The Super Bowl is one of the most coveted advertising slots in the year- and companies shell out big bucks in order to get their product advertised to the large audience (some of whom tune in just for the fun and interesting commercials). I didn’t watch the Super Bowl this year, or catch up on any of the commercial highlights, but found this Mr. Clean commercial while searching for an ad to analyze through semiotics as guided by Sandoval’s article. View it below:
In Semiotics and Languages of Emancipation, Sandoval describes the “5 methodologies of the oppressed” as follows: (1) Semiotics (which includes a sign, composed of a signifier and the signified), (2) Challenging dominant ideology (deconstruction), (3) Revolutionary ex-nomination, or the separation of things from their labels (nom referring to the French “name”), (4) Democratics which lead to egalitarian relations, and (5) Differential movement. In the article, Sandoval uses the example of Barthes’ analysis of the cover of Paris Match, which Barthes’ deconstructed using semiotics to reveal underlying assumptions, historical erasure, and mythologies behind the image. Barthes’ process involved semiotic analysis, which means looking at what is implied or suggested from an image without it being outwardly stated. As a class, we deconstructed the messages, myths, and underlying ideologies behind Kendall Jenner’s now notoriously infamous and messy Pepsi advertisement to reveal the company’s probable ideology of capitalism and respect for authority.
This Mr. Clean advertisement is similarly loaded with ideologies and mythologies. Mythologies, according to Sandoval (and within the discussion of Barthes’ analysis, for context’s sake), “represent(s) both the objects to be decoded and successful examples of decoding at work” (p. 88.9) In other words, “mythologies”can be understood as the incorporated ideologies, messages, or beliefs “hidden” in a text, that are often inaccurate or erasing of certain histories, peoples, identities, or other realities. In the Paris Match decoding, the colonialist history of France is erased by the loyal, obedient black face on the cover, making the image reflect an ideology of the “greatness of the French empire”.
First, this advertisement places women in a domestic environment- the woman in the commercial is cleaning, home alone, and seems bored with her situation. Until, things shake up, and a sexualized cartoon Mr. Clean (which is only slightly unsettling) appears– freeing her from her seemingly monotonous and routine activities, giving her a masculine yet feminized (because of his cleaning) figure to place her desire onto. Secondly, the commercial reflects a heteronormative notion of desire, on top of the gendered roles portrayed. The commercial reaches its “climax” when the cartoon Mr. Clean dissolves, revealing what seems to be the woman, Sarah’s, actual husband– a chubbier, scruffier, less- sparkling man. However, since Sarah has just become intrigued by this feminine yet traditionally masculine and desirable figure who has been helping her in her cleaning chores, she transfers her desire for Mr. Clean to her husband. The final tag line– ” You Gotta Love a Man Who Cleans”– summarizes these 2 prior ideologies, and prompts another- that men can become objects of desire and lust by their significant others (which, in this commercial, is of course a heteronormative other) by taking on their gendered roles- specifically cleaning.
This commercial is another advertisement that perpetuates traditional gender roles, a normative idea about household responsibilites, heteronormative romantic love or sexual desire, and a convoluted idea about how to become objects of desire. There also is an emphasis on whiteness, from the actors’ skin color, to cartoon Mr. Clean’s skin and sparkling clothing, all paired with an idea of cleanliness- which might be another mythology to unpack, yet I find it interesting the way that the advertisement suggests these heteronormative ideologies within the guise of a funny, sexy Super Bowl commercial.