Wed 10 Aug 2011
I have been fascinated by the print-media ads for Fragoli and Passionné since they began appearing in food and wine publications about a year and a half ago, or at least I started noticing them early in 2010. Fragoli is a liqueur made from “wild strawberries,” whatever “wild” means in the context of international marketing; the bottle is actually filled with fruit. Passionné is a Prosecco Spumante. These products are made by the Toschi firm in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.
The picture is always the same: five gorgeous young Latina or Hispanic women engaged in a sort of cluster mind-fuck of hugging, fondling, kissing, smoldering glances, seductive smiles, whispering — notice that the structure of the image is almost a perfect right triangle; could Caravaggio have planned it any better? — while three hold flutes of “Fragoli Passion,” a cocktail composed of Fragoli and Passionné in a 1 to 4 proportion. The motto is also consistent: “Forbidden Fruit.”
What in the name of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is going on here?
I wonder every time I see this ad who the target audience is. Latina lesbians would be a pretty small demographic niche (unless I am ill-informed), and the portion of citizens of the United States who wish they were Latina lesbians, media cool and sexy as that category may be — and si, amigos, these babes are hot — must also be pretty darned narrow. There’s always the group of men who are turned on by the idea or implication of lesbian romance, but these products are relentlessly girly, though you gotta watch that 24 percent alcohol in Fragoli, not that these women don’t know how to hold their liquor, I’m not saying that.
It seems odd, however, in a culture where old-fashioned, hostile and morally judgmental attitudes about same-sex love and marriage are changing, ever so gradually to be sure, to base a long-running marketing campaign on the notion that lesbian relationships are titillating and “forbidden.” Most lesbian women and gay men are like most heterosexual men and women in that they all share a desire for love and commitment, for legal recognition and security. I mean, are the white middle-class foodie-types who read Food & Wine or Bon Appetit going to look at this ad and say, “Whoa, honey, this Fragoli stuff could change our lives!”
The concept of decadence projected by the image in the Fragoli and Passionné ads is hopelessly out of date, except in the minds and stunted imaginations of 15-year-old boys — meaning 98 percent of all male human beings — who read too much H. Rider Haggard and William S. Burroughs. (That’s a literary joke, of course; no 15-year-old boys read H. Rider Haggard or William S. Burroughs nowadays; perhaps if someone made a video game of Naked Lunch …) A YouTube segment devoted to Fragoli is titled “Sexy New Yorkers Taste Forbidden Fruit,” about as pathetic an appeal to provincial yearnings as could be made; I mean, don’t we all want to be sexy New Yorkers?
Oddly enough, passionné is the masculine form of the adjective in French that means “passionate” or “impassioned” (and a noun that denotes “devotee” or “fanatic”). Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to use the feminine passionnée?