Reflections on Fleggaard and feminist iconoclasm

This is an English version of my text published January the 6th 2009. The original text written in Danish is here. I have received quite a few requests for this translation.


Some background information

Fleggaard is a German registered supermarket chain located at the Danish / German border. Fleggaard GmbH is owned by the Danish company Fleggaard Holding A / S registered in the Danish town Kruså. Fleggaard GmbH is a retailer of kitchen appliances among other goods.

In a censorship context, Fleegaard is interesting because of their conscious ‘provocative’ use of female beauty ideals in their commercials. Recently the latest commercial, available on the Internet through www.Fleggard.dk, obtained huge viral impact. On December 11th 2008 the well-known American blogger Michael Arrington declared the film to be the world’s best commercial. Because of Arrington’s remarks the Danish mainstream news media ran stories about the commercial. According to TV2 Finance, Fleggaard’s web commercial received more than 100,000 viewers in the last few weeks. According to DR News, Fleggaard has now decided to allocate most of their future advertising spending to online marketing because of the huge impact of the video. They will discontinue production of the traditional printed catalogues.

Here is Michael Arrington’s description of the commercial:

”Only the Danish could get away with something like this (but how great would it be to see Amazon do commercials like this). Danish ecommerce site Fleggaard recently made the commercial below. I don’t know if it was shown on Danish television (I’m trying to find out), but I wouldn’t be surprised.

It most definitely contains nudity and is NSFW. I think it would be just as good without the exposed breasts, though. If you don’t watch it, the highlight is that dozens of topless Danish women link hands during a skydive to advertise a Siemens washing machine for 4,999.00 DKK, or about $900. It doesn’t seem like such a great price, but I’ll buy one anyway if they deliver to California.”

Response from the professionals

Subsequently a huge amount of Danish media and communciations professionals have made comments on the Fleggard commercial on their blogs and in specialised media, etc. It appears that many professional marketers have serious problems with ‘this sort of primitive tools’. They tend to hide their sexual moralism in various ways. ‘Trivial bare breasts from Fleggaard’ is the headline of an article from Bureaubiz.dk, a site specialised in news about and from the agency businesses. A significant amount of advertising professionals use the commercial argument: The means have no relationship to the product; the audience might only remember the beautiful women. Others are worried that potential visitors only will visit the website in order to view the commercial. For others this is in itself a kind of success, attention is king. And then of course we have the feminist morality, that the commercial is sexist, it is oppressive to the entire class of women. It comes as no surprise to me that advertising professionals also might have problems with the tendency of the human males to be sexually aroused by young beautiful seductive women. The bodily surface and the core sexual instincts have been condemned by religion and cultural powers for hundreds of years. The gender feminists have likely enhanced this moral pressure in the second half of the 20th century. They managed to convince intellectuals on the Left that (hetero) sexual exchanges are not the work of the Devil but of Capitalism.

The gender feminists and their problem with beauty ideals

The subject of my text here is not the marketing power of young attractive half-naked female beauty ideals. It is the feminist iconoclasm of tomorrow: The attempt to clean up the public sphere of images that idealize stereo typical hetero sexual female beauty because feminists hope that this will erase gender differences. There should not exist any gender differences because everything in this world is a social construction and hence there is no ‘natural causes’ for men to be sexually attracted to young beautiful women, so the argument goes. The acute reader might rightly wonder why it is so import that men’s sexual desires for young beautiful women are not ‘natural’ but ‘cultural’ based? If everything is a cultural construction, then surely any re-programming of the male desire not to lust for young beautiful women would equally be a cultural construction. Those of us who have spend time at the humanities and social science departments of the university are probably aware of the logic behind this cultural relativism: everything is culture, but some cultural constructions (e.g. Non-gender) are more ‘true’ than other cultural constructions (e.g. gender). This ‘true’ is not a ‘true’ or ‘proper’ ‘true’, as this does not exist. Truth is simply a social construction. So this ‘truth’ is just a cultural ‘righteousness’, that is, something we choose to define as politically ‘correct’, not ‘true’ in the sense of any objective criteria. Then we might encounter some theories that oddly as it seems make truth statements about the world, i.e. that gender difference is produced through language power or that women are not born as women, rather they become gendered as women through a certain social family structure, that is the social organization of mother, father, and children. This cultural conditioning is then defined – possibly through some obscure relativist Freud interpretations – as women’s oppression. Therefore, the reasoning goes, it is important to remove the hetero-sexist family form. Then finally all will be good, this often means that Capitalism will disappear and there will no longer exist hierarchies of any kind. ‘Equality’ is the popular notion arising from this doctrine, the idea that all individuals should not only be treated equal for the law and have the right to self-ownership, but they should also possess the same resources, talents, opportunities, economy, status, and power. I have never read about any historical precedence of this ideal let alone heard any intelligent explanation of how this ideal should come about.

Feminist ideology and the censorship of advertising

After this superficial introduction to the ideology behind the feminist iconoclasm, it is time to take a look at the real life censorship effect of the feminist ideology. The Danish consumer Ombudsman (the head of the Federal Authority of Consumer Rights) is one of the potential bureaucratic instruments that can be used by powerful feminists in today’s Denmark. The Ombudsman can serve as an interesting example of censorship of advertising. Last year he affirmed the following judgment due to feminist complaints of a print advertising campaign (my text on the JBS images) by Danish male underwear brand JBS Underwear, case no. 08/02166 in the Law of Promotions (Markedsføringsloven):

“Eroticism can be used widely as a tool in advertising. But the limit is where the use of eroticism is of a demeaning or offensive nature. The Consumer Ombudsman shall inform about his decision in JBS case.

A scantily dressed nun, nurse, maid and secretary sniffing at men’s underpants, appeared in the autumn of 2007 at the JBS website. The advertisements led to a relatively large number of complaints to the Consumer Ombudsman.

The photos, 4 in total, gave the impression to the receiver of the message that the women just had sex with a man who had left his underpants. The pictures showed women in settings of normal working environment for professionals – the nurse was situated in a hospital bed; the secretary sat on a printer, etc.

The overall impression makes the advertisement discriminatory. Having looked at the advertisement, the Consumer Ombudsman is very inclined to believe that the female sex is represented in a demeaning and defamatory manner in the advertising.

Due to the posture of the women in the pictures, with the sexual act and the underpants at the centre, the immediate view of the Consumer Ombudsman is that the advertisement reduces the female gender to sexual objects purely in order to sell men’s underwear. “

(My own emphasis in bold).

So the Consumer Ombudsman may as a legal authority declare that if the use of eroticism is derogatory or offensive in nature, then the advertisement can be deemed illegal. The problem is that the Consumer Ombudsman is unable to clearly define when the use of eroticism is derogatory; it obviously depends of the eye of the beholder. What I find offensive, another person could find an artistic stimulation, etc. But the Consumer Ombudsman does not even have to refer to, for example the majority of the eyes that might have seen the advertisement, that they could have found it offensive. He just makes a feminist interpretation that 1) it is unfair to ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’ when 2) it happens ‘purely in order to sell men’s underwear’.

Here we have two of the gender feminist favourite aversions present: gender, expressed through heterosexual male desires (suppression of women) and sales of goods (Capitalism).

From the decree of the Consumer Ombudsman we cannot clearly determine whether it is 1) or 1) in combination with 2) that represent the profane. It is obvious that 2) in itself cannot be the cause – that it should be undue in itself to produce advertising in order to sell men’s underwear. Was this the case, the Consumer Ombudsman would have to declare all advertising illegal. But if it was blameworthy in itself, to ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’ then clearly some art and most (hetero sexual) pornography should be illegal. This is not (yet) the case in Denmark.

How can it be that pornography is not illegal? If we follow the above logic, most pornography addressed to (heterosexual) men absolutely ‘reduces the female gender to sexual objects’ (in the feminist sense of the Consumer Ombudsman). Not in order ‘to sell men’s underwear’, but in order to sell itself as the product. It should clearly be just as cruel to ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’ in order to sell these reductions as information as it is to ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’ in order ‘to sell men’s underwear’. Both of the strategies ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’, and both of the strategies have a mercantile purpose. From this it must follow, that it cannot be ‘selling menswear’ versus ‘selling sexual information’ that is the problem; it would be completely illogical, even in the feminist logic.

From a purely logical position I can only find one explanation why the one mercantile operation is prohibited and not the other: Contrary to advertising, pornography is not visually imposed on random people in the public domain, it is something consumers themselves should seek out deliberately. It must be the ‘public space factor’ that is the underlying reason why the Consumer Ombudsman (according to feminist ideology) has the right to ban advertising that reproduces heterosexual idealized women.

But the JBS Underwear advertising was as far as I am aware never placed as ads in the public domain, i.e. on billboards in the public city space. They were placed in magazines that are privately owned and in order to be exposed to the evil, consumers would have to actively choose to buy these magazines. Why are these adverts illegal then but not the heterosexual pornography? Possibly because consumers of these mainstream magazines could not reasonably be expected to view advertising that ‘reduces the female gender to sexual objects’ in order to sell products. If there is any logic, it must surely mean that it would be all right to place the JBS Underwear adverts in pornographic magazines, otherwise the power exercised by the Consumer Ombudsman is absurd. Or could it be that one may not place adverts that ‘reduces the female gender to sexual objects’ in order to sell products in a media owned by a third party? In the JBS Underwear example this third part would be different magazine publishing houses.

Fleggaard’s advertising versus feminist censorship of advertising

Back to Fleggaard and the world’s best commercial. What I think is interesting in this case is the fact that the commercial only is published in Fleggaard’s own media, the company website and not in a media owned by a third party. Fleggaard even makes it very clear to the potential website audience that they actively must choose to view the Profane material that ‘reduces the female gender to sexual objects’. There are 18 + warning that a viewer must accept before he is allowed to view the commercial. Therefore the Consumer Ombudsman could not have any valid reason to ban the Fleggaard commercials, even though they obviously are trying ‘to sell washing machines’ through images that ‘reduce the female gender to sexual objects’. Further Fleggaard GmbH is a German registered company. The Danish Consumer Ombudsman would probably run into legal problems if he tried to ban Fleggaard’s commercials.

This are bad, bad news for the feminist iconoclasts who try to use the government bureaucracy in order to eliminate the gender difference – especially when gender is produced through idealized heterosexual images, this is absolutely proper iconoclasm. But because gender feminists are theoretical relativists – they believe that the reality is a language or cultural construction – it is obvious why they must be so busy making their ‘discursive information interventions’.

If the advertising experts are right, that the trends are going towards more web-based publishing of commercials, it will become harder for bureaucrats informed by feminist ideology to censor advertising material that reproduces women as sexual desirable persons (sexual objects in the feminist rhetoric). What about the brave new European Union gender abolishment project known as Gendermainstreaming? Here it is clearly approved that the each EU member nation (i.e. the State bureaucracy) actively must seek to prevent the spread of gender stereotypes in media, information and culture.

This must surely mean that we will very soon see the Internet become a battleground for feminist motivated censorship. And further, the Fleggaard example shows that there will be a growing need for international censorship rules, otherwise a company can publish on the Internet from another country. How fortunate it is for the zealous censorship forces in our time that they now have an EU system at their disposal. Here they can create common rules for the feminist iconoclasm in all of Europe. And further it can provide many wonderful high paid jobs to various experts who are educated in feminist theory at the universities. Watch out all of you who care about the free movement of information on the Internet. Big Sister is on her way and she is heavyly armed with political university theory that is too good to be true for bureaucrats with totalitarian inclinations.

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