When you “appropriate” something, it means you have taken something and placed it into a different context and have thusly changed its meaning.
Creatively appropriating art can be humorous and subversive, but it isn’t always the case that appropriative art is created tastefully. In my chosen picture above, World War II cultural icon “Rosie the Riveter’s” image has been co-opted to serve as an advertisement for Clorox.
I am not sure if this is actually an advertisement run by Clorox, but the fact remains that the appropriation of Rosie the Riveter, a feminist icon, to sell cleaning goods and undercut the original image’s equal rights stance is a tone-deaf attempt at cheeky humor in advertising.
Appropriating the original image in this way is a total subversion and it may be argued that it is a misogynistic spin on the classic image. Rosie was an icon used to boost morale among the young working women during the tumult of World War II. It became an iconic image in spite of the inequity among men and women at the time. The classic tagline read “We can do it!” The slogan was bold and did not compromise its own integrity.
Cut to our Clorox “ad” and we see an equally bold slogan. “Get the Power.”
Except, on this image, the slogan is clarified with its advertising copy “…The Power to Clean Anything.” No longer is the image representing a strong female icon in the labor force, now it has boiled itself down to a tacky advertisement for cleaning supplies. Whether or not you view this choice as misogynistic is beside the point. Doing anything to take away from the original image’s intent is appropriating that original essence to serve a purpose that it was never intended to serve.
There’s no ire in its visual either. In fact, Rosie’s been edited to “smile” more. The image is basically lifted from the original, with only minor alterations. Her fingernails are painted, she’s smiling, her hair is longer, she’s portrayed in a bright light, and wears a wedding ring on her finger. Unless you were comparing the two side-by-side, you would never assume that the visuals were at all different.
This can either be viewed as a joke fallen slightly flat or an openly antagonistic advertisement that co-opts a feminist icon to sell cleaning materials, as if that’s all that women really do or care about. With the alterations to the picture undercutting Rosie’s intense stare with makeup and flattering light, the image reads less as tongue-in-cheek and more as a mockery of the original image. It might not have been intended to serve as that kind of a display, but the fact of the matter is that it’s open to interpretation as a result of poorly thought out appropriative imagery.
Rosie’s image is iconic enough to have spawned its own following. Among classic American pop culture and pop art, “Rosie the Riveter” is one of the most popularly twisted icons.
This is the problem with iconic images. You can make an advert out of anything with strong visual imagery. In the case of Rosie, the subject (Rosie herself) can very easily be separated from her intended narrative. You wouldn’t see a picture of the troops raising the American flat at Iwo Jima co-opted by McDonald’s. If you did, it would be an embarassingly poor attempt at subverting an original image.
Like with my previous post on Fender’s advert, we can delve deeper into the result of the juxtaposition of Clorox’s cleaning products and Rosie the Riveter. According to theorists like Antonio Gramsci, there are conflicts that crop up between dominant and non-dominant ideologies. While typically occupied with political and cultural ideological, I find that the same can be said of this small-scale examination of Rosie the Riveter’s image being placed against cleaning supplies.
There exists a hegemonic nature between the two ideologies. In Rosie’s characteristic pro-women’s-rights image, her defiance is a direct address to the age-old notion that women were not meant to work manual labor. This hegemony between pro and anti women’s labor rights dissolves when looking at the Clorox ad.
Why? Because the dominant ideology, that women can’t or shouldn’t work physical labor, is reinforced by the advertisements choice to place the Rosie image on an advertisement for cleaning supplies, a “womanly” activity.
Theorists like Stuart Hall would believe that this image has a number of different impacts, depending on the viewer’s reaction. But the intended impact of the image is hard to decode. I have no idea if this was an actual advertisement run by Clorox or if it’s an ironic art project, generated by an independent party. For example, if the image chose to deliberately turn Rosie against her original image’s meaning, I would be adopting the dominant reading. The whole point of the image was to be contentious, and I would believe that the image is deliberate in that action.
The end result is hard to describe. With its nebulous origin and intent, there is very little that can be done to interpret it. There is a notable lack of reaction to this advertisement, which led to my interest. Is this image polarizing or not? Am I believing that the image means the total opposite of what it means? Would that make my reading an oppositional take on the original intent? In all cases, it is possible. There’s no certainty to the image, but there is absolutely no denying its appropriative origin.