Tangled Up in Boobs
What's Bob Dylan doing in a Victoria's Secret ad?
The spot: A well-formed young woman cavorts through a palazzo, wearing nothing but heels, lingerie, and a pair of outsized, feathery wings. At intervals, we cut to a shot of some sort of death's-head demon, who looks poised to bite into the pretty youth's skull, perhaps to suck on the marrow of her soul and prolong his undead half-life. Wait … stand by … I'm now being told that this creature is in fact Bob Dylan. (Click here to see the ad.)
When Bob Dylan shows up in a Victoria's Secret commercial, it immediately triggers three questions. The first is: Am I hallucinating? Seriously, I think I'm hallucinating—can you see Bob Dylan, and did you eat the same shrimp I ate? The second is: Why on earth would Bob Dylan do this? And the third, and perhaps most puzzling, is: Why on earth would Victoria's Secret do this?
Moving past the first line of inquiry, which likely won't get us very far, let's ask ourselves why Bob Dylan, respected countercultural artist, would choose to sell panties. I think there are a few possible motives. The first is, of course, money. This seemed to be the sole motive when, several years ago, Dylan sold the Bank of Montreal the right to use "The Times They Are a-Changin'" in an ad. But the Vicky's Secret sellout feels different, in part because Dylan actually appears in the commercial.
Which brings me to the second possible motive: pure whimsy. He may just think it's funny to be in an underwear ad and that flying to Venice to leer at models could make for a diverting weekend. (I also wouldn't totally discount the idea that he's playing a sly, decades-in-the-making practical joke. Newspaper reports have noted that in 1965, when asked what might tempt him to sell out, Dylan said, "Ladies undergarments.")
But I think the most likely motive for Dylan is exposure. It's a real struggle for older rockers to remind the world that they still exist. Their music's not played on the radio, and their videos (if they even make them) aren't in heavy rotation on VH1. Thus you see the Jaguar ads with Sting, or the MCI ads with James Taylor and Michael McDonald—all of them prominently featuring the artist's song. It's essentially a way to put a video on the major networks, where an older audience might see it. Yes, in exchange for publicizing their art they sacrifice some integrity, but this is basically an understandable tradeoff. And Dylan even gets, in the terms of his deal, a mix CD of his songs sold at Victoria's Secret stores.
So, it makes some sense for Bob. But what about Vicky? Why would a brand that's about sexiness, youth, and glamour want any connection at all with a decrepit, sixtysomething folksinger? The answer, my friend, is totally unclear. The answer is totally unclear.
Even if Victoria's Secret hopes to bring in more boomer women, do those women want their underwear to exude the spirit and essence of Bob Dylan? Or, conversely, is Bob Dylan the sort of man they're hoping to attract? Even if you're of the belief that men frequently shop at VS for their ladies, I still don't see the appeal of this ad. I, for instance, am a man, and I can assure you that Bob Dylan is not what I'm looking for in a woman's undergarment. (And if I found him there—man, would that be disturbing.)
Victoria's Secret wouldn't return my calls, but media reports say the idea of putting Dylan's face in the ad (they'd been using his song—"Love Sick"—in ads for the past year or so) came straight from corporate chief Les Wexner. To the company's surprise, Dylan accepted their offer. It's at this point that someone at Victoria's Secret should have stopped the madness. Just because you can hire Bob Dylan as the figurehead for your lingerie line, doesn't mean you should. Perhaps no one was willing to say no to the big boss, or perhaps they fully expected Dylan to say no. Joke's on them.
D-. Let's pretend this never happened.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.