Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Daniel Robinson


This dissertation provides a cultural and business history of M.A.C Cosmetics and its philanthropic arm, the M.A.C AIDS Fund. M.A.C Cosmetics originated in Toronto, Canada in 1981 and its growth coincided with the AIDS epidemic. Since 1994, the M.A.C AIDS Fund has raised more than $315 million for organizations that assist people affected by HIV/AIDS, through the sale of M.A.C’s VIVA GLAM lipstick. While some business scholars have discussed M.A.C’s distinctive use of cause marketing, very few works on the cosmetics industry, as well as cultural and media studies works on cause marketing, have dealt at length with M.A.C. Tracing M.A.C’s history from the early 1980s until 2000, I argue that M.A.C’s association with HIV/AIDS philanthropy originated from the company’s involvement in the field of cultural, rather than commercial, production. My theoretical framework incorporates practice theory, predominantly Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of field, habitus, capital, and autonomous and heteronomous production. Additionally, I draw upon Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity and corresponding practices, discourses, and acts to analyze how M.A.C’s alliance with AIDS was represented in the marketing and advertising of VIVA GLAM. Early VIVA GLAM advertising featured the American drag performer RuPaul. This type of promotion subverted hegemonic ideas about feminine beauty usually found in cosmetics marketing, while also challenging prevailing assumptions about the interrelationship of gender, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS. Research for this dissertation draws heavily from archival records and other primary sources.