Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is inadvertently locked outside his hotel room wearing only his underwear. The hotel maid who shows up to open his door snaps a phone photo of the handsome athlete and departs in a sultry saunter, quickly posting the image online. The photo immediately goes viral thanks to Altice USA, the maid’s service provider. But this is a commercial—hence the implausible attractiveness of everyone involved, including the maid, who looks like a runway fashion model.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the “joke” of the social media posting, including Ronaldo himself. Naturally, there were critics, and then the critics of the critics, complaining that “a big deal” was being made “out of nothing.” Altice is using sex and sensationalism to sell its product. So what? This is nothing new. Scantily clad women sell automobiles: Buying the car will get you the girl. What you have is more important than who you are. In truth, the gender identification is irrelevant. The ad degrades us all by objectifying the people involved. It invades their privacy and exploits them for their looks, their bodies, their finances, or the vulnerability of their situations. Someone could have snapped a photo of Ronaldo in action on the soccer field and posted it, with that photo going viral in seconds as well. But that’s just not sexy.
Altice isn’t the only brand capitalizing off Ronaldo. He also appeared in a provocative ad for Armani jeans. We see him dressing in a hotel room while a maid eyes him hungrily. As Ronaldo scours the room searching for his shirt, bare chested and wearing only the jeans, the maid finds his shirt and hides it under a seat cushion. She slyly keeps it hidden in order to extend the time she can spend taking in Ronaldo’s muscled torso as he casts about for the lost shirt.
These advertisements come with a predictable postscript: allegations that in June 2009 Ronaldo raped a woman in a Las Vegas hotel room. She reported the attack to the police and subsequently had a rape kit done. When Ronaldo’s representatives got wind of the brewing scandal, it was quashed with a nondisclosure agreement and a $375,000 payoff. But in 2019, nondisclosure agreements no longer provide the kind of protection they used to. Once the #MeToo movement began, with predators and abusers being outed with almost daily regularity, the Ronaldo incident rose to the surface. He has denied the claim, but the accuser, Kathryn Mayorga, has moved forward in a lawsuit against him. The story broke in September 2018 in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. Ronaldo threatened to sue the publication, but the editors claimed to have sound evidence, including documents, to substantiate the allegations. Subsequently, the Las Vegas police reopened the case, and Ronaldo was left off the Portugal squad for the remainder of 2018. Meanwhile, two sponsors, Nike and EA Sports, are distancing themselves.
You can’t draw a straight line from a commercial in which a woman acts like a boor to an assault in a hotel room. But one reason the fantasy of the predatory maid feels acceptable is that we assume she can’t really pose a threat to the male guest, or to us. At the same time, the commercial suggests, rather in the same way pornography does, that everybody is sexually sizing up one another in every situation, and that most people are secretly hoping for things to take an intimate turn. In the long run, of course, we all pay dearly for the carefully crafted commercial illusion that we can hold people to standards on a selective basis.