Thursday, July 24, 2008

Homophobia: Coming Soon to a Billboard Near You

Over the last two weeks Snickers and Nike have produced ads that are provoking some discussion about whether or not the ads are homophobic. In the Snickers ad, a male race walker is blown away by Mr T. (That’s right; remember him from a TV show about 30 years ago?) He uses a Gatling gun to shoot candy at the race walker for being a disgrace to the “man race” because of the hip swiveling characteristic of race walking. Mr. T shouts, “Get some nuts,” as he shoots Snickers (which, of course, contain nuts) at the race walker.

The Nike ad, targeting urban young black male basketball players, is for their new Hyperdunks shoe. The ad features several pictures of basketball players getting dunked on. The most “in your face” (so to speak) picture is of the dunker going so high that the defender gets a face full of the dunker’s crotch. The caption reads, “That Ain’t Right.”

Snickers, Nike and the ad companies who created these ads claim surprise that either of the ads is being interpreted as homophobic. What a crock! They are clearly targeting young men in these ads, young black men in the Nike ad. The least they could do is be honest about their obvious intention to play on the homophobia many young men, especially young black men, feel they must express to be seen as “manly” and straight. In the homophobic world of men’s basketball, what better way to humiliate and demean your opponent than to give his face an up close and personal encounter with your genitals? In the Snickers ad, “gunning down” the sissy with nut filled candy will certainly teach him to man up. In these ads the veiled gay inferences are meant to be synonymous with weak and swishy or getting dominated and humiliated on the basketball court. And this sells candy and athletic shoes?

I think you have to be pretty darned oblivious not to see the homophobic double entendres in these ads. You also have to have pretty big smirk on your face when you claim that there was no homophobic intent in either ad. Bull twang! As my friend from Texas used to say.

Ok, here’s the part where I get to be accused of not having a sense of humor. Let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that these kind of “gay is funny” ads targeting adolescent males or men who act like adolescent males are pathetically hackneyed and reflect a mind-numbing lack of creativity on the part of these multi-million dollar ad agencies and Nike and Snickers.

Instead, let’s ponder this week’s cover story in Newsweek about schools, anti- gay bullying and the murder of a gay middle school student by one of his classmates a few months ago. The apparent motivation for the murder was a sense of outrage and humiliation experienced by the murderer because the very openly gay student thought the murderer was cute and told him so (this story is way more complicated than this, but these are the basic facts).

I am not trying to blame Snickers and Nike for violence against gay people, but do they bear any social responsibility at all for how they try to sell their product? Do they ever wonder how it might feel to be a closeted young gay man seeing these ads with friends or teammates who are yukking it up over the “gay” humor in the ads. I guarantee you that they get the anti-gay overtones. The least Nike and Snickers could do is own up to their craven use of homophobia to sell their products rather than sniggering up their sleeves as they profess amazement that anyone saw any hint of anti-gay intent in these ads.

I’ve never been a big Snickers fan anyway and I don’t buy Nike shoes because of the sweat shop issue, but I will write them a letter. If you agree with me on this, I encourage you to do the same.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Snickers also the one with the Superbowl "kiss" commercial where the guys then tear off their chest hair to prove their "manliness?" I guess they thought "get some nuts" was a less obvious slam? Or the publicity, the first time, was too good to pass up another opportunity.
Homophobia sells.

Pat Griffin said...

I actually thought the Snickers Super Bowl commercial was funny. It seemed to me that they were spoofing the homophobia of the two guys rather than the ad being homophobic in and of itself. I know it's a fine line. I've been somewhat surprised that the guys over at don't think the Nike ad is homophobic at all - just stupid. To me both the latest Snickers ad and this Nike ad are the sleaziest kind of homophobia because they are pretending it isn't. I'm noy buying...literally.

Anonymous said...

Nike pulled the homophobic ads!

Hooray for small victories.

Rebecca said...

Might not be the best source in the world to cite, but according to TMZ, the Snickers ads were pulled in the US.

Pat Griffin said...

Rebecca, I think you are correct. The Snickers ads were only shown in the UK, but they were discontinued also.

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