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Gay-baiting Ads Get Their Due

Gay-baiting Ads Get Their Due

Bob_garfield

Writer Bob Garfield takes issue with intolerance being used as marketing.

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Clad in bright yellow short shorts, a speed-walker swishes down the sidewalk. Suddenly Mr. T drives up in a truck and machine-guns the walker with a Snickers bar, calling him a "disgrace to the man race," then implores viewers to "get some nuts!" This is the latest questionable commercial created by Omnicom Group advertising agencies. You may know their work: They were behind the 2007 Super Bowl Snickers spot that showed two men freaking out after accidentally kissing -- and attacking each other with wrenches in an alternative online version. And in a Dodge ad from another Omnicom agency, a macho man snidely calls a male Tinker Bell-like character a "silly little fairy," only to have the pixie turn him into a sweater-clad metrosexual -- a silly little fairy in his own right.

After seeing the Mr. T commercial, Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield fired off an open letter on AdAge.com to Omnicom CEO John Wren. Garfield called the company's latest spot a "cartoonish recapitulation" of Matthew Shepard's murder. Wren didn't respond (he also declined to speak with The Advocate), but Snickers' parent company pulled the ad less than a week after Garfield's essay ran. We caught up with Garfield, a straight man who also works as a media critic for National Public Radio.

What compelled you to write the letter?I've taken a very tough stand against the Omnicom agency that created the fairy commercial. And I raised my eyebrows about the first Snickers commercial, mainly on the grounds of stupidity; it was not so much homophobic as about homophobia. That was before I realized there was a wrench attack in the online version. The Mr. T ad was the last straw.

What's been the response?I've gotten support from the gay community, with a few writing, "I'm gay, but I think it's hilarious," which makes me think of the character in the film Ship of Fools who thought he was immune to the Holocaust because he was well-regarded. If some American gay men think it's innocuous, God bless 'em, but I think they're wrong.

Does advertising reflect cultural attitudes or create them?It's more of a mirror. It not only has a responsibility for decorum, but you'd think advertising could at least not resemble hate speech. Some said I overstated the case when I compared the Mr. T ad to Matthew Shepard. On the contrary, it is a direct parallel -- it depicts doing violence against a person deemed insufficiently masculine.

Nbroverman
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.