Diesel’s new ad campaign, “Be Stupid,” is plastered all over the West 4th street stop in NYC. I really like this campaign. I’m analyzing this campaign in two parts. The first is its perspective on gender, the second its perspective on human nature.

The first reason I love Diesel’s “Be Stupid” campaign is that it treats both genders surprisingly equally, especially for a trendy, sexed-up company like Diesel. Sociological Images, a site normally quite good at picking out the really offensive stuff from the mundane, somehow reversed this message to make the campaign out to be sexist. Before getting into what’s so great about the campaign, I wanted to defend it from charges of being “Men: Be Stupid.” The message I got was, in fact, the reverse. My rebuttal:

Above is the first image that shows up on Diesel’s website when you click “view the campaign.” On the site, the only reference to the campaign that is gendered before this image is the like “Smart has brain, stupid has balls” that occurs in the opening (all text) flash video. In the video, that line is written in pink, as it is in on the poster ad in the West 4th street station. Not exactly a stereotypically manly color. In the picture ad campaign, the line “stupid has balls” almost only occurs with women (there is one exception). In fact, the two most dangerous (thereby brave/manly) adds feature a lone woman and a big cat. In the picture above, a panther. Below, well, a picture that one-ups The Hangover.

This picture is actually in the West 4th street ad campaign. Notice, the girl isn’t scantily clad, she isn’t scared, and she doesn’t have a boy egging her on. In the narrative of both ads, these girls got to be just as stupid as the men and, in fact, in the narrative of the whole campaign, women have “the balls.” Through out the campaign, men and women are depicted being stupid together with other women, with men, independently, sexually, non-sexually, and in no way are the women seen as drags or ancillary to the fun. In fact, in several cases, the guys seem almost along for the ride, with the girl initiating and dominating the action. And finally, the ads are far from heteronormative, with two dudes goofing around? On a date?

And a few girls coming home? Taking each other home?

The guys are being silly and cozy, the girls coming back from a rager in the wee hours of the morning. Are they gay/lesbian? The story is mostly in your head, the pictures let you make it up. Straight and queer narratives work in both images and a ton of the pictures are actually desexualized, save the fact that everyone in the campaign is really, really, really, ridiculously good looking.

The result is a campaign that is shockingly not sexist. About the only argument one could make is that there are perhaps a few (and I mean a few, like three) more pictures of women in just swim suits/underwear than men. In several of the more sexually charged images the woman is either in charge or equal to the man: in one the woman is pulling a man half out of a bus, in another, she is pulling off his shorts while he goes for her top in the pool, and another she is leaping onto the bed while he half-cowers beneath her. Furthermore, the fact that the campaign centers on recklessness, danger, stories, adventure, humor, and breaking the mold, makes the generally equal involvement of women and men all the more important. The message is that both men and women get to be “stupid” as Diesel defines it and that stupidity isn’t shameful for men or women. And in Diesel’s world, being stupid, funny, and brave, even having the balls, doesn’t mean you don’t get to look like a fierce, hot, chick.

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