mari Matsuda suggested, I could probably pull out where this crosses into homophobia and ablism and transphobia and classism.

    (Maybe another entry. :-p)

    @ Kai: The weird thing about K Swiss is I used to see it marketed on urban outlets and worn by my friends in school. No one knocked them, either. But I guess over the years, they couldn’t find a foothold and they resorted to… “purity” for sales. I still can’t believe that Swiss ad; it’s sickening.

    @ Bq: Kournikova has been sexualized to a ridiculous degree for sponsorships and profit. And I think that the fact she’s Eastern European has a lot to do with the liberties the media take, too.

  10. Russ Rogers says:

    The tennis strokes are a forehand ground stroke (by Tommy Haas) and a backhand (by Alona Bondarenko). I do think the words, “KEEP IT PURE,” have been pasted over the crotches of Haas, Bondarenko and Kournikova. I think this is, in part, a joke. The advertiser is telling us to “Keep our thoughts pure,” to focus on the product and not just on the sex appeal that is being sold. I also think this may be a reference to the purity of design of K-Swiss shoes, which are not known for having the most radical, new designs, with pumps and springs and high-tech gew-gas. It’s just canvas and/or leather on standard sole. A classic, pure shoe.

    I think the Kournikova ad has the bonus message that whereas she will trust her assistant with carrying her umbrella and her luggage, she still carries what she thinks is most valuable, her K-Swiss shoes.

    Yes, Kournikova’s image is very sexualized. She is better known now as a model than as a player. She was a better doubles player than a singles player. One of her credits listed on the K-Swiss site is, “The Most downloaded female athlete of all time.” And, no, I don’t think it’s not tennis action shots that are being searched for and downloaded.

    That said, I don’t think this is a racist ad. If K-Swiss could afford Venus or Serena Williams, they would JUMP through fire to get them. The fact is, the Williams sisters have bigger shoe endorsement contracts with larger companies.

    Sebastien Foucan is listed as a K-Swiss athlete. He is featured solely in there second TV spot. He listed as the Founder of Free Running and a designer of one of K-Swiss’ shoes. He is also black.

    I don’t think K-Swiss was intending, “KEEP IT PURE,” to be read as a call for racial purity.

    I think it’s also call for simplicity of design mixed with a subtle message of environmentalism.

    Yes, I think that the ad campaign is sexualized. I don’t necessarily equate that with degrading or trivializing women. No more or less than a ton of other advertising. Sex sells. Sebastian Foucan would not be featured so prominently in K-Swiss’ ad campaign if he also wasn’t HOT and easy on the eyes.

  11. thebewilderness says:

    I have lurked for a long time.
    I think I commented because you asked a question.
    Most of the time you have covered the subject so thoroughly that there is little to add but “yesyesyes11elevelty!!” which isn’t really quite the same as a conversation or discussion. So, I lurk.

  12. Bq says:

    Environmentalism? Where do you get that from, Russ Rogers? And the male athlete is fully-clothed and posing as a normal tennis player in action, in contrast to the shots of the woman. The connection between whiteness (which is shown on multiple levels in the photos, by the garments, the people, and the sport) and purity has long been part of the colonialist narrative.

  13. nezua says:

    ugh. how gross.

    beautiful write up. you only missed one part. her reclined body in early shot atop page echoes the mountains/horizon. so she is the land, too. which is being tainted, somehow. and must be kept pure.

    i think its clear what the message is here. its one as old as time. still extending its hungry, hoarding, pallid vines.

  14. Sylvia/M says:

    thebewilderness, remind me to ask more questions! :) I’m glad you emerged from the shadows.

    Nez, I didn’t even think about the land interpretation. I had trouble figuring out how to incorporate the mountainous landscape into the interpretation. Thanks for the perspective.

    Bq, thanks for responding to Russ because I don’t understand the “environmentalism” aspect, either — besides what Nezua pointed out.

    Russ, I don’t think the ads are racist because they don’t utilize more athletes that are people of color. And I don’t think the sexualization of keeping it pure plays as well for the male athletes than it does for the female athletes. The advertisers go out of their way to exaggerate the sexiness of the female tennis players in these particular shots. Sex sells, yes; but should it sell at the expense of commodifying women’s bodies? I don’t think it should. Sex is more than a marketable good.

    Also, as Bq stressed, the colonialist narrative of sexualizing and protecting the bodies of white women — that symbolism stretches back before K Swiss and the marketing world. And using illustrations of purity and strategic placement can bring out that message subliminally and feed into that narrative time and time again. So while that may not have been the advertisers’ subjective intent, the reality is the interpretation is a legitimate one because of the way sexualization + white women’s bodies + commodification has played out over time.

  15. Rhonwyyn says:

    I understand where y’all are coming from re: the black vs. white equals racist; however, that’s not what I see. Black provides a great foil for white – the greatest amount of contrast. You really can’t have one without the other. For that same reason, Kournikova’s top was changed to a cream/ecru/mother-of-pearl (remember that tooth-whitening commercial? :D ) so the white shoes would stand out.

    What I find bothersome (in addition to everything else you pointed out) is the overt sexism in the ad. Sure, there’s the sexualized female athlete and the hard-working male athlete, but what about the parasol-holder? Why is it a man? If it had been a woman serving a man, there’d be an outcry. But a man serving a woman – by holding a parasol, no less – isn’t despicable?

  16. Sylvia/M says:

    In my initial write-up, I made a reference about the man’s servitude and how it reminded me of him “knowing his place,” so to speak. I’d think it’s more classist than sexist, though both are present. But thank you for pointing that dynamic out as well and for commenting. Welcome!

    (Hee, are you talking about the commercial when the teacher’s like “what color are my teeth?” and the kids say everything BUT white? “Beige!” “Off white!” “Tan!” I loved that commercial; kids are a trip!)

  17. Pingback: Still catching up: “Racism in the English Language” and Race as a Medical Category? « That’s What YOU Think (?)


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