14.8.11

Rip and Roll: Behind The Controversy - The Kids are Alright



I haven’t seen a “Rip and Roll” ad in weeks, though it may no longer be the hot topic it once was,  I can’t help feeling like the uproar surrounding that ad was the biggest waste of public and media effort in recent memory.    Somehow Queensland had enough people incensed to action against Rip and Roll that they were able to remove some of the tamest safe sex ads I’ve ever seen from the public sphere – at least temporarily. Upon realizing that the letters were primarily from the Australian Christian League, and under huge pressure from support across Brisbane and Australia for the couple in the photo and the ad itself, Adshel reinstated the campaign (commissioned by the Queensland Association of Health Communities).   *Note* As Captain Obvious, before I go any further, I must point out that this controversy did wonders for spreading the message of Rip and Roll to the gay community and beyond. 

When my several of my Facebook friends joined a group supporting Rip and Roll, I decided to investigate.  After getting the gist of what was going on, I found a site that revealed the original public complaints sent to the Advertising Standards Bureau and Adshel, the firm that created the ad.   The main offence appears to be that by posting this image at bus stops we risk “pre-sexualising” children and sending the message that it just might be okay to be gay.   To quote another that spells out the clear theme going on: “It shows two young males in the act of foreplay & to me is encouraging homosexuality. This public display is unacceptable, & damaging for young people to be exposed to.”  The placement of the ad was also under scrutiny, since kids “couldn’t miss it” on downtown streets and suburban bus stops.  

For my part, as far as I remember being a kid under ten, an ad like that wouldn’t have been more than a blip on my radar.  I recall having little more than a narrow focus on if I had enough coins to buy candy, how not to get hassled at school and if Mum was going to make pasta for dinner.  I’m not even thirty, but maybe kids these days are constantly obsessing about sex? I doubt it, research on child brain development and morality suggests that between ages 2 and 7, children are pretty egocentric (Piaget and Kohlberg, 2006). They are absorbed in their little fisheye view of life being unfair because they can’t sleep over at their best friend's house or have pizza as often as they'd like.  Also, that age group is also just barely literate; I can’t imagine they get slightly risqué joke in ad’s slogan.  By the time the whole message of Rip and Roll would be able to sink in; they will be old enough that the opinions of their peers matter more than their parents.  Yet I don’t see a lot of offended 10-16 year olds tapping out a prudish rant begging to be spared from the implication of the idea of two men having sex.   

I think it’s time we stopped dragging “the children” into this debate.  Those writing in wanted to reserve the right as parents to teach their own kids their own values and not have society at large or the Queensland Association of Health Communities get in the way.  Most of these letters sounded like they amounted to supporting suppression of anything that interferes with the message that straight – and only straight – is the right way to go.   I’ll let you in on something; I bet your five year old could care less, and didn’t know this was something he needed to be protected from.   

What happens when we keep up the old status quo and continue to devalue lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) lifestyles as unfit for public consumption? What are the outcomes of marginalizing even the idea that LGBT people should be able to equally participate within the community’s social spectrum?  One example is the still growing group of people who came out late in life after being so shamed by their social environment growing up that they tried to hide who they were by living straight and entering a heterosexual marriage.  Sometimes just adopting the straight identity in confusion and uncertainty, because they wanted to have children or were lacking role models and an environment that gave them the freedom to be who they were.  This can bring devastating heartbreak to their partners who married them for life, and still love them deeply.  It also undoubtably has an effect on their children, just like any divorce scenario, but with added complexity. 

It makes you question, how could it be beneficial to reinforce to kids (who one day may be on the verge of coming out) that gay is not normal? That who they are will never be equally recognized or accepted and so they should try to conform to sexual majority to maintain their place as an equal citizen.  If our little ones were growing up in a world where being gay is as unremarkable (and prone to giving you cooties) as ...
being interested in the opposite sex, we may save a lot of suffering.  Imagine men and women everywhere saved from marrying someone who was forcing themselves to go through with it to ensure that their family didn’t disown them, or that God didn’t send them to hell.   Think of saving hetero daters everywhere from that kind of future pitfall.   That’s an argument for improving the institution of hetero marriage if I’ve ever heard one.   

I can’t think of anything worse than being forced to live a lie because of being taught self-loathing from everything around you.  Not only because there is negativity associated with your secret self, but by telling you your place through  the very absence of positive or even neutral examples of people like you existing equally with the dominant group.  Most who protest equal marriage rights or public advertising that includes gay-positive or even just gay specific messages seem to take their freedom of love for granted.  It’s as though otherwise good, decent people suffer from a spontaneous void of empathy when asked to imagine themselves as an LGBT who lives in a loving relationship with a partner.  


If you’re having difficulty I suggest you take a moment and try to get your head around the twinge of fear that you couldn't spontaneously kiss your partner, or hold their hand without getting disapproval from someone in the vicinity.  As noted earlier, even if it is a condom ad; a fully clothed hug is clearly “foreplay” in a homophobic mindset. The most basic expressions of love can elicit a sharp backlash - it's as though you were Romeo and Juliet, and we know that didn't end well.   The worst part is all you'd have to do to save yourself from the scorn of your family members, a co-worker, or someone you’ve never even laid eyes on before, is to love someone else that the majority would prefer you to love.  It's a romantic plot device heterosexuals have been cheering on for years, that true love should overcome, so how can so many people still prefer to be the villain in this scenario?

 In decades past, it could be argued that things were much worse, and in many non-progressive countries it is still an offence with the punishment of death, but we expect more from the pinnacles of democratic, “free” nations (US, UK, Canada and Australia).  There is a difference between working towards the bare minimum and requiring complete respect.   LGBT have a high rate of suicide, but more and more are coming out, at ever younger ages – even in the face of dangerous consequences – and living according to their own truth at the risk of losing everything they have.  Comparisons to the civil rights movement only get shot down because being gay is still largely a trait that can be hidden, whereas being a person of color offered no escape or reprieve.  


Since it is a sexual distinction, and the choice of sharing that detail is still reserved, arguments to reinforce bigotry have continued by confusing this aspect with the idea of having a choice in one’s sexual orientation.  As I explained in the example of marriages ended by coming out, the truth tends to reveal itself whether it was being repressed entirely or simply ommitted as in the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military guidelines that have only recently been repealed.   In an age of mass communication where previously isolated LGBTs everywhere have discovered they are indeed a large community in their own right, there is safety in numbers and fewer are choosing to live the lies they once did.

The ACL and other public complaints relating to even non-sexual ads stems from the denial of equality in a way that is directly linked to the tawdry of examination of the sexual behaviour of two consenting adults.   Condom advertising is not going away, and everyone needs a reminder about how important it is to use them. Such advertising should remain relatively clean and get the point across without offending anyone but the most hyper-conservatives, and I believe in the creativity of marketing that this can be achieved.  Debating condom and safe sex ads is an entire argument by itself, and some of the writers of these letters try to say it’s not about the homosexual aspect of the image, but considering it was the biggest complaint in to the standards bureau in Australia this year, I beg to differ.  This is about those whose inability to let go of the formerly prevailing moral code, the ones who make the biggest noise about “freedom”, who are working to continue to pretend an entire tax-paying group of citizens just don’t exist, or at least should be occasionally heard but not seen.   Since LGBT citizens have been denied the right to freely pursue their own ends and seek their own happiness, it should be noted that the queer folks amongst all of us have done an exemplary job of being patient with the rest of the world being so morally unevolved for this long. 

The first step towards real equality must be giving up the embargo on equal public representation, across all mediums, not just the marketing directed towards the gay community.  Two mommies or two daddies in an ad for an SUV, or maybe a TIDE commercial, or dog food - whatever the case there would be a great diminishing of the taboo aspect of homosexuality once integrated into the banality of general consumption media.  It can’t just be about condoms anymore, these are whole human lives that in many ways are still being portrayed on the narrowest spectrum of stereotype and camp. This is what I believe is the hardest shift of thinking for those who continue to fight and subjugate this integration of LGBT people into the true mainstream of social existence.  


This is what a future with equality means: no sideways glances, no lying about relationship status, and no awkwardness at schools, workplaces or social events.  Once when acceptance and respect is present in the most kitsch and family oriented media scenarios will a threshold be crossed greater than the superficial strides made by Glee or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.  It would be nice if a parade just wasn’t necessary (though still a damn good time), and Lady Gaga didn’t have to shake her tattooed ass to remind us who was “Born This Way”.   

'Sadly, the current environment even affects straight people who support the cause.  They say you shouldn’t discuss politics at work in the first place.  Yet even as outspoken as I am in my life, I will at times be cautious about revealing my own acceptance and support for the LGBT community to just anyone.  Not because I'm not happy to defend my views, but because I don't want to find out someone in my workplace is homophobic and forever after feel awkward in their presence (or they in mine).  I’m ashamed of myself when I feel my teeth against my tongue when the subject passes through a conversation of colleagues, and I’m not the only one.  We all skate around it for the same reason, no one wants to wind up and alienate an evangelical Christian computer programmer who holds the keys to making the entire office e-mail system work.  Not everyone’s gotten to the same page, even with so many legal and social battles being won.   I don’t even know if I’ll be around to see the greatest changes, when even the loudest vitriol fades into the history books.  Though, I have been heartened to hear that some schools are now teaching high school kids about Harvey Milk


Ever so slowly, the tide is turning.   The best outcome is to reach the point where we acted as ambivalent towards ads aimed at the gay community as we do those aimed at everyone else, if we spoke of gay couples and gay friends in our lives freely in any social company without a second thought. To me that future would be a world one step better than the current reality.  If I'm saying this as a woman married to a man, then I'd invite you to try to imagine what a difference that kind of change would make in the world of a LGBT person just trying to fall in love and live their lives with all the same daily fight for dignity and average adult worries we all endure. 

So how can it be that the culture around us is evolving but there are still those that take time out to keep the hate alive?  Are you a concerned parent or looking for an excuse to advertise for your ideological platform?  Sure, now in all their innocence, little tots asking why Jenny has two mommies seems a complicated and adult concept, but how different does it need to be to tell them what a “family” is? Even if you are loathe for to explain the physiological mechanics behind human sexuality to your four year old, I don’t think it’s much worse than the anxiety any parent in history has felt explaining the birds and the bees (birds and birds tends to make more sense anyway).   It’s well worth noting that the two men in the Rip and Roll photo are partners of 6 years, engaged and recently approved to become foster parents.   LGBT citizens are parenting children, heroically saving lives, reading the newspaper, falling in love and yes – having sex and (begrudgingly) using condoms– just like everyone else.


 I’d venture a guess that by the time most of our children reach their teens, they will be over it.  Acceptance and respect are becoming the new black, the new ‘normal’.   Only the last stubborn hold outs will still try to rabble-rouse just to see if they can confirm that they have enough compatriots to justify their predjudice.  But when the day comes when you are the last odd one out  in your circle of friends and family who still wants to look like a  relic at family reunions, I daresay you’ll finally get a taste of being a minority of opinion.   The “kids are alright”, I'd suggest it's time to shift your focus to spending time with your children, getting to know them as human beings, and loving who they are now and as they grow, rather than obsessing over how their sexuality's manifestation might progress.  I don't suppose many of us remember entirely what being a child or a young adult was like, but I'm sure most of us can recall the more our parents protected us, tried to mould us in their image, the more we rebelled and questioned their rules and mores. It seems timely to put the focus back on making sure the next generation have a future to grow up in with clean water, healthcare, safety from real sexual predators, and that they grow up having learnt the value of  compassion and self-acceptance.  Fight to keep them safe from the things that really are dangerous and give them the opportunity to encounter diversity and choose their own path.  They’ll appreciate it more than your angry letters.  


1 comment:

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