As a sociologist who happens to DJ — or is that the other way around? — I’m always curious to see how DJing is depicted in popular culture and advertising. Ever since the 1970s, when the disco craze helped push the prominence of DJs into the public realm, disc jockeys have become iconic symbols of nightlife culture. Within the milieu of the dance floor, DJs serve as what Sarah Thornton once described as “orchestrators of a ‘living’ communal experience.”
As such, the image of the DJ standing behind a pair of turntables has become ripe for appropriation by liquor and cigarette companies in particular. For them, especially in print ads, the DJ serves as a visual shorthand for any number of values they want their product associated with: culturally hip/cool, entertainment/musical mavens, the source of good times, etc. However, when it comes to that shorthand, this Smirnoff ad from last summer may have come up just a little too short.
At first glance, this image of a DJ working the turntables, with a cleavage-baring admirer looking on, seems uncomplicated: Smirnoff promises a fun, sexy time. However, a closer examination of the mise en scéne yields some instant problems.
- There are no records on the turntables.
- There’s not a mat on the turntables. Especially in a nightclub setting, DJs always use felt mats that sit between the platter and record. This not only protects the vinyl surface from the platter but by reducing friction between the record and platter, the DJ can “slip” a record into play at just the right moment. Hence, felt mats are called “slip mats.” In short, it’s very strange to see a turntable without a slip mat.
- There’s no needle on the turntable arm. Therefore, even if they had bothered to put records on the turntables, Mr. Hip DJ wouldn’t have been able to actually play them.
- There’s no visible DJ mixer. The mixer is absolutely crucial, allowing the DJ to switch between two audio sources, i.e. what makes “disc jockeying” possible to begin with. Normally, the mixer would sit between the two turntables so its absence in the image is conspicuous.
- The gesture — hands posed over both turntables — doesn’t make sense; it’s not a pose that any DJ would ever employ. Normally, you would have one hand on a turntable, the other hand working the mixer but no nightclub DJ would be manipulating both turntables, simultaneously. He looks like he’s trying to play bongos. (A scratch DJ, aka turntablist, may work both turntables for certain techniques but scratch DJs aren’t typically nightclub DJs – hard to dance to someone scratching).
When this ad made its rounds on social media, theories were bandied about to explain just what went wrong in this ad. The most plausible explanation is that the Smirnoff campaign selected a stock image hastily but that still opens up the question of how no one, from the original photographer, to the people in the image, to the people working on the Smirnoff ad itself, seemed to realize just how ridiculous this image was. It’d be akin to a car ad where someone is pretending to drive a car… from the backseat. With the wheels missing. And facing the wrong direction.
Of course, the vast majority of people know what driving a car is supposed to look like. One conclusion one might draw from the Smirnoff ad is that while the basic image of a DJ has some resonance in the public imagination, as a practice/craft, DJing isn’t actually well-understood at all.
Dr. Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach. He contributes regularly on music and culture for NPR’s All Things Considered, KPCC’s Take Two, the LA Times, and KCET’s ArtBound. He also writes the audioblog Soul-Sides.com.
The DJ in American Culture: Resonant, Misunderstood » Sociological Images | digitalnews2000 — January 22, 2013
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Leslee Bottomley Beldotti — January 22, 2013
OK Smirnoff, as penance I want to see you do another ad featuring a FEMALE DJ, who is using correct equipment with the correct hand placement, and has an adoring fan (of any gender) hanging over her shoulder. And.... GO!
Fernando — January 22, 2013
The only thing I'd maybe notice would be the lack of records, which is hilarious. Though I'd probably not pay attention to that, I'd just see a black surface and assume it is a record. The rest I had no idea at all, so yeah I don't think people know how DJing works, we only see it in movies for a few seconds or from far away behind a table.
Anna — January 22, 2013
Thanks for pointing this out. It's similar to when models are photographed playing the guitar in ads or editorials, and are doing it completely the wrong way. You would think there would be some kind of check for accuracy in a big-budget vodka ad, but noo...
Jacob Danger Germain — January 22, 2013
Funnily enough, this happens in video game ads all the time. Kotaku even ran a weekly feature on it for a while (more articles on the right).
Kinelfire — January 22, 2013
Perhaps it's an image that actually depicts a guy at home (see the curtain? Do hip clubs for the dancing even have soft furnishings?) showing off to try to impress a laydee, using his recently acquired 'decks'? What we can never know, obviously, is that he's trying to explain how he will play the two records without a mixer or needles. And he's recently discovered that it doesn't work with CDs, so he has to go and buy some vinyl, but has thus far only found The Carpenters and some random pan pipe stuff from the 70s in his local shop*.
Not the image Smirnoff were aiming for, but it's the one I have now.
*I am aware that decent record shops sell current stuff. Just go with it.
Meow — January 22, 2013
Maybe the missing turntables is Smirnoffs way of stating that a night without alcohol, specifically crappy vodka, is like a dj with no records, needles, slipmats, or mixer....
anon — January 22, 2013
myblackfriendsays — January 22, 2013
I think the last the last two sentences of the article hit the nail on the head. I didn't notice any of the things that the author pointed out until he pointed them out.
I thought he was going to say the picture was off because the DJ in question didn't look cool enough (sorry, guy in the picture.)
As an aside, I always said that if I was ever on the MtV show Made, that I would want to be made into a DJ (:
American Academic — January 24, 2013
As a former DJ, my first glance gave me a claustrophobic reaction at how annoying close the woman is. I'd want to say to her "look, friend, I obviously can't talk to you right now because I have these headphones on, and if you bump me I'll really be unhappy, and I need to move my arms around to do my job, and ... [second glance]... HOLY SHIT THERE'S NOTHING ON THE PLATTER! GET OUT OF MY WAY BECAUSE I NEED TO GET A RECORD OUT OF ITS SLEEVE RIGHT *NOW*.
loususi — January 24, 2013
i see this as a Freudian slip — everything, especially a corporate and silly flub like this one, says a WHOLE LOT about the organization, a lot more than the ad would have had Smirnoff paid better attention to detail and implemented a more intentional, conscious sense of art direction for the visual story they're portraying through their ad
i would chalk this one up to, 'its all about the tits'
let's face it, the composition is nice, all mammaries aside — the angle of the 2 nightclub characters and their visual relationship produces a lot of naturally-crossing diagonals ( which is something Leonardo DaVinci would've intentionally strived to create via drawing during the Italian Renaissance ) — my eye moves around the photographic artwork here rather easily, so kudos to the professional photographer and the models involved in the shoot :]
the facts that: there are no real record albums in the photo; there's no needle; the DJ dude is doing something that no DJ in a real nightclub performance would never do — these little details are obvious flubs, but let's face facts, like most modernday processes in the Information Age and the Digital Afterlife, the DJ wouldn't be using these actual tools in a realistic setting, anyways — the far less sexy phonographic replacements of MP3s being live-mixed through a laptop with a potential to use CDs on some sort of physical interface scratch device would replace all of these former, almost analog instruments for a far less gesturally appealing photo composition all around
these people wouldn't be THIS well-lit in a club setting, right? the hyperReal density and color treatment of the photographic artwork are also all artificially enhanced tricks to push and pull the viewers' eyes around the page and direct them to the strip of words and branding at the bottom of the page — i'm not sure why any sense of real reality is expected in any way here, but ...
Smirnoff's lack of attention to these very important details of 'where's the record albums and needle? and what's up with that pose?' then followed by 'drink responsibly' create a wonderfully unintentional farce of all of this — it seems like more of joke to me than anything else, right? a caricature of how you're supposed to feel when you're drinking that Smirnoff at a bar or wherever
most importantly — i'm thinking Smirnoff is totally missing the demographic that REALLY drinks Smirnoff — who specifically asks for Smirnoff at a crazy-ass all-night raveFest? isn't Smirnoff for a much older, less hip and style-conscious, potentially less affluent crowd than the Gen Y crowd clubbin' it in town with their parents' expendable monetary contributions shown in the ad? maybe this is a new target ( hopeful ) audience for Smirnoff to capture via cartooning the very people they wanna see all 'smirnoffed' in the corner a the club, but its not thought out on ANY level as an ad — its sort of an auto-generated ad in many ways — there are probably a ton of laws that force the advertising company to put in the 'drink responsibly' CYA mantra — what nightclub wouldn't, uhm, have a bottle or glass of booze in the shot? aren't those phonographic circular elements really just a Freudian symbol for humongous nipples? the arm of the phonograph gettin' all up and between in some sort of suggestive pornorrific pose? who the fuck wears a wristwatch anymore?
i bet this photo shoot happened 8 years ago, that's the main issue — just a little before smartphones came out and became our swiss army device
i like this shot — i don't care that Smirnoff screwed up here — its not worth the sort of attention and time i took to write this post even, though — its intentionally meant to be thoughtless and subliminally suggestive, right? 'drink our shit — be a sexy, young gawd or gawdess — maybe you'll get some' is what the ad says, there's no real waxing poetic or philosophical about real DJ process and methodology, its not even a lesson in love and attraction — its an ad
GooZ — January 24, 2013
This post seems to be an abridged (and uncited) version of this post from August 2012: http://chriscox.net/archives/1046
Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. — January 24, 2013
Amazing and you are so right Oliver. Most wouldn't even notice the missings in the image. One thing that is speaks to is how people see sociologically when it comes to ads. Points to what visual signals are expected to be active and not in the consumption of media and/or "spirits" as the industry refers to itself. The unsaid but communicated as Logan and Zaffron call it.
to Logan and Zaffron it "is the 'unsaid but communicated'...whenever
something is said, other communication is carried along with it such as
assumptions, expectations, disappointments, resentments, regrets,
interpretations, significance, and issues that occur as
dangerous....No matter how smart or insightful people, we are prone to being
hijacked by the unsaid especially the unsaid about which people are
unaware" (Logan and Zaffron 2009, 37).
HecticEclectic — January 24, 2013
When did Katherine Heigl start doing Smirnoff ads?
odub — January 24, 2013
Post-script: I got a message from a friend who is a DJ in the UK: "It was an image posted on the Facebook page for the Smirnoff DJ series ('Master of the Mix' or something I think it was called) accompanied by one of those audience engagement sort of questions 'should DJs take requests?'."
Ways of processing this new info:
1) That explains why she's crowding the DJ's personal bubble.
2) The fact that this wasn't an ad might help explain its lack of "research rigor" (though as many others have noted, advertisers regularly get things "wrong" like this).
3) The fact that this was posted to encourage "community discussion" within a DJ community only makes it more humorously flawed.
My friend adds that Smirnoff has "quite a decent history of sponsoring credible music events." I'll have to take his word for it.
HowieFeltersnatch — January 24, 2013
Calling DJs, whose job revolves around playing other people's music, artists is like calling the guy who frames pictures a Michael's an artist.
Zap — January 24, 2013
The story is that this is early in the night, the DJ, who hasn't fully set up yet, ran to the bathroom or out to his van or something, and this guy, trying to impress this girl he just met, or maybe is on a first date with, ran over and threw on the headphones and is fooling around pretending to be a DJ while the girl looks on and laughs at all the funny cliched DJ humor the guy is acting out, telling hilarious DJ jokes that we are not privy to.
Demodulator — January 24, 2013
Also - no needle cartridge installed on the tone arm.
Dan — January 24, 2013
Apart from the headphones, my conclusion is he is still setting up. So she should really get out of his face and stop making requests before he's even ready to play. And even then...
Chris G — January 24, 2013
The knot in her hair looks like a Yorkie face.
David Hunter — January 24, 2013
I can't tell if it is just not visible or not there, but it looks like there is no stylus either, just the arm.
HowdyFolks — January 24, 2013
"Mise en scène" uses the "accent grave" or backwards-slanting accent, not the "accent aigu" as in the comment above.
Smirnoff advertisement with DJ rivals Newport cigarette ads for sheer WTFness | Greg Carlisle — January 24, 2013
[...] The DJ in American culture: resonant, misunderstood [...]
Bruce Patullo — January 24, 2013
Van Gogh's Starry Night doesn't look like stars to me.
mixmason — January 25, 2013
this can't be real?
Guest — January 25, 2013
No one has read the text that comes with the ad? It says "please drink responsibly". That's the clue we need to understand the story this photo is telling us. The guy is drunk. Too much Smirnoff. So drunk that he thinks he is a DJ although he has no clue about what he's doing, and the empty turntables betray that. And of course, he's trying to impress the girl with his DJ skillz. She is also drunk out of her mind, and actually believing that the music that is being played in the bar is actually coming from those empty turntables. Two little drunk birds in love. They will have a beautiful, romantic night, and a terrible hang over the day after, but that last thing doesn't even cross their minds right now. Indeed "A Smirnoff nightlife experience" (actually one of the most honest ads I've seen), but "Please drink responsibly" (and don't end up acting like these two fools). Brilliant marketing!
Dgambardella78 — January 25, 2013
If there's no mixer.....there's NO NEED for the HEADPHONES either! This picture is definitely not a mistake. It's an ignorant company pandering to the lowest common denominator. Even if it WAS a mistake they dont care. People will still buy the booze even if you gave the dj a Hitler mustache and had him clubbing baby seals with baby faces. You're giving Smirnoff what they wanted....you're talking about them. good or bad.
WILEY — January 25, 2013
If he were playing the Bongos, at least he would be PLAYING something. DJs are not musicians. Perhaps some DJs happen to also be musicians, but it's hardly a prerequisite. How many times have people hard the conversation, "Hey, I like this song, who is it?" to be replied with "Oh that's DJ So&So". No it's not asshole. They just put the record on. Do you know how many people of the idiot masses actually believe that DJ So&So is ACTUALLY playing that track. Too many, I'm afraid.
Exoduster — January 25, 2013
I used to work for the company that makes Smirnoff. The marketing group thinks they're hip, but they couldn't get popular culture right 20 years ago and obviously they still can't.
Tyler Beatty — January 25, 2013
also, the turntables are sideways.
NoWheelDrive — January 26, 2013
someone with a PhD should be able to connect "please drink responsibly" and the joke in the picture. yes would it have been a car without wheels and somebody trying to drive the little "please drink responsible" would be almost too much ;) funny how many people misunderstood this simple ad. there is no conspiracy, no drunk photographer (!) etc...
so the question shouldnt what is wrong with image of the dj but what is wrong with people being too stupid for such a simple ad.
Jerry — January 28, 2013
Perhaps the "bare" turntables are symbolic?
Daft Punk are really gonna release an LP in spring, plus Chuckie’s Dirty Dutch Exodus, The Knife’s new short film, the misunderstood DJ, and more – Beatport News — January 28, 2013
[...] - The DJ is an oft-misunderstood character in today’s cultural landscape. Critic Oliver Wang takes a deeper look at the concept in this nice little piece: (full story) [...]
Smirnoff ad featuring a DJ is just a little…off… | That Eric Alper — January 30, 2013
[...] From The Society Pages: [...]
egotripland.com | “DJ-ing” When Nothing’s Actually Plugged In: The Saga Continues (VIDEO). — January 31, 2013
[...] duo getting their Milli Vanilli on for a Serbian studio audience isn’t as egregious as this infamous Smirnoff print ad from last year. Probably since lip syncing and faux playing for TV is a tradition that goes back to [...]
odub — January 31, 2013
Apparently, the Serbs have gone one better in this video where the "DJ" is using equipment that isn't (and quite visibly) plugged in. High comedy: http://www.egotripland.com/dj-fail-video/
Godzilla Jr. — January 31, 2013
"Normally, the mixer would sit between the two turntables so its absence in the image is conspicuous."
Maybe he's pantomiming "Odd Style" :p
Devon Sūn — January 31, 2013
"DJing isn’t actually well-understood at all."
画像：ウォッカのスミノフの広告写真に登場するDJが意味不明だと話題に | 250円棚 — June 13, 2014
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