Aug 17, 2011

Cottonil: The Underwear Controversy

Ramadan is here and already half way through. While some Egyptians think of it as a month of religious observance, family gatherings or festive meals; Ramadan can also be seen as the month of televised invasion!

Each year, all TV channels race to catch TV viewers’ attention with loads of TV series, comedy and talk shows. But in between all those shows, the thing that viewers see the most, and recently discuss the most are the ads in between.

TV ads have got people talking, facebooking and tweeting enjoying them, making fun of them or severely ridiculing them. The advertisement that caused most controversy was definitely Cottonil ad for promoting male underwear and boxers, a first of a kind in Egypt! The humorous ad begins by saying that boxers are like you friends; some make you comfortable, some are too sticky and other make you look better! The rather “sexual” innuendos plus the specter of young men in sagging jeans apparently provoked some conservative nerves.    

I think the discussion about this ad is particularly interesting. It has provoked some discussion about media, youth, fashion, and even homosexuality!

Some people saw the advertisement as a sign of media irresponsibility saying that the ad is inappropriate and rude especially in Ramadan and that it offends families watching TV together. Part of this argument is about appropriate dress; i.e. what is considered decent clothes and what’s not! In a country where religious conservatism is on the rise, talking about freedom of dress won’t get you very far!  A lot of people are concerned about what “message” their children would get from seeing young people with low hanging jeans!

The other part of this argument is about the fact that people are seeing Egyptian boxers ads for the first time in their lives. Something about the fact that it’s an ad about underwear seem to irrationally provoke many people. The humorous innuendos did not sit well with a certain mindset that is uncomfortable with the human body and especially because underwear are somehow linked to… genital organs!! Despite the criticism, the ad has a lot of positive reactions and a lot of people found it funny and praised its boldness and creative idea. The reactions reminded me of a quote I heard in a play I saw in Rawabet a while ago. "Why are we all shy of talking about underwear although we're all wearing it?!" 

The arguments propagated by the critics can be contested.  Don't young people already know about the trend of wearing sagging pants? Don't we see that in regular life every day? Why should we pretend that it doesn't exist; or should we always act as ostriches do? Why would we want to limit the freedom of choosing what people wear? If women can have the right to show their cleavage and legs, why can’t men show their underwear?! Most importantly, why do we feel an urge to control what people wear?

Interestingly though, some of the young people reacted to the ad saying it's "a gay ad"! I wonder why such comment was made. Is it because it's an advertisement for male underwear? Or is it because it portrays male friendship and intimacy? Does seeing males touching each other amount to being gay?

Although a lot of people in Egypt tend to think that homosexuality is a foreign concept, I think that this homophobia is the foreign concept. After all we have a culture that didn't see a threat or problems in male friendly intimacy and until now we can see men kissing on the cheeks, hugging or even sometimes holding hands, something that doesn't really happen in most of the "Western countries"! Our perception of masculinity is confusing to me. What kind of man do we accept and what other kind we call sissy? What are the criteria!

In the end, I believe that media is more of a reflection of society’s attitudes and beliefs. Analyzing what we see on TV and how we react to it is an interesting and worthy process. After all, resolving issues begins with a quiet and open debate.