Critic Hits Out at Ad Agency Head Over Homophobia

(via mediabistro)

***An Open Letter to Omnicom President-CEO John Wren from Bob Garfield, AdAge***

Dear John:

Two years ago, from BBDO, Detroit, came the spot for the macho subcompact Dodge Caliber. It featured a burly tough guy snorting the words “silly little fairy” at a Tinkerbell-like pixie, only to be magic-wanded into a mincing, sweater-draped girly man. The execs at Dodge and BBDO said the connection between a storybook fairy and the epithet “fairy” never occurred to anyone in the organization. But, of course, they were lying.

In January 2007, from TBWA, New York, there was the Snickers Super Bowl ad: two auto mechanics, chewing on opposite ends of a candy bar till meeting in an accidental kiss. The incident struck them as so repulsively gay they commenced trying to cleanse themselves via a chest-hair-ripping display of manliness. The accompanying website offered alternate endings, such as one guy attacking the other with a wrench.

Now, from AMV BBDO, London, another Snickers spot, in which a butt-wiggling race walker is just too effeminate for Mr. T’s liking. The snarling scourge of all things sissified chases after the guy in a pickup. “You a disgrace to the man race!” he bellows. “It’s time to run like a real man!” — whereupon the terrorized wimp is mowed down with a candy-spewing Gatling gun and admonished to “Get some nuts!”

The pun behind the campaign is obvious, adolescent and unfunny. The sentiment behind it is simply sick. John: three Omnicom agencies, three outrages. It is time for you to intervene.

The Super Bowl ad, at least, was grounded in something real. It wasn’t exactly homophobic; it was about homophobia and men’s deepest sexual fears about themselves. Why that issue would be the stuff of candy-bar advertising is an open question, and a good one, but there was nothing genuinely malevolent in the televised spot. This new Mr. T commercial — like the online wrench attack — is explicitly malevolent and beyond the pale. So unseemly, so perverse, so beneath you.

This is from your own statement on corporate responsibility: “As a leader in the communications industry, Omnicom Group is committed to ensuring that we use our position to promote socially responsible policies and practices and that we make positive contributions to society across all of our operations.” Is that so? My guess is that the parents of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death for being too effeminate to suit his killers, would take a different view. Because your commercial is just a cartoonish recapitulation of their son’s brutal murder.

Since you are the executive ultimately in charge of both TBWA and BBDO, I ask you: How could you be so insensitive, how could you be so shallow, and how could you be so mean?

This letter is to you, but it is equally to your colleagues throughout the industry. Are you so bereft, of ideas and simple humanity, that you must be reduced to stereotyping and bullying? That you must identify an “other” to ridicule, or worse? That you must build a brand on the backs of people who have harmed no one save for challenging a high-school locker-room standard of masculinity?

Stop the dehumanizing stereotypes. Stop the jokey violence. There is no place in advertising for cruelty. Pull the campaign. Do it now. Then tell your agencies how to behave. Or else.

***END***

Comments

  1. scientitian says

    Come on – it’s pretty clear that this agency is repeatedly pulling from gay stereotypes for their commercials, and most viewers WILL make that connection on some level. For that reason alone, it is certainly homophobic.

  2. jason says

    If these ad agencies depicted gay and bi men as everyday citizens and lovers, I wouldn’t have a problem with the occasional homophobic ad. But the simple fact is that EVERY ad coming from these agencies is either surrounded with anxiety or outright homphobic. It’s a biased scenario which feeds into negativity about our community.

    Thank goodness Garfield had the cajones to criticize these ad agencies. Wish there were more like him.

  3. darb says

    Crispy… I hope you’re kidding. The ad is obviously playing to stereotypes in order to lead viewers to make that conection. The point is that the advertiser/agency WANTS you to think they guy is gay. So faulting Garfield for making the connection is kinda stupid.

  4. jason says

    And how would that attention whore Mr T like it if some ad agency made a commercial featuring black people eating watermelon while some white redneck made fun of them? I don’t think he’d like it. Blacks like Mr T ought to realize that prejudice and stereotypes are not healthy.

    You ought to know better, Mr T.

  5. jason says

    Crispy,

    Yellow shorts, a sissified gait…these are all elements which fit into the “you’re so gay” stereotype which homophobic straights like to throw at us. I am personally fed up with this stereotype. Meanwhile, our raison d’etre (our love, for instance) is consistently ignored or censored by these agencies.

  6. soithoni says

    Reinforcing internalized self-hatred, reinforcing homophobia, reinforcing stereotyping, reinforcing fear and hatred and bigotry…. what’s not to like about that? eh… everything. Helloooo?

  7. jason says

    Keep in mind that a lot of these ad agencies are heterosexual boys’ clubs at heart. Gay and bi men are generally not welcome. There is a pervasive pandering to homophobia in these agencies.

  8. noah says

    Crispy,

    The point isn’t that the man is gay but that he is being attacked for being effeminate. Regardless of orientation, the man’s feminine qualities are being attacked metaphorically and physically–with a gun!

    Also, there is this nasty side of contemporary gay culture that in fighting stereotypes has decided to attack gay men who are not butch. Why is that? Some gay men are effeminate. Denigrating them for their natural tendencies is a reflection of internal homophobia.

    Recently, I read on a gay sports blog about a young ice skater who came out as gay. The author of the piece made it a point to say that it was “OK” that the skater had stereotypical qualities (was effeminate and wanted to be an interior designer). How generous of the author.

    Could you imagine a respected African-American author congratulating an African-American athlete “even though” the person had a black accent or aspired to be a rapper? Don’t think so.

  9. crispy says

    “Yellow shorts, a sissified gait…these are all elements which fit into the “you’re so gay” stereotype”

    Um, no. Those are stereotypes of speed-walkers.

    Have you ever seen a speed-walker? They look silly. Not gay. That’s what this ad is making fun of.

  10. Derrick from Philly says

    JASON,

    I too hate Mr T’s participation in that stupid, homophobic (and more important to me)EFFEMOPHOBIC/MISOGYNISTIC ad; but can’t you criticize Mr T without taking on all black people?

    Yes, Mr T should have refused to do the commercial, but I wonder how many black faces were behind the cameras, JASON.

    We’ve had this happen too many times on this blog, and I get tired of calling white gay people ugly names that I hadn’t used since 1974.

  11. Scientitian says

    Yeah…all those stereotypes about speedwalkers that everyone is so familiar with(?). Regardless of how you might receive it, a vast majority of the general population would identify the man in the commercial as gay or effeminate.
    And I would like to say, for the record, that I have NEVER seen anyone (of any gender or age) shake their ass like that while walking, jogging, prancing, or running at any speed. I don’t know what kind of magical world you live in, but the speedwalkers must have some major problems with their hips.

  12. Erick says

    I agree that assuming the speed walker is gay by the way he walks is wrong. That is the technical way the sport requires.
    But the ad plays on that and its intent is to ridicule, but it goes even further as to emasculate the runner.
    This is ad clearly homophobic. Good on Garfields part to call them on it.

  13. UnionStayshyn says

    Crispy,
    You’re, at best, willfully naive and, at worst, a complete tool.

    “anti-femme” is different from “anti-gay”?

    Though I do think it’s funny (sad) that you’re not at all embarrassed about expressing these limp views publicly.

  14. Jai says

    “If these ad agencies depicted gay and bi men as everyday citizens and lovers, I wouldn’t have a problem with the occasional homophobic ad.”

    Are you kidding? How about no homophobic ads at all?! I don’t care if an agency puts out even just one anti-gay ad, it’s still wrong and they should be called on their shit.

  15. PeKeMo says

    In all honesty, I mostly agree with Crispy on this one, when I saw the ad I didn’t see the dude as being gay, I saw him as a speed walker. I don’t know any femmes that walk like that, I know bowlegged people that walk like that, but not a lot of femmes. While I can see why people could see it as homophobic, but then again I don’t feel it’s necessary to tear Crispy to shreds simply because his viewpoint is different, especially because he didn’t antagonize anyone, he simply stated his opinion. Learn some class people.

  16. Bosie says

    sad for “mr T” lol who is he anyways? So tired of this bs ads, why don’t they make fun of the religious right or black people or asians??? well, because is wrong…why they make fun of us?? Because they can. SO fu*k them..let’s do what we can to show them by anymeans…stop buy their products..slowly pass the word to friends (like I do, they do listen IF you explain to them)…FIGHT BACK…Alexander The Great was a homo and he ruled with a fist and so was Hadrian.

  17. RobbieP says

    This charming and delightful ad reiterates age-old messages about masculinity: to be a real man you must adhere to strict codes of behaviour and violence is an appropriate response to those who transgress those ideals.

    Masculinity is never given but must be earned and there is always someone, somewhere to scrutinize your behaviour. Traditional masculinity sees itself as active and femininity as passive. Women are objects to be looked at and it is men who do the looking. In this commercial the camera frames the speed-walker’s ass in a sexually suggestive manner. This is indeed a transgression because it in effect objectifies him. “You a disgrace to the man race!” shouts the bejewelled 80s icon, Mr. T. As punishment for presenting his ass to us, the speed-walker is pelted and forced to run for his life. Then, in the ad’s tagline, the speed-walker and all guys are commanded to “get some nuts” or more specifically “get some balls and reclaim the male privilege that you’ve abdicated. Conform or get pelted, fool!” Ha, f**king, ha.

    LGBT folk do have larger issues than this commercial to deal with and no, this ad doesn’t specifically target gay men. But it does reaffirm that there are only a limited number of ways to be a real man. Many guys –gay and straight—lose out with such a narrow definition.

  18. DARB says

    Crispy, they are not making fun of speedwalkers. Mabye you could argue that they are making fun of MALE speedwalkers. But why? Because their wiggling hips and yellow short shorts make them look gay. Which of course means that they should be shot with a snickers gun. That’s the joke and it’s plainly homophobic.

    I’m honestly kind of shocked that there are people defending this ad; and I’m not one to scream “homophobia” every time I’m confronted with a gay stereotype in advertising. What is truly and inexcusabley offensive to me is the gun imagery and violence in response to stereotypically “gay” behavior (or male effeminate behavior, if you prefer to charactarze it that way).

  19. Derrick from Philly says

    Yeah, I really hate the ad. My comment to JASON was another issue…but then again, maybe not. This ad reminds me of the kinds of insults people like me had to endure in inner city neighborhoods, and delivered by idiots like Mr T.

    The gay speed walker part should’ve been played by m; and when Mr T shouted, “you a disgrace to the man race,” I’d reply, “yeah, and you’re a disgrace to another race.” See, that’s how you do it, JASON: retaliate against the individual–not his race or ethnic group.

    But you know what? There are many gay men & “closet cases/down low” guys that would say the same thing about the speed walker as Mr T did.

    “Get some nuts!”

    “Yeah, but sure I DON’T want them smelly-assed bat wings you got down there, fool!”

    No wonder I got gay-bashed so much. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

  20. crispy says

    Wait, Darb, I’m not defending this ad at all. Don’t put words in my mouth.

    The ad is juvenile and idiotic and misogynistic. And frankly, a candy bar company mocking any form of exercise seems pretty repugnant.

    I’m just trying to bring some perspective. Hate on it for the right reasons.

    RobbieP’s comment said it way more eloquently than I’ve been able to.

  21. Frank L says

    No worse than any other stupid, lame, offensive TV ad out there, and there are many ads on TV right now that are just as homophobic (if that’s what this really is, instead of just juvenile and idiotic) that they could easily fill a week, or two weeks, of entries on Towleroad.

    There are bigger things to worry about. Seriously.

  22. Shane says

    Crispy and RobbieP, you can’t be so dense as to not see the blatant homophobia in this ad.

    Derrick, get a life re: your response about black stereotypes. Jason made a good and correct point about the hypocrisy of some members of other minority groups (being bigoted for pay, in this case).

  23. says

    Whether “Crispy” [sic] sees an attack on ‘metrosexuals,’ or the majority of us see the ad for what it is, a simple, painful, fact remains: As a society we are so quick to be contemptuous toward the feminine or effete. One of the most damning accusations that can still be made to a boy is to accuse him of being a girl. When some male sports coaches want to completely shame their teams, they denounce them as female. If the players need fortitude on the field, they don’t need ‘guts’ or a ‘spine’–they need to ‘grow a pair.’ They must be men. Homophobia is the ugly sibling to this execration and enmity.

  24. Derrick from Philly says

    SHANE,

    Yeah…”the hypocrisy of ‘some members’….” yes, go after “some members”– why insult the entire group? So, what happens when we black gays criticize all white gays for the actions of a few white gay racists?

    “good and correct point…”

    SHANE, then why does that “good and correct point” seem to offend so many black gays who visits Towleroad when we discuss this issue. To offend all black people may be “good and correct” to you, not me.

    You can tell Mr T (or any other homophobic black bigot) that he is wrong. You do not have the moral authority to chastise black people in general.

    If you turn homophobia into a racial issue(because, remember, the black homophobe has NOT singled out WHITE gays for insult) then I have to respond to your racism accordingly.

  25. Marco says

    Keep in mind when your shopping for your next snack that these ads were BOUGHT by the Snicker’s company. Omnicom/BBDO created, pitched and sold these homophobic ideas to a willing, happy client.

  26. MCnNYC says

    Crispy (and all his or her) supporters are just plain ignorant.

    “You’re a disgrace to the ‘man race’…
    It’s time to run like a real man.”

    That’s the quote.

    It’s Homophobic. And ignorant.
    The ad clearly has hit it’s target audience.

  27. Chad says

    This ad is clearly homophobic and bullying and only a person with a low iq or conservative straight politics would think otherwise,come on,this ad is the worst and its meant to show that feminine traits deserved to be met with violence,are there people who really dont see that,wow,thats the ads intent and for the bigots or pretend gays here who defend it,shame on you,gay rights didnt happen because of people like you,thats for sure.

  28. I Heart Ryan Reynolds says

    No reasonable person could separate the homophobia from the prescriptive masculine stereotypes in this ad. Short-shorts on a man are commonly coded as gay in popular culture, especially in low-brow comedies. Swaying one’s hips (if you’re a man) is also coded as gay in popular culture. So the gay stereotypes are are unmistakable. I think any modern viewer who sees a man wearing short-shorts and sashaying down the street would make the connection with gay men. Also, popular culture constantly reinforces the idea that having a slender build is not masculine — it could mean that you’re gay, but it does mean you’re a wimp, whether you are gay or not. That’s why Mr. T’s doing the criticizing, he has masculine credibility because he’s muscular. “Competitve walker? That’s a contradiction in terms! He’s no athlete, athletes are football players, athletes are muscular and tough! Don’t be gay and wimpy like a competitive walker. Be tough and masculine like Mr. T.” Indeed, Snickers satisfies . . . your masculine paranoia.

  29. says

    And for the racewalkers – hey, it’s an ORIGINAL Olympic sport! Respect the gold!

    I’m also positive that even a beginner racewalker could outpace Mr. T. I don’t racewalk, but I walk marathons, and I double dare Mr. T to make it the whole 26 miles with me.

    Plenty of sports “look silly.” A quarterback with his hands between the center’s buns. Basketball shorts that look just like my mom’s culottes instead of the manly shorts of the ’70’s.

    Snickers are my favorite bar, but they are now on my “do not eat” list.

  30. Tom says

    Okay, maybe it is a little homophobic, but I thought it was funny. Speedwalking is the worst-looking sport after rollerblading. Who hasn’t wanted to shoot one at one point?

  31. SFBrian says

    Shouldn’t we be just as upset with Snickers (Masterfoods) for hiring this agency? In Feb 07 they reportedly said “heads will roll” over the Superbowl anti-gay snafu.

  32. says

    I don’t like the anti-gay, pro-gender-role message in this ad, but the more important issue here is that there are only three potentially moral reasons to aim a gun at another person – war, law-enforcement, and self-defense.

    The ad shows none of these, and is therefore inappropriate. If my ad agency suggested selling my product with this sort of advertising, they would be summarily dismissed.

  33. says

    Oh yeah…never mind the promotion of eating a Snickers bar vs. getting some exercise is promoted as “Getting some nuts”. Puhlease…too many Snickers will not get you into the kind of physical shape that will get you laid.

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