It floats! (ch. 2)

Commenting on my Ivory Soap posting (“and it floats!”) yesterday, Ann Burlingham asks about the images of naked boys and men in these vintage ads:

Do you or Chris [Ambidge, who sent me the images] have dates? The boys’ naked bottoms in Harper’s – it strikes me as normal, then that strikes me as odd, that a general-interest magazine would so easily have male nudity.

The ads seem mostly to be from 1918-19; the war-time in question is World War I. And their homoerotic subtext has been noticed by others — notably by Bruce H. Joffe in A Hint of Homosexuality?: ‘Gay’ and Homoerotic Imagery in American Print Advertising (2007).

From the Xlibris (self-publishing) site on the book:

Well before the June 1969 Stonewall riots threw open the closet doors to unleash and proclaim an unmistakable gay mantra, myriad clues — some subliminal, others overt — clearly ingrained the notion of homosexuality in advertisements appearing on the pages of many American periodicals. Hedonistically intertwined with homoerotic connections are advertising themes such as youth, vitality, and carnal pleasure. Gay intimacy and interaction, references to the male genitalia, and threats of sexual conquest of and between men can be documented in ads as far back as the late 1800s. And, although the images reflected in their advertising mirror are fewer and farther between, women who prefer the company of other women similarly have been goosed and gandered by Madison Avenue.

In this richly illustrated tapestry hinting at homosexuality in American advertising, Bruce H. Joffe examines and analyzes over 200 suggestive ads … concluding that gay imbroglio and innuendo tease at us amid subliminal elements seductively perceived and strategically portrayed.

The writing in this blurb grates on me — imbroglio is an especially poor choice of words, and “subliminal elements seductively perceived and strategically portrayed” is drastically overwritten — but a trove of vintage ads would be worth having.

On Joffe:

A Professor of Communication who has taught Gay & Lesbian Studies courses at George Mason University, Dr. Joffe is now on the faculty of Mary Baldwin College where he continues to explore sexual minorities, the media, and cultural norms.

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