In 2009, almost 200,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While breast cancer affects many people, it is still perceived as a problem of older women. After her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, MTV Canada host Jasmine Sovani decided it was necessary to draw more attention to the problem. She felt it was particularly necessary to get the attention of men and young people, two groups who generally do not believe that the problem affects them.
Sovani got creative, writing and producing a commercial which advertised a fundraiser, the “Boobyball,” for ReThink Breast Cancer, a charity that helps young people struggling with breast cancer. The commercial takes place during a pool party. Provocative music begins to play and Sovani appears, strutting her stuff in a white two-piece swimsuit. Guests, both men and women, gawk at her in both disbelief and amazement. The camera zooms in on her breasts several times. The tagline, “You know you like them. Now it’s time to save the boobs,” appears on the screen. This is followed by “Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women ages 20-49.” The commercial then ends with Sovani in the pool wearing a wet, transparent wife-beater. She raises her shirt to reveal her breasts covered by a black bar, on which the word “Boobyball” is inscribed.
Not surprisingly, the commercial has stirred controversy. Some detractors are concerned with issues of morality and decency, arguing that the commercial is far too provocative. Supporters believe that it is great way to bring attention to a problem that would otherwise miss the attention of those the groups targeted – young people and men. Still others believe it is inappropriate to objectify women, even if the underlying purpose is a well-intentioned one.
While the commerical’s original intent of drawing more attention to breast cancer is a great one, was it really the best way to do so? It was not a matter of decency or morality, because there is nothing indecent or immoral about the female body. Rather, there are other reasons to object to this commercial.
The female body has been used for many years in advertisements and different forms of media. Sex sells, and Sovani believed that by sexualizing breast cancer, she could get more people to pay attention to the problem.
While people are definitely paying attention, are they really paying attention to breast cancer?
Considering the sexual nature of the commercial, it is clear that many of the viewers will only tune in for the visual stimulation, not because they have any kind of interest in fighting breast cancer. Sovani definitely succeeded in capturing attention across the world, but was it the right kind of attention?
Sovani has stated that it does not matter what kind of attention the commercial gets, as long as it gets attention and causes people to start talking about breast cancer. But this commercial doesn’t really make people talk about breast cancer.
Also, the commercial is downright insulting. Do Sovani and ReThink Breast Cancer really believe that the only way to get young men to care about breast cancer is by flashing a voluptuous pair of breasts with the line “you know you like them?” Do they really believe that this generation of young men is so apathetic and unintelligent that they have to dumb-down and sexualize a serious issue like breast cancer in order to get them to care? While it is true that there are men, as well as women, who simply don’t care, this commercial is insulting to the intelligence of those who do.
Another point to consider is the relevance of the content to breast cancer. There was nothing in the commercial except for the tagline that promotes breast cancer awareness. If you remove the tagline, what exactly does this commercial have to do with breast cancer? It is not telling women to perform monthly self-examinations or to get yearly mammograms. It is not exactly inspiring men to be supportive of their mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends. It does inform the viewer that it is the leading cause of death among young women, but other than that, how does it benefit the cause?
While this commercial was created with great intentions, it fails to successfully convey the message it claims to. It is definitely necessary to draw attention to breast cancer, but not necessarily by sexualizing it.
Jeanette Reveles is a first-year film and media studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.