That “Standoff” Poster

The people who create trailers, commercials and posters for movies and TV shows are always trying to send a meta-message: how else could a single poster suggest to you, “Wow, here’s something I want to see”? There are lengthy studies indicating what sort of imagery sucks in what sort of audience – for example, there’s a longstanding belief that American moviegoers just want to see enormous actor faces on posters, while international viewers prefer a scene or collage of images from the movie.

One trend that’s been with us from the beginning regards how you pose a male and female lead in a poster. The man stands straight up, facing the camera – an assertive, dominant pose. The woman, however, bends a knee, turns slightly to the side, looks anywhere but the camera, even drapes herself pliantly over the forward-facing man – a submissive pose. Just look around you: the rule is very nearly unbroken. So unbroken, in fact, that photographer Annie Leibovitz’s Rolling Stone cover photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono derives some of its artistic value from bucking that trend: on the floor, Lennon curls in a fetal position around his wife, who lays flat on her back, her body facing the camera in the dominant position.

And check out bedroom scenes. No matter what the story is between the two characters, if one character’s going to be on his back and the other draped affectionately over him, it is always, always, always the man who’s on his back, facing the audience, and the woman who’s facing him. Even if she’s his boss, or the show’s lead, or a goddess. The only workaround is for both characters to be on their sides, facing each other.

StandoffThis poster for Standoff bucks the trend: his body is angled toward the camera in the dominant position, and she’s leaning toward him (though not in a particularly submissive fashion), but he’s facing her while she faces the audience. His body is angled toward us, but his attention is on her. She’s leaning affectionately toward him, but she’s looking at us. It’s equal.

I haven’t seen the show yet. I’m hoping the poster means a romance between equals instead of this creepy obsession with affairs between bosses and their forbidden underlings. In any case, this marketing campaign interests me. While most people won’t consciously notice the equality suggested by this pose, it’s intended to affect us on an unconscious level – that’s what marketing campaigns seek to do. I wonder what message people are getting from this, and what audience the show’s attracting. Of course, one poster isn’t enough to base any conclusions on, but new trends have to start somewhere.


  1. scarlett says

    She does seem to be standing in a casual blokey way – but at the same time, there’s nothing particularly submissive about HIS pose, either.
    Knowing nothing about this (show,movie?) it looks like a battle-of-the-sexes with each side having equal strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    The IMDB description, quoted below, makes me suspect a lot of people in the industry have been watching the controversy over not-quite-pairings like Sam and Jack on SG-1, and decided part of the problem was TPTB trying to have it both ways, and the right way to do it is to just go there already. Make them a definite couple instead of telling the audience “Yes they are no they’re not” in the same breath. I’ll comment further after quoting IMDB’s description:

    There’s no crisis situation they can’t handle…unless it involves each other. Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) and Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt) are the top-ranked negotiators in the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU). They’re trained to talk their way through volatile situations. They’re experts at knowing what makes other people tick. They’re also sleeping together … a secret that they agreed to keep to themselves, until Matt revealed it to the entire world during a tense hostage standoff. The public revelation causes friction between Matt, who doesn’t take much seriously and relies on gut instinct, and Emily, an academic who analyzes every move. Their relationship also gets them into major trouble with their boss, Cheryl Carrera (Gina Torres), head of the Los Angeles CNU, and raises eyebrows among their CNU colleagues, including intelligence officer Lia Mathers (Raquel Alessi). While Matt and Emily should be split up for being romantically involved, they’re too valuable as a team. Together, they’re among the best in their field; Cheryl knows it, and they know it. Week to week, Matt and Emily tackle much more than hostage crises. The CNU is called in to resolve everything from kidnappings and high-risk suicides to bomb threats, stalking cases and gang violence.

    This could be just as cringe-worthy as the idea of Sam and Jack getting involved… or they could actually deal with the problems the relationship is causing, NOT have every other character start shipping for the happy couple, and let us see the relationship for what it is: one relationship in the world, telling its own story, nothing more.

  3. sbg says

    It sure as heck beats the internet ad for “Employee of the Week,” in which the male lead is quickly covered up by the female (Jessica Simpson – I still don’t know why she keeps getting cast in roles, even silly ones…), who stands with her arms back and chest thrust forward.

    Gee, it’s a real stretch to figure out what they’re trying to tell us.

  4. Glaivester says

    “This poster for Standoff bucks the trend: he’s facing the camera in the dominant position,”

    What camera?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Ah, okay. I’ve edited it to say “his body is angled toward the camera…” And by camera, then, I hope it’s clear I meant the one that snapped the photo which became the poster. 😉

  6. scarlett says

    Sounds like something which could be very well done or apallingly done. I can so envision a relationship where, not only are they great at what they do individually, but they have a brilliant dynamic which can’t be replicated (perhaps in part because of their sexual relationship, or the sexual relationship was caused by it?) – so the best of all the evils is to keep them together.

    This is one of the reasons any hint of Sam/Jack ship didn’t work for me. There was no indication that it was vital for them to stay together; there rarely is, certainly not enough to run the risk of their personal relationship jeaepordising a dangerous situation. From that perspective, to pull of such a relationship, they need to establish a damn good reason as to why they should remain a team.

    But the poster’s a good start.

  7. Mecha says

    This reminds me of an old X-Files theory/situation that a fanfic writer worked off of using pretty much the same conceptual justification once Mulder and Scully ended up together: They’re too good as a team to pay attention to the rules too heavily. Wish fufilment, in the fanfic realm. It’s a decent ‘bend the rules’ justification in general, though, if you can get it to work.

    Unfortunately, it’s a little bit general in general, and plays a lot on how the ‘main characters’ of a show are often awesome (the ‘leads are special’ theory that so much fiction works off of), so they get away with something that ‘normal’ people wouldn’t. It is indeed a very thin line between ‘reasonable justification’ and ‘god warping the world for the ship.’


  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Exactly. This is a very dodgy premise for all those reasons.

    Since they’ve made the relationship issue the premise for the show, there is actually a chance they could examine some interesting issues, such as:

    –Are they so good we should overlook their rule-breaking? Is anyone that good? (And if so, can the writers justify that in a way that will convince even me, or will it rely on the automatic uncritical coolness the stars of a TV show are presumed to enjoy from the audience)
    –Does their coupling prove the rule is unecessary?

    On the other hand, this show could totally go off the rails in the ways you mentioned: if it’s all about how “true love” conquers rules and people should just suspend all normal ethics in the presence of any sexual relationship that claims that title, I shall barf. Not for feminist reasons, but just from an ethics standpoint. I hate the concept that rules should go unbroken unless you really, really feel like breaking them, in which case you should feel free. 😀

  9. Glaivester says

    Yes, now it is clear. The fact that he was looking away from the camera that was taking the picture is why I was initially confused.

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