This crass advertisement for a “unique luxury resort” in Las Vegas assaulted my eyeballs from the pages of the January issue of Architectural Digest. The photo and copy (“I love hard labor – I could watch it all day”) imply: “enjoying the finer things in life is only part of the fun; up here, we bask in working-class suffering as well!”
When I suggested this piece to Betsy for Classism Exposed, she thought the ad was so outrageous, she wondered aloud if it might be a parody. “Who would be attracted by it?” she asked. She posed good questions.
Although I’m not a regular “AD” reader (this was a dentist-office read), I know enough about the magazine to know its customer base is high-end. The homes and products showcased in the periodical’s glossy pages radiate affluence. In fact, the median household income of Architectural Digest readers is estimated to be over $160,000, according to the magazine’s web site. So, a parody? Not quite, I think.
The advertiser does seem to dare us to take offense. Our tuxedoed lounger confidently meets our gaze as he fondles his martini with one hand and his scantily clad companion with the other. The tagline, “just the right amount of wrong,” is a gem of a two-fer. The phrase winks at the luxury consumer while tweaking the nose of the prig appalled by its shameless insensitivity.
But the hotelier’s attempt to sell the “cosmopolitan lifestyle” (pun intended) seems, on the whole, sincere. I think they hope to woo an aspirational consumer, someone who dreams of achieving enough “distance from necessity,” as the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would have said, to be able to sneer at the unfortunate slobs who have to work difficult jobs for a living. Perhaps quite comfortable financially, they dream of a lifestyle just out of reach-one with better, more frequent vacations, and fancier clothes so plentiful one needn’t worry about ruining them with pool water. My hunch is that this type of ad would turn off the truly affluent, “old money” crowd, long thought to find gratuitous displays of wealth distasteful.
The creative team behind this ad is skillful. They managed to play on existing social inequalities to reinforce class inequity. The sexist gender dynamic in this ad is so obvious it practically reached out of the magazine and slapped me in the face. He is fully dressed, she is in a skimpy bathing suit similar to one I’d heard nicknamed “The Pretzel.” Although he is looking directly at us, her face is obscured from view by her angle, because frankly, it’s unnecessary. She’s showing him, and us, what’s most important: her body, and putting it to good use as his drink holder. (Is her arm tired yet??) Consider that more women than men work in low-wage service jobs , and suddenly the wacky pose of her body on the lounge chair seems sinister, not merely wacky and uncomfortable.
Similarly, I contemplated the race of our pool-party guests. I tried to picture this ad shot with models of color, but could not. Whites occupy most of the jobs in America’s current recessionary economy that are high-paying enough to afford stays at The Cosmopolitan. Racial minorities fill the majority of low-wage jobs even in stellar economic times. Using Caucasians, then, who profess to “love hard labor” so much they could “look at it all day” skewers both contemporary racial and class narratives with one pin.
I presume the ad’s creators overlooked one irony in this snapshot of the good life. In their attempt to appeal to the longing inside many of us for youth, beauty and thinness, they aptly chose two models who embody those traits. Lounging lazily in the pool, taking a time-out from a black tie affair (the bizarre kind, where a tux and a bathing suit are equally appropriate), the couple seem as though they will be young forever. Hard times will never befall them. But… could someone fetch her a sandwich? Her lifestyle of plenty has left her looking so thin she might not survive long enough to enjoy it.
Susan Legere is a life-long Massachusetts resident and doctoral candidate in Sociology at Boston College. Class issues have long fascinated her, and she’s explored them through academic projects. In 2007, she finished production on Immigrant Reflections, a video documentary highlighting the life stories of three immigrant service workers employed by her university. Susan also completed a study examining social class and consumption in The New York Times “Vows” columns.