Lusty jeans watchers provide pants for Lee

By Published on .

Advertiser: Lee Apparel Co.
Agency: Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
Ad Review rating: 4 stars

Two new spots for Lee Riveted jeans from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, are a brazen, unapologetic celebration of the shallowest kind of human interaction. They shamelessly validate the display of body parts as instruments of seduction. They proclaim, in essence, "Buy Lee. Show off your butt. Get lucky."

And they are delightful.

One is set in an apartment building laundromat, where a young woman glances nervously at an overhead clock as she stuffs dollar bills in the coin changer, one after another. Then we see a nice-looking, Lee-clad guy making his way to the laundry, where he finds the "empty" light blinking on the machine.

"Excuse me," he says to the woman, "do you have any change?" "Let me check," she coyly replies. "Lee Riveted," the voice-over says, "Cut to be noticed." Aha. The Wonderjean.

The spot is shot in black and white, providing a verite texture that enhances its humanity and charm. So, too, the second spot, filmed in a coffee shop, late at night. A single customer remains, a scraggly handsome Gen Xer, drinking refill after free refill of java while gazing at the comely waitress as she strides away in her snug Lee jeans. Finally it's closing time.

"Anything else?"she asks. "No. Yes. Maybe," he stammers. "If you're not busy, maybe we can get a cup of coffee?" More coffee? She smiles. He winces.

No wonder. The mating dance is awkward, especially for those handicapped with language and reason.

As Scott Russell Sanders observes in "Looking at Women," his seminal essay on the conflict between civility and sexuality, only human males--vs. billy goats, for example--are self-conscious about how they gaze at the female of the species. But as Sanders also observes, "There is more billy goat in most men than we care to admit." And more nanny goat in women.

There's no faulting feminist anxiety about the degradation of women through objectification in advertising and elsewhere. And of course it's true that body worship is a superficial trivialization of core human values, values centered on character, personality, humor, intellect, moral strength and mutual respect. Indeed, what separates us as civilized beings is the ability to be governed by reason and inner sensibilities, not only by our animal desires.

On the other hand, it's stupid to pretend we have no animal desires. It may be politically correct. It may be progressive doctrine. But it is also a fiction. Erase the influences of sexist culture and you are still left with the human animal, bristling with instinctive, glandular responses to the opposite sex that may have nothing whatsoever to do with character and everything to do with the shape of a be-jeaned behind.

When I catch my teen-age daughter flipping through fashion magazines, I sometimes remind her not to measure herself against some contrived cover-girl standard of beauty and worth. But I don't lie to her either. She knows exactly how boys are measuring her, at least at first glance, and she can only muster so much resentment about it because she's looking at them in more or less the same way.

The Lee campaign concedes this point--no more, no less--without attaching a value judgment. It's a billy goat and nanny goat world view, fabulously, soaringly, majestically incorrect.

It is also truth, in black and white.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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