Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.
Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.
Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”
Turns out, it’s real. In fact, one of the first few links directed to the photographers’ Facebook page:
The VP of Marketing at Dallas Symphony Orchestra is really shaking things up!
And firming things up, too. Wow. o_o
Earlier this year we collaborated with the DSO Marketing Department to create imagery very different from what the Symphony has used in the past to promote their Beethoven Festival.
Bringing in new patrons was his goal.
We’ll come back to this.
and we were proud to be part of the DSO’s new effort. Building excitement is well, exciting! Thinking and DOING what is ‘outside the box’ is both challenging as well as rewarding for us.
Outside the box and the shirt, apparently.
There’s plenty more to come, stay tuned!
More coming? o_o
Anyway. I saw this brochure, and immediately had to solicit my Facebook friends’ opinions about it, because apparently I’m a stereotypical Millennial who can only engage with contemporary media while using multiple social media platforms. Synergy.
Sample opinions from current Minnesota Orchestra patrons:
Oh they’ll get a lot of hate mail for this
Isn’t there a ‘no nipples’ rule for classical music?
And my favorite, from a gay dude:
I just choked on my burrito
OK, so it was official: I wasn’t a freak for hating Beefcake Beethoven.
Let’s take another look.
I don’t even know what’s going on here. There’s a dude. I’m assuming he’s Beethoven? I’ll make that assumption. So Ludwig here is wearing a…part of a period costume, yet he’s sitting on a modern chair, therefore straddling (hehe – straddling) a blurred line between past and present. Ludwig wants everyone to know that A) he is Ripped, and B) he is Waxed. Also, he is super keen to show off his junk. Because the sexiest thing about Beethoven was not his passionate nature, or his tragic upbringing, or his ability to change the entire course of cultural history: no, the thing that made ladies weakest was that revolutionary groin. Looks they forgot a letter when they named the Eroica symphony, am I right? And just in case we viewers somehow saw this photo without noticing the crotch, the photographer asked Ludwig to put his hand, decorated by a ruffled cuff and a ring, on the inside of his thigh. These visual cues serve as a metaphorical neon arrow pointing straight into Beethoven’s nether-regions. And then the brochure designers overlaid a diagonal line over the aforementioned zone, too. The result? An image that screams: Behold the crotch of Beefcake Beethoven! YES, I can SEE the CROTCH. Thanks for the…heads up, Dallas Symphony.
I admit: I’m not in marketing. I don’t have access to studies that indicate that Dallas residents will respond positively or negatively to this type of campaign. Plus, I’m not the target demographic (“new patrons” are the target demographic, not “high-strung buttoned-up twenty-something orch-dork nerd-attendees”). But I am interested in selling orchestra tickets and raising revenue, and what works and what doesn’t and why. And because of that interest, I wonder if this kind of sexualized imagery will become a more pronounced trend as orchestras try to expand their audiences and experiment with new marketing styles.
I’ve got some haphazard thoughts, both about this cover, and the trend in general.
1) The most pressing question: Why bother Photoshopping in Beethoven’s six-pack? Here’s the original photo; above is the brochure. There’s quite a difference there. Granted, I’m a biromantic asexual woman who doesn’t find much of anything physical attractive, so I’m probably not the right person to be pontificating on sexual desirability, but… Why? (WHY?) The original dude is perfectly aesthetically acceptable. So what’s the intended message with the Photoshop? A guy with a six-pack is necessary to sell orchestral music? Beethoven did crunches? Orchestral music should be sold with the same rigorous standards of artificiality we apply to our underwear models? Maybe there’s no reason, besides Photoshopped six-packs are fun?
2) For a substantial chunk of the audience, an orchestra concert is not only a fun way to spend a Friday night out. Music is spiritual nourishment. (That being said, I concede that patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra may well be more sensitive to this particular motivation, since every lockout concert was imbued with a sacred purpose…) In that respect, hearing orchestral music live can be like a religious rite. And for better or for worse, a lot of people view composers (and to a lesser extent, performers) as kinds of saints. So to see Beethoven straddling his chair is akin to St. Peter showing off his…key to the kingdom, if you know what I mean. And obviously some patrons are turned off by this kind of imagery. I know the campaign is meant to bring in new bodies, but are you alienating anyone in the process? Is this edginess for edginess’s sake? If so, is it worth it?
3) Is Beethoven being objectified? If so, are we…um…okay with that? Merriam-Webster indicates that the verb “objectify” is “to treat as an object.” I’m pretty sure that’s what happening to poor Beefcake. After all, he’s not only been stripped of his shirt; he’s been stripped of his identity. There is nothing in the photo to indicate that he is a composer or even a musician. Heck, if the word Beethoven was scissored off the cover, you wouldn’t know who he is, what he does, or what he’s advertising. Your best guess would be that he’s a George Washington cosplayer who had trouble getting dressed that morning and then later got lost in a bus station. And sure: objectification is a thing, and it happens in advertising (/understatement). But is it a good idea here? Does objectifying a genius leave us less room to appreciate his work? Does it cheapen his revolutionary, earth-shattering music? Is that a false choice? Not sure.
4) Few orchestral musicians actually look that way. Tear off the tuxes and tails and you’re going to find…well, not this.
While we’re on the subject, I have to say: I find the subtler sexuality around the tradition of classical music to be somewhat of a relief. Orchestral musicians’ physical appearance is relatively unimportant: what’s (…usually) more important is how we think, how we play, how we communicate. In fact, I wonder if the buttoned-down sexuality in classical music could be a selling point. Tiring of the fake boobs and butts in your entertainment? Well, come to the symphony. Our abs aren’t fake (obviously). We’re here, flaws and alls. This is real: heart-to-heart. No lip-synching; no electronic amplification. It’s a deeply human, deeply authentic connection. Not the kind I get from a half-dressed Beethoven impersonator.
But at the end of the day, I’m not the person they’re trying to get into the hall. I’m probably already there. So does my opinion really matter?
Some will argue I am wayyyyy over-analyzing a single image. To that I say:
Well, duh. Over-analyzing is kind of my thing.
But. The imagery we use when we promote our art says things: some obvious, some not-so. And I don’t think it’s strange to want to delve into what other orchestras are saying, obliquely or not, in their marketing materials. Very soon the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season will be announced. They won’t have the luxury of time to experiment with what styles of marketing campaigns will work and what won’t. They’ll have one big chance, and they can’t screw it up. And so I think it’s natural for Minnesotans to look around the country and wonder about what marketing tactics might work for us – and why. What lessons – if any – can be learned here? Should the Minnesota Orchestral Association be thinking about a Sexy Sibelius mascot? He could pose with our Grammy.
Anyway. One last point: despite the snarky skepticism, I do send kudos to the Dallas Symphony marketing department for being willing to try something new. I’m still not sure about the concept or execution of the cover, but I do like the other photos being used in the interior of the brochure. They’re a little steampunk: modern yet vintage, suggesting the power of a great orchestra concert to transport audiences into exciting, fantastical new worlds. I like that. That’s very cool.
But I want Beethoven’s crotch to stay the hell away from it.
What do you think? Should sexualized imagery be used to sell orchestral music? More importantly: why? And how?