As a sort-of-recent college graduate who majored in English, I'm well aware that there are multiple ways to read the same text (or advertisement, in this case). But some girls (or readings, in this case) are bigger (or better, in this case) than others, as Morrissey would sing. And in this case, the girl who says this ad is more about getting owned on the basketball court than it is about accidental teabagging is the bigger girl.
My exegesis of the ad is as follows. What this ad is selling is sneakers. The need the sneakers address is the need to excel on the court. Our man in red is clearly not excelling on the court; so far is he from excelling that he's getting dunked on, big time. Dunked on so big that he's got another player's balls in his face. And that utter failure on the basketball court ain't right. So buy these Nikes. Period.
Brandon, a commenter on the blog of the ad agency that created the ad, Wieden+Kennedy, was particularly on point:
As a gay male and a black male, I find that some of the commenters are jumping the gun and crying wolf for an ad that I feel is in no way homophobic. Growing up, what made dunking on someone embarrassing was and is not a man's genitals in your face but the fact that you were slammed on. That's what this is about and I can't help but to feel that it is YOU (the negative commenters) that are ignorant by making such knee jerk reactions. I can't help but to feel that these comments are coming from people who don't play or enjoy basketball to get the point of reference."But," you might say, "why is it not right to have another dude's balls in your face? Clearly the ad is homophobic - intentionally or not!" Well, again, the ad isn't saying that balls-to-the-face "ain't right", but let's assume for a moment that it is. In the context of the ad - playing basketball - balls-to-the-face really ain't right. Period. Brian (full disclosure: my man) wrote the following in a comment on Joe.My.God. about this:
It's a fucking power play! It's a battle of masculine will and power. That's what makes sports exciting. And by the way - that's what makes BUTT FUCKING exciting.I really can't say it any better than that. No one - at any number along the Kinsey scale - wants an opposing player's crotch in his or her face in the heat of competition. That's the key point: in the heat of competition. The moment you take this ad out of context, as pretty much every other gay blogger seems to have done, you're left with what seems to be a homophobic ad. But that's the problem: the moment you take it out of context, you can interpret it however you want. That's not reading the ad; that's bringing your biases and agendas to bear on it. Yes, fellow gays. We have biases too.
"A-ha!" you might exclaim. "But where is the context in this ad? There's no hoop or basketball! You're only assuming this is about basketball!" Well, I'll throw that back at you: if the scene is not happening in the context of basketball, then what exactly are we supposed to believe is going on? Anyone? Again, if you take basketball out of the equation, you can read the ad however you want. I think the homophobia that some people see in this ad comes more from sports itself than from the actual advertisement. Does homophobia permeate sports? Yes, certainly, to some extent it does. But that's a different question altogether. Even though I disagree with his larger point that the ad should be pulled, I think this snippet of Hamilton Nolan's post about this on Gawker puts it best:
That said, the larger point is that the joke here—as in other campaigns revolving around ALL OF AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR SPORTS—is based on the implacable homophobia of straight jocks. That can't be denied.Finally, I find it infuriating and depressing that the best argument those who think this ad is homophobic can come up with is, "Look at this homophobic ad. It's so homophobic. Because it is. And if you don't see that, then you're a bad, self-hating gay. Fuck Nike!" Where's the argument there? There is none, except for maybe, "I find this offensive; therefore, it must be offensive." Um, no. It is two-thousand-and-friggin'-eight, people. It's time to leave political correctness in the 1990s where it should have already died.