A dear friend showed me the following commercial for Huggies’ limited edition denim diapers last night:
After watching it, I began thinking about the role the cultural role of the phallus. Before continuing, however, we must address the cultural distinction between the penis and phallus. The penis, as a male organ, is not necessarily imbued with power; however, the phallus, the socio-cultural signifier of masculinity, does possess a tremendous amount of authoritative power. It is very much a part of androcentric culture.
The male toddler in this commercial is wearing blue jean diapers and it is the eye of the camera which suggestively “tells” viewers how to read the scenes. It is not accidental that the camera focuses on the diaper. Indeed, this is a commercial about diapers, but we can read far deeper into the camera’s choice of focus.
According to the commercial, this young toddler’s diaper, or, depending on the reading, his phallus, possesses the power to make grown women swoon as he walks down the sidewalk. His phallus has the power to make a grown man “release” his balloons (I think the sexual overtones of this act are frightfully clear). Again, I don’t think the toddler has all of this inherent power. Rather, it is his phallus, incased within the diaper, that is wielding the sexual control.
I had the naive belief that this masculine, socially sanctioned control was age specific, but, I was wrong. Apparently a toddler’s phallus is able to sexually distract and arouse grown women and men. The camera’s constant focus on the toddler’s phallus, the quick cuts from it to the faces of adults, suggests that the draw of the phallus is present, regardless of age.
I understand that the camera’s focus on the lower half of the toddler’s body is meant to promote Huggies’ new, denim diapers; however, the subtext of the focus speaks to darker discourse of inherent male power. “My diaper is full, full of chic” alludes to the “look” and durability of the diaper, sure, but also alludes, once again, to the potency of the phallus.
It is no accident that the landscape of the commercial, the people and the objects, revolve around this male toddler. Women stop speaking and they lower their sunglasses, traffic stops for him, and car doors are opened for him. At the end of the commercial, he leaves in a black convertible, an attractive woman at his side. The sense of male privilege, authority, and access present in this commercial is not only overwhelming but troubling.
Further, on a different reading, the sexualizing of a toddler (male or female) seems to be an absurd act that creates pedophiliac fascinations. I am reminded of the blog of a colleague who wrote about Heelarious, a company that creates high-heeled zebra print, hot pink, and cheetah print “crib shoes” for infant girls (http://wisconsinwithlove.blogspot.com/).
In the end, I am not advocating for censorship. Rather, I believe a dialogue needs to occur about the sexualization of children for the promotion of goods. We need to continue interrogating the content of our commercials.