Tuesday, July 10, 2012

GLBT People in Advertising

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

A fair few companies at the moment are producing adverts with *gasp* actual GBLT content, whether it’s JC Penny’s and their gay families or Oreos and their rainbow cookies or some bank suggesting 2 men are buying a mortgage together – we’re starting to creep into this field.

And it is a big deal. That gasp alone says that. It is unusual. After all, including us at all instantly sets of a shit storm from the usual suspects who are outraged, OUTRAGED that you acknowledge we exist. Just ask this spokesperson from One Million Moms.



Quite.

So including us has been and still is risky –  and since the very nature of advertising is to get as many people to open their wallets as possible, it’s not been a risk many people have taken. In fact, advertising is one of the most GBLT erased media forms out there unless it is specifically aimed at and appearing in GBLT media (only a little ahead of children’s media and, probably, computer games I think). Reduction of erasure is generally good (though not enough – and in some cases a bad portrayal is worse than no portrayal at all) simply because there is such a push to deny our existence and deny our place in society. So, yeah inclusion is a positive.

And it’s a positive that these companies are willing to risk the wroth of the haters, either because they genuinely want to do a good thing (*urk* oops, sorry, my cynicism just tried to strangle me) or because they think that GBLT people and people who like us have more buying power than the haters.

These are positive things.

And yet, and yet – I’m much more comfortable with, say, JC Penny’s adverts that are adverts that just happen to contain GBLT people than I am with Oreo’s use of the rainbow to reach the GBLT movement and/or culture. Maybe it’s nitpicking, but one to me says “inclusion” and the other says “we’re friends so give us money” which, as I’ve said before, I find a very fraught ideal. It’s including the people rather than co-opting the actual equality movement.

Not that I don’t think JC Pennys and other advertisers with GBLT people aren’t playing “we’re friends, so give us the money” as well – but it has a different feel.

But let’s be clear, if you’re trying to use these adverts as an attempt to rainbow-wash then that is way out of line. Throwing out pro-GBLT adverts while, at the same time, discriminating against GBLT people, allowing bullying of GBLT people in the work place and/or supporting anti-GBLT organisations is so far out of line that you can’t even see where the line is.  And no, a pro-gay advert is not an apology

And, in the end, no amount of adverts can –  or should – get you hailed as the number 1 super gay ally of wonder, the gay corporation to which all our loyalty is eternally owed. It’s an advert, you want our money, you don’t (probably) hate us. Great and there are positives there, but it’s no more impressive than when a politician gives a pro-GBLT speech. I’ll smile, but I’m not going to cheer. You actually have to do something for us – and not expect payment – for me to actually cheer.