Kowtowing to the Bigots

Now then, have a watch of this cartoonish advert:

Apparently, the Advertising Standards Authority have recieved 200 complaints, and Heinz have withdrawn the advert as a result. It is “unsuitable to be seen by children” apparently.
Only, whoever complained is being rather disingenuous. The advert was not show around kids’ TV shows because of the high fat and salt content of the product. And for adults, it is no more inappropriate than any of the raunchy adverts we see on our TVs on any given evening of the year. (h/t Happymarx). In fact, the Heinz advert displays a healthy functioning nuclear family, one that is entirely socially acceptable in 2008.
So I fear that the complainers are merely homophobic bigots of the most humourless kind. Whether they are religiously motivated or not, we do not know. But it looks like an illiberal assault on freedom of expression to me – a tiny minority of people with minority beliefs imposing their will on the rest of us. What’s the moral difference between this, and the Mohammed cartoons fiasco?
You can complain to Heinz if you want. I’ve already written in, Angry from Hampshire.


Oh wait – it is fundamentalists after all (via Andrew). And just to clarify, my call to “complain” was to lobby for its reinstatement, not to ally yourselves with the Christianists…

21 Replies to “Kowtowing to the Bigots”

  1. Actually, I don’t think homophobia has anything much to do with it.
    The implicit message in the advert is obviously that if you use the product, you will turn into (or be indistinguishable from) a male New York Deli sandwich-maker. Or if your mother uses the product, *she* will turn into a male NYDS. I personally wouldn’t like that idea very much. It’s frightening.
    Presumably, there is a reason why said NYDS couldn’t have been a woman, but that’s by the by (it’s not really, but we’ll let that go for now).
    What is disturbing about this advert is not that there are two male “parent” figures in the family, but that the male sandwich-maker is clearly meant to be a miraculous stand-in for the mother character. In particular, the children call him “Mum”. If it was simply a depiction of a same-sex pair of parents, that wouldn’t happen, would it, Rob? It’s the usurpation of the matriarch/erasure of the female that is creepy and unsettling, not any implied homosexuality.
    In fact, I don’t even think homosexuality is implied in the situation, or in the main narrative, it’s merely referenced obliquely by the interchange at the end. But the man is a *stand-in* for the mother, so it’s not an actual homosexual relationship, it’s just been made to look like one.
    It also implies that you can’t be a fabulous sandwich-maker *and* be female, (or english, for that matter), and that is a message which I don’t think is suitable, for children or anyone.
    Again, I think it’s a pitfall of certain sorts of liberalism to be so quick to leap to knee-jerk conclusions, and imagine slights on minorities where none exist, at the expense of us all.

  2. Yeah, when I saw it, that’s how I read it. They call him ‘Mum’, so its not actually a homosexual relationship at all.

    It also implies that you can’t be a fabulous sandwich-maker *and* be female, (or english, for that matter), and that is a message which I don’t think is suitable, for children or anyone.

    This I think is twaddle. The New Yorker character is chosen because of the (perceived, implied) superiority of New York sandwiches, not the superiority of the male over the female sandwich maker. I think its a pitfall of certain sorts of feminism to be so quick to leap to knee-jerk conclusions, and imagine slights on women where none exist, at the expense of us all.
    Surely the crucial point at issue here is the mens rea of the people complaining. And as the link in my update shows, they clearly do believe that the scene depicts a homosexual family unit, and they are complaining on those grounds alone.

  3. Nice, but wrong, Rob.
    What I am objecting to is the disturbing way that the feminine is erased in this advert. The reason why the New York character is chosen is totally irrelevant, though I think you should try to consider in your mind why he had to be a male, why a New York female wouldn’t do for the purpose. I think it is a pitfall of certain sorts of men to be blind to the ways in which the male is placed superior to the female, and imagine gender equality where none exists, at the expense of us all. But that’s by the by.
    What is relevant, and what I object to, is the impact, or the subliminal emotional effect of the fact that a male was chosen to replace the mother figure, regardless of the reasons for it.
    What I also suspect is that because of the subtlety of this advert, many people may have complained without exactly knowing or being able to articulate what it was about the advert that disturbed them. The homosexual allusion would have been an easy thing for them to pin it on.
    It is also MUCH easier to get an advert pulled on grounds of homosexuality than it is on grounds of sexism against females. Especially when there are so many of those certain sorts of men around, as I have described above.
    So let us do away with this easy, lazy analysis of calling “bigotry”, shall we, and look at what is really going on here.

  4. And what about the fact that it’s depicting children being given this product, when the salt and sugar content means children have been protected from having it advertised to them? What is that about?

  5. Personally, I’d like to see more erasure of the feminine from these roles on TV. Particularly sandwich making, since I’ve noticed a favourite cry of irritating assholes on blogs where women dare to have an opinion is “Shut up bitch and make me a sammich”. So bring on the male sandwich makers, gay, straight or whatever, on TV. Let’s see them cleaning toilets too.

  6. Good point, MK.
    I’m only arguing against the upsetting depiction of erasing the female from the role of motherhood.
    A more acceptable version of the ad would have been if the Dad was making the sandwiches, and the mother was the one astounded by the transformation of her partner. Though if that had been a gender-bending transformation, it’d probably be just as disturbing…

  7. Who said anything was disturbing about gender bending?
    I certainly didn’t. What I said was that the erasure of the feminine from the “mother” role was disturbing, and that it would be equally disturbing to erase the masculine from a “father” role (eg by casting a female in that role), that’s all. Perhaps you misunderstood me…

  8. Just to make it clear for Alex: I’m not saying there’s anything disturbing about gender-bending per se. However, in this context, ie in the context of the Heinz advert, about which we are speaking, the gender-bending nature of the alteration of the mother character is shocking and disturbing – not because there’s anything wrong with gender-bending per se, but because the alteration, by being a gender-bending one, eradicates all that is visibly female from a role whose necessary and defining feature is a) biological femaleness, and b) a certain kind of nurturing.
    I would also admit that I was lazy when I used the term “gender-bending” as a short-hand for the replacement of a female in the role with a male. I thought that people would know what I meant. But of course, it is rather more than gender-bending. A manly-seeming but still technically female mother wouldn’t have been half as upsetting. It is not just gender that has been bent in this advert, but biological sex (as in yer X and Y chromosomes).

  9. But aren’t there real life families which have precisely the arrangement as depicted in the advert? Or at least, stay at home husbands with off-to-work husbands. I’m not clear why an alternative nuclear family, where a man takes on what is usually a woman’s role, is such a threat to the ‘traditional’ nuclear family.

  10. No, Rob, there aren’t. Not ones that call one of the men “Mum”, and not ones where the Dad seems intimidated by the sexual overtures or allusions of his male partner and fellow parent.
    My point (which I will make YET AGAIN) is NOT that it’s an alternative nuclear family (which it isn’t), but simply that the mother role (preserved and indicated by the children calling him “Mum”) is usurped by a male character. Why don’t you get this, Rob? Why the obsession with defending a homosexual relationship that isn’t being depicted? It’s a heterosexual relationship, where the mother has been miraculously transformed into a male by virtue of using the product…

  11. Interesting that you make the mohamed cartoons analogy – has it occured to you that the same muslims who complained about bikini clad women on advertsing hoardings have compained the most loudly about this about this ? Which group in happy clappy, intolerantly tolerant modern Britain are the most homophobic ?
    The giveway is that if it had been say the church the BBc would have said “christian groups have complained….” as it’s a muslim group exhibiting homophobia the compliants mysteriously become unattributable.
    Incidentally I don’t think it appropriate that a product which is largely consumed by children be advertised by gay men, it’s not homophobic, it’s about not having to answer awkward questions from my kids at an inappropriately age.
    Rant over, a welcome return to form for the piece by the way.

  12. Clarice I’m not trolling and I follow your logic, but had it been a woman sandwich maker and a nuclear familiy (or even two women) wouldn’t feminists complain about sterotyping and ask why men shouldn’t be depicted making sandwiches ? Also the single parent/blended family brigade would have grounds to complain about the fact that they were somehow being excluded or marginalised ?

  13. Good to have you back, Matt.
    Yes, it did occur to me very much that it might be Islamic Fundamentalists who were the complainants. I purposefully refrained from accusations of hypocrisy (“the reactionaries are only vocal when its Muslims” etc) for this reason, and only mentioned the Christian fundamentalists after finding the link to the AFA site.

  14. I was watching Euro 2008, the Russia v Holland game, and after Torbinsky scored Russia’s second, one of the players kissed him in celebration.
    Imagine my horror. This was on when obviously kids would be watching, football loving kids who are set to grow up being manly and hating all things gay.
    I had to endure the uncomfortable situation of having to explain to my kids what a footballer was! Thanks a lot BBC, thanks a lot for corrupting my kids’ innocence!

  15. “incidentally I don’t think it appropriate that a product which is largely consumed by children be advertised by gay men, it’s not homophobic, it’s about not having to answer awkward questions from my kids at an inappropriately age.”
    In what universe is that not homophobic? You choose your own comfort levels over educating your child. It is your discomfort with the idea of what gay men do in bed which makes you think that there is an age at which children should not be exposed to such things. Children of all ages are quite capable of understanding and accepting the concept of same sex relationships. Shame the same can’t be said of many adults…

  16. Yeah, Matt, they might, but they’d probably be too busy worrying about things like rape, domestic violence, people-trafficking, you know, the usual.
    There’s nothing wrong with being depicted making sandwiches you see, unless making sandwiches is going to be somehow belittled.
    It’s the belittling that’s the problem, not the foodstuff.
    Minority types of family set-ups are probably well aware that they’re minorities, and their expectations of representation are probably adjusted accordingly. They would only be able to complain to the advertising industry as a whole rather than to any particular advertisement. It’s a numbers game, Matt, so that’s a bit of a red-herring…

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