Who wants to be Adele, filling the void with an endless emptiness unchained?

Do people still talk about advertising in sociology classes? Do young people today know what advertising is or was, whether as part of or apart from embedded messages and influencing? These images, and the video, could be fodder for a class discussion.

I got interested in sociology after developing a critical perspective on society that was partly on feminist critiques of advertising. I know that sounds nichey, but I’m sure it’s not all that rare. Come on: it was shooting ducks in a barrel.

Woman in loose dress sitting bareback on a horse looking at the sun with the text, "Safari by Ralph Lauren. A world without boundaries. A powerful adventure and a way of life."
“Safari by Ralph Lauren. A world without boundaries. A powerful adventure and a way of life.” Ralph Lauren’s Safari add campaign, the subject of an undergraduate paper I wrote in American Culture around 1990 about imperialism, feminism, and consumerism.

This is the kind of content that animated the most successful blog in the history of sociology, Sociological Images, which began in 2007 as a forum for exchanging course material from popular culture and grew to include thousands of images and essays.

Anyway, the model in the Safari photos was Kim Nye, “the tall, aristocratic blond who gazes across shimmering savannas and lounges in a lavish tent.” After her modeling career she opened an art gallery in Martha’s Vineyard with a zebra skin on the floor, in a space now more successfully run by Tanya Augoustinos, who — ironically — dresses like this:

So it goes.

But anyway, who was the real fictional woman on the horse — or riding the classic motorcycle or prop plane around “Africa”? It’s quite possible she grew she was really Adele, from the Citigold ad campaign. “A loving aunt. A designer. A traveler. An achiever. A woman prepared to be all these at once.”

Adele had big dreams. She became “a design director of a fashion label … When Adele’s not working around the clock, she enjoys traveling the world and experiencing other cultures.” This could include the occasional safari in her younger days, given the size of her wealth portfolio.

I wonder how she resonates with our students. Adele has no family — at least not that make the cut of her two-minute finance-success life story — except for two nephews, whom she mentors, then pays for them to go to college, then invests in one of their startups. This is family for Adele. No mention of partner or marriage, and insisting that be included would surely be sexist. She “would rather take a value-centric approach to enrich her life.”

The Adele in the video is deliberately racially opaque, in the way that illustrators are so good at nowadays. But when the time came to put Citigold in the NY Times Magazine, they went with a Getty image of a woman who was a little… less opaque.

Citigold Adele is very busy. She “puts her career above all. She’s driven by curiosity and creativity. Most of all, she breaks away from anything traditional.”

With that twisty poise at first I assumed it was an ad for a yoga class, or something to help me handle three devices at once without tweaking my back. It turns out that posture is very flexible. Not only can she strike the pose in either direction, she does it to make her workday more efficient, collects debts, make powerful changes at work, while pursuing a career in senior management.

I didn’t pursue feminist advertising studies, but a lot of people did, including some who wrote dissertations featuring Ralph Lauren’s Safari campaign. In, his 1997 sociology dissertation, “Manufacturing whiteness”: On the re-presentation of women and ethnic Others in colonialism and women’s fashion magazine advertising, Reto Muller at Boston College wrote something about Safari that seems prescient for Adele in all her versions as well:

This, like many other ads, promise the impossible and the impossibly empty! Here, desire comes to us doubly as desire for “boundlessness” and as a certain desire-in-lack brought on by the emptiness of our experientially bounded life. This void can now be filled or, as it were, avoided if we buy “Safari” and “live without boundaries.

The Adele in the video has no relationships other than her “team” at work and her financial advisor. She fills the void with the endless emptiness of a self unchained. Maybe her profile doesn’t speak to people like our students. She is being used to market a high net-worth financial product. There is no mention of social justice, raising children, caring for older relatives, or college debt. Maybe she’s the way old rich people like to imagine they were when they were younger, how it was their focus and drive that made them rich.

These are notes for a class discussion in my Families and Society course.

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