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December 04, 2004

Shopping Questions

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A couple of hours of Xmas browsing leave me wondering about two things.

  • Greasy=sexy. Is anyone else as surprised as I am by how often ads that are meant to flaunt sexiness -- ads for underwear and swimwear, etc -- feature models with greasy hair, and even shiney/greasy skin? Judging from the posters and packaging I saw today, greasy=sexy has become a Standard Cultural Thing. I guess the grease -- often accompanied by pouting lips, "look at me/don't look at me" posture, bulging muscles, lotsa skin, and attitude to burn -- is conveying "sullen," "audacious," "claustrophobically intimate" ...

    The ads seem to be selling a fantasy of adolescence -- those handful of years when you have the energy and bounce of a kid but also the fullgrown sexual equipment of an adult, as well as too much spare time for your own good. They're selling the idea that adolescence can be a wonderful, decadent party, instead of the mood-swinging, anxious-exhausted, lonely/misunderstood, what-am-I-going-to-turn-out-to-be thing it usually is. The actual greasiness of adolescence, after all, is stinky, dandruffy, shiney-nosed, and pimply. But in current popular culture, teengrease is the musk of orgiastic gods.

    I trace this glamor-of-seediness fashion back to the early photos of Bruce Weber and the early films of Gus Van Sant. Their work grows out of Warhol, and the pornography Warhol was ripping off, er, inspired by. And before Warhol, there was Tennessee Williams, with his taste for sweaty, sensitive louts. Careful readers will note that Weber, Van Sant, Warhol, and Williams are (or were) all gay. How ... odd that greasy=sexy has managed to move out of the gay underground to have such a long run in the squaresville mainstream. Any hunches about how much longer the mainstream will continue to find teengrease sexy?

  • Does Bose bite? Or am I tone deaf? I happily admit to being no audiophile. I don't subscribe to techie-audio magazines, and I don't have demanding ears; I'm more than pleased with sound quality that's good-enough. All I really want is to be able to follow the music and understand the dialog, dammit. I have no sound-snob qualifications or pretentions, in other words. And since I don't keep up, I may also be ill-informed about contempo audio reputations. But, and FWIW, I've long been under the impression that Bose's audio equipment is considered ... prestigious, or desirable, or something.

    Well, today I poked my ears in a Bose showroom for the first time, eager to be ravished. But what I heard from Bose's products was sound that seemed designed to wow the rubes. Effects were immensely heightened. The chest-thumpingness of the bass and the tinkles and whooshes in the higher registers were keyed 'way up, as though determined to make you say "Whoa!" As for the sense of the music and the dialogue: it was left far, far behind.

    Oh, initially the display of audio fireworks was impressive. But it took me only four or five seconds to decide that fireworks are all that Bose's equipment is meant to deliver. But of course I may be wrong about this. (I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that I have lousy taste in audio.) Can anyone better-informed than I am clue me in: is Bose's pitch a scam? Or are Bose's products genuinely high-class?

It occurs to me that Bose's sound resembles those greasy=sexy ads: they're pumpy, maxed-out fantasies devoted to the goal of sweeping you away and leaving you brainless and senseless. What can this mean?

As ever, I'm one dazed-and-confused consumer. Or wannabe consumer, anyway.



posted by Michael at December 4, 2004


You're absolutely right about Bose. Overmarketed trash.

Posted by: JT on December 4, 2004 7:00 PM

Yep. They were one of the first companies to to use various techniques to pump up the bass so that they can get impressive-seeming amounts out of small packages, but the sound is just pure mud across the range...

Check out the Bose Faq.

Posted by: jimbo on December 4, 2004 7:27 PM

1) What in hell Christmas presents were you scanning that included teangrease = sexy? Just what were you buying your mother? Also, though, I don't think it's entirely new---remember the Ban de Soleil ads from the seventies, with a model with a dark-dark-dark (skin cancer by 50) tan and black bikini and greasy suntan lotiony skin? Somehow, I'm certain you do...and, somehow, I think when you were that age you understood the sex appeal. I think your reaction now may have more to do with the changes in you (ahem) than in what advertisers think is sexy!!

2) Gee, I'm out of it again. I just bought a Mazda Miata with a Bose audio system and have marvelled over how much better it sounds than my last car stereo.

Posted by: annette on December 4, 2004 7:54 PM

JT, Jimbo -- Thanks, glad to hear my ears still have some life in them. That Bose FAQ is very handy.

Annette -- Posters and ads were plastered everywhere, lemme tellya. It seemed that all the stores selling clothes and fashion had huge, semi-porn images up, most of them of sexy-greasy kids. The electronics and gadget places had a lot of lycra and near-nude bodies on display too, but they seem to go more for the Photshopped, "T-2" android look. Appealing to a different kind of vanity, I suppose. And I do remember that Bain de Soleil ad ...

Congrats on the Miata. Sounds like a hot car. I wonder if the Bose sound is well-suited to a car environment.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 4, 2004 8:07 PM

I wonder if the Bose sound is well-suited to a car environment.

My friend had a Saab with a Bose stereo - mud and cymbals, baby, mud and cymbals.

I'd always fiddle with his equalizer (major auto faux pas, I know, but I was in pain) yet fiddle as I might it still sucked.

Posted by: Brian on December 4, 2004 8:20 PM

Given that the original post is already a two-headed topic, that reduces the risk of the following a huge diversion -- I consider it a FWIW:

Have other readers skimmed the "Holiday 2004" LL Bean catalog yet?

I did, and noticed that one of the male models had both sideburns (albeit short ones) and a Indiana Jones 3-day stubble.

Maybe they've been using the guy for eons and I failed to notice, but for some reason it caught my eye this go-round. I associate LL Bean catalogs with clean-cut outdoorsey people, not with longe-lizards from whatever the current incarnation of Studio 54 is. Okay, perhaps you will argue that the fellow just returned from discovering the North Pole, the Canadian border, or whatever lies up north of Freeport. But it just seems not in keeping with the LL Bean image.

Or is the LL Bean image undergoing a retooling? Lemme see -- "Suddenly, it's 1982!!"

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 4, 2004 8:59 PM

bose is not audiophile, it's definately marketing driven consumer-phile (or should i say pile?).

Are those bose speakers better than the standard equipment you would get? Yes.

Should you be getting something ALOT better for your money? Oh Man, Yes.

Stay away from Boses' headphones also!

Posted by: azad on December 4, 2004 11:48 PM

If you really want to hear what good sound is like, take your Miata to a car stereo store and have them tear out those Bose speakers and replace them with something decent - maybe Boston Acoustics, JBL, or some such.

Of course, not being a guy, you probably aren't handicapped by our weeny obsession with sound, so maybe you shouldn't bother. (Although that does bring up one of those ironies of nature: women have sharper hearing than men (especially at higher frequencies) - yet audiophiles are almost exclusively male. Talk amoungst yourselves...)

Posted by: jimbo on December 5, 2004 12:46 AM

Yeah, Bose has not improved its technology in over 30 years- they are still using paper cones. I'm a semi-audiophile- I prefer rich vinyl to the thinner sound of CDs= but mostly I have CDs anyway. ALthough I am getting interested in the sound mixing on Super Audio CDs- particularly Beck's "Sea Change" in surround.

Anyhow- Bose is not good. For really great stereo sound- (read stereo) get a tube driven amplifier, an excellent record player and some 180 gram records.

For surround, I defer to the experts. But names that seem to work are JBL, Marantz- all of that.

Posted by: Michael Brendan Dougherty on December 5, 2004 1:59 AM

I think the dark, greasy, sullen thing goes all the way back to Elvis. Hard to imagine from today's perspective what a shock he was to the whole well-scrubbed-blue-eyed-blond American ethos; how subversive he was. And maybe that's the key to the staying power of the greasy-sullen look. Maybe it's a way for those who create the advertising to pose (safely) as "rebels," no matter how stale the act has become.

Or maybe (taboo thought) they're just trying to appeal to the ever expanding Latino market.

Posted by: ricpic on December 5, 2004 8:57 AM

Yes, I'm absolutely CERTAIN the LL Bean model just came back from climbing Everest...and it wasn't anything like vanity but simply RUGGED practical masculinity which made him not shave...just like Don Johnson's unshaved Miami Vice look was because he'd been undercover on a stake-out for 3 days. I always wondered what cover he was under wearing lavender sports jacket...

Thanks for the car stereo advice. And...I love the car!

Posted by: annette on December 5, 2004 2:36 PM

I think of Bose as the equivalent of all those overdone Starbucks drinks with 20 added flavors in them. Come on folks, good plain coffee has more than enough flavor! Most professionally recorded music has all it needs, just get a sound system that shows you what's truly there and you'll be fine. Not Bose, in other words.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on December 6, 2004 1:05 PM

Greasy, sexy, Elvis, sullen, pouty, maybe it will never go out of fashion. Reminds me of Patricia Arquette and Balthazar Getty in Lost Highway. Or Katie Holmes. And wait till the Moral Majority cops an eyeful of this.

Posted by: Toby on December 6, 2004 10:44 PM

Greasy equates with sexy because skin is more oily when people are younger and youth equates with sex.

Posted by: Randall Parker on December 7, 2004 5:27 PM

I'm still trying to figure where all this greasy stuff is coming from... greasy is not the high school or teen "model" look but the "high art" models.

If you go into a mall and look at Abercrombie, and that class of store, you get blond white, and clean, and lots of hinting, alot of skin yes, but scrubbed hinting.

Guess, which is the italian import version, advertizes by just substituting brunettes into the equation,
JCREW, GAP, Banana Republic, same clothes minus skin

On the other hand, you have sweaty people in bands, hippie kids, cowboys, and uh...mechanics.. all sorts of other stuff like that which works with greasy... and models.

i guess the gays know what's sexy then.

Posted by: azad on December 7, 2004 8:57 PM

FWIW, on my shopping (or browsing) day out, I was surprised to see a lot of greasy blondes in the ads and packaging.

I suppose you could trace the sexiness of greasiness back to the Latin Lovers of the silent movies. I wonder if it could be traced back farther than that.

Seems to me that what's distinctive about today's version is that much of today's greasiness has different overtones. The greasiness of the Latin Lover, or of Elvis, was a kind of public style -- insinuating, "dark," romantic. And the hair, though it would inevitably wind up tousled, started off very styled. Today's greasy-sexy kids skip the public performance entirely. They've got bed-head, and they're often presented in bedroom settings, or as if they're just taking a break from the rock-and-roll orgy in the next room to refresh their batteries with some Cristal. You're plunked right into a so-close-it's-alarming intimacy with them. I think that's what's remarkable about the current greasy-skin focus. You're not supposed to notice skin shine; you're supposed to overlook it. (And corporate-American beauty is all about being hairless, shineless, well-powdered, scentless...) And here are these kids with bed-head, with shiney skin, with pores and heavy eyebrows ... Like I say, it's all (deliberately) a little too close for comfort, and that seems to be the point.

Anyway, what amazes me is how long the fashion has lasted in its current incarnation. How to explain why some fashions have staying power and others just have a moment or two? Baseball hats are virtually invisible in NYC these days, for instance, but the long, pointy shoes that seem to make some women feel sexy and stylish seem to be here for another season. Hippie and punk styles seem to have become cultural classics. I wonder if dreadlocks are going to have much of a run ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 8, 2004 12:03 PM

But...these are advertisements. They aren't art photos or a history of the cover of "Rolling Stone." What are they supposed to be prompting you to DO? Or...are we not the target audience? Are they supposed to prompt twentysomethings to want to wear their shirt/pants/underwear so they can live like that, too? ("Don't you wish you were me?"). Is the intimacy only uncomfortable to people over 27? Or...are these products targetted for greasy, pimply, sweaty people---revenge of the nerds, so to speak. Screw Cheryl Tiegs---it's OUR day in the sun, now!

Posted by: annette on December 8, 2004 1:10 PM

That certainly makes as much sense as I've seen made of the phenom! My guess is that it's Latin Lover/Elvis stuff, crossed with grunge rock, crossed with a certain kind of gay love of sulky street kids (glamor and sexiness of seediness), crossed with white-trash chic, all of it amped-way-up by MTV-style "impact" and meant to appeal to the narcissism of 15 year olds. It's cool to be sweaty and greasy and to smell -- it's not bad, it's sexy, it's me!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 8, 2004 2:51 PM

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