In light of the recent dust-up over an over-sexed Calvin Klein billboard recently displayed over a busy New York intersection, I thought I’d offer this article from Christopher West on Why Sex Sells. This isn’t the first time CK has come under fire for their advertising techniques. In the mid nineties the fashion company released a series of tv commercials (eventually pulled off the air) that looked like a bunch of under-age models auditioning for a part in a porn movie. Sex and sexual innuendo are often used to sell everything from automobiles to office equipment. But why use sex? What is the appeal? Though it does seem pretty obvious, could there be a deeper meaning for the human attraction to all things sexual to the extent that it even influences some people’s buying habits? In West’s article he quotes from philosophy professor James K.A. Smith who wrote:
“I think [Christians] should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry – which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connect to our heart and imagination – is … able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because they have rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures…. They have figured out the way to our heart because they ‘get it’: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures – creatures who are oriented by love and passion and desire” (“The Erotics of Truth, and Other Scandalous Lessons from Augustine of Hippo”, Comment, June 2008)
What Mr. Smith means by “erotic” here is the inner desire and yearning of the human being for what is true, good, and beautiful. All of the things that we desire essentially point to a deeper yearning within our hearts – a desire to be fulfilled, satisfied. But sex, specifically when engaged in its proper context, becomes the very image of that which is our ultimate fulfillment and that which alone can truly satisfy – the Trinity. Both West and Smith conclude, then, that the proper response from Christians is to
“honor what the marketing industry has right – that we are creatures of desire – and then respond in kind with counter-measures that demonstrate where desire really points us (to God).”
This doesn’t mean we should approve of the use of such advertising, or consider it to be good by any stretch of the imagination. Sex in advertising is meant to incite lust which is the antithesis of the life giving love of God. It distorts the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality and in a world of infallible human beings marred by concupiscence, the less sexually explicit or even suggestive images that we see the better.