Sexual Chocolate: The Role of Chocolate in Race and Gender Performance

Chocolate has been used in advertisements to promote problematic representations of race and gender performance, often grounded in harmful histories. Axe, a retailer in men’s hygienic products, created a commercial for their “Dark Temptation” fragrance. However, this commercial depicts these problematic racial and gendered representations as a white male uses the fragrance to perform “black male sexuality” by using chocolate as a medium, leading to overwhelming sexual responses from the nearly exclusively white women throughout the commercial. In response, our group created a still ad for a curvy white woman that highlights the “chocolate-vanilla” difference used to promote the “black-white” binary in gender performance, sexuality, and indulgence. In doing so, this analysis highlights problems with advertisers’ contemporary use of chocolate to unintentionally promote problematic and historical stereotypes in racial and gender performance.

The first ad is a commercial for Axe’s men’s fragrance, “Dark Temptation.”

[Axe commercial, 2008][1]

The 2008 commercial depicts a pale and skinny white male who, after using Dark Temptation, transforms into a life-sized “chocolate man.” This chocolate man is chased, desired, and even consumed by the women around him in this semi-urban American town. Women lavishly eat different parts of his chocolate body at multiple points during the commercial. As he waves to an adoring crowd of women at the end, the tagline appears: “As Irresistible As Chocolate.” The message to the consumer becomes clear: if you, a (white) man, use Dark Temptation products, you too can become irresistible to women.

This commercial presents numerous problems in racial and gender performance. First, by using Dark Temptation to turn a pale and skinny white male into an “irresistible” chocolate man, Axe already conflates chocolate with blackness and its stereotypical qualities as sexual and sinful. The name “Dark Temptation” itself bears no explicit connection to chocolate, but when the man transforms, Dark Temptation becomes a medium through which chocolate gets tied to blackness (through “Dark”) and sexuality/sinfulness (“Temptation”). Even on the Axe website, an ad for Dark Temptation fragrance contains the description, “Everyone knows that women can’t resist the scent of chocolate, and why should they? It’s delicious.”[2] As discussed in lecture, this association between chocolate and sexuality is highly racialized, as chocolate was a euphemism for people of African descent.[3] Emma Robertson points out that the use of black characters in French commercials throughout the 19th century was central to the exotification of chocolate: “Both the product and the race are marked by their…distance from Europe.”[4] Likewise, this commercial uses racial difference through the white male’s transformation into chocolate in order to market the desirability of Dark Temptation.

Additionally, the nature of this transformation from white male to “chocolate male” is already startling. But combined with the over-the-top nature of the chocolate male’s plastered smile and bulging eyes, this chocolate male depiction harkens back to the blackface minstrelsy of the mid-1800s to the early 1900s (example below). The white male’s transformation into the chocolate male bears a strange similarity to white performers’ extreme make-up use to perform as black characters.

Axe Commercial - Before

(Axe Commercial – Still at 0:01)

Axe Commercial - After

(Axe Commercial – Still at 0:03)

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_edit

(William H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee – http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/var.1831/[5]

Axe Commerial - Chocolate Smile

(Axe commercial – still at 0:04)

This obviously problematic connection between the commercial and blackface minstrelsy is not only a problem itself but also has ramifications on the commercial’s narrative. Dark Temptation transforms this white male into a “chocolate male,” and through the medium of chocolate, he takes on qualities historically associated with black male sexuality: sexual consumption by white women.

This change is more obvious from the reactions of the women around him once he turns into chocolate. Rather than approaching or being approached by women to go out on a date or get to know him, the women flock to his body and literally consume him, whether they lick off his ears at the movie theater or literally take a bite out of his butt on the subway.

Axe Commercial - Movies

(Axe commercial – still at 0:11)

Axe Commercial - Butt Subway

(Axe commercial – still at 0:18)

The commercial therefore perpetuates the historical idea that encounters between black men and white women are sexual, not romantic, in nature. And using chocolate as a medium, the ad tells the male consumer that Dark Temptation is necessary to be desirable to women, which is key to their gender performance.

In response to the Axe commercial, our group created an ad for the fictional product “White Chocolate Truffle Perfume”:

White Chocolate Truffle Perfume Ad

White Chocolate Truffle Perfume

Our ad depicts a very light white woman with a curvaceous body seductively eating a white chocolate truffle. Created in an American context, our ad convinces the consumer to purchase “White Chocolate Truffle Perfume” to convince the consumer to be “Anything But Vanilla” – the tagline. This ad creates the narrative that if a (white) woman buys this perfume, she will be desirable and sexy.

Our group created this still ad to address chocolate’s use in the conventional dichotomy between chocolate as blackness and therefore “sexual/sinful” and vanilla as whiteness and “bland/pure.” The tagline “Anything But Vanilla” presents the idea of vanilla as “bland,” but our ad still promotes a “white” product. However, since the product is “White Chocolate,” notions of chocolate as “sexual and sinful” still undergird our ad. Furthermore, it depicts a white woman with a curvy body in order to address the different beauty standards and expectations for white women versus black women. Whereas commercials often portray white women to be skinny and black women to be curvier, our ad depicted a curvy white woman in order to address these differing beauty standards. Lastly, this particular commercial markets uses this woman and her association with white chocolate to market to women, rather than the Axe commercial’s marketing to men.

Whereas our ad grappled with chocolate’s use for white females, one can see the Axe commercial as commentary on chocolate and black male sexuality. As shown, historical ideas of the “chocolate-vanilla”/”black-white” binary are pervasive in current advertisements, despite their harms.

[1] “New Axe Dark Temptation Commercial (US),” YouTube video, 0:31, posted by “AXEvip,” September 22, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEpfTicDVUE

[2] “AXE – Men’s Hair, Deodorant, Body Spray and Shower Gel Products.” The Axe Effect. Accessed April 10, 2015.

[3] Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 16: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.”

[4]  Robertson, Emma. “‘A Deep Physical Reason’: Gender, Race, and the Nation for Chocolate Consumption.” In Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

[5] Fig. 1. Wm. H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee, 1900. Theatrical poster, 76 X 101 cm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Available from: Library of Congress, http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/var.1831/ (accessed April 10, 2015).

chocolate, vanilla, race, gender, white, black, male, female, sexuality, beauty, body

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