by Susan Paynter
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Columnist
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Link]
Being a hetero, white, U.S.-born female, it's easy for me to trust that the world gets who I am even if advertising does not.
Let billboards try stereotyping me as impossibly slim, unlined and obsessed with status cars and stilettos. Or dumpling-ed and deeply fulfilled by the sparkling tiles in my bath or the fresh Snicker Doodles in my oven. That never affects the way I elbow my way through the world expecting acceptance.
But if the world, or the government were out to get me, telling me by constitutional amendment that my love isn't equal and I shouldn't be allowed to marry, I might be testy about a new ad campaign.
The first in a series of three progressively provocative billboards is now on display at Seattle's Melrose and Pine. The coyly titled "Come Together" campaign from Gay.com soon will follow with other billboards and print ads also placed in L.A., New York, San Francisco and 10 other large cities, including Seattle.
The first image, titled "Anthem," shows two gay men standing in front of the American flag, looking separate and somewhat defiant. The second, called "Embody," shows the two wrapped in the American flag. And the third -- a sure-fire flame-thrower called "Comfort" -- shows a real if perfect male couple cuddled in bed, their sculpted bods draped from the waist-down with (you guessed it) the American flag.
The ads literally hit the streets just as the Washington state Supreme Court began considering whether same-sex couples should be able to wed. In other words, to be accepted.
Now I'm not saying that every image of a gay union ought to be Plain Jane and Joan or Jack and Gil and their apple-cheeked tots shopping Home Depot for kitchen supplies.
Besides, even a non-threatening image such as theirs would never convert those fearful folks who insist that only church-wed moms and dads deserve to be families.
Leathered-up Dykes on Bikes and gay men in cheekless jeans are all part of the human parade as well as the Gay Pride parade, as far as I'm concerned.
But bedrock issues like the basic human right to marry, the right to raise kids and visit a same-sex partner in the hospital, to inherit property and file joint taxes are currently on the block for a lot of our neighbors, co-workers and relatives. So why risk incendiary ads that look like throwbacks to the hoary old stereotype that being gay is all about sex?
At first blush (and they should), the folks shaping the Gay.com "Come Together" campaign in San Francisco suffered pesky questions with considerable irritation.
This is a "branding campaign" specifically appealing to the Gay.com customer base, as in gay men, I was told. It's a service featuring personals, travel packages, star gossip, tax help, dating help, health help ... oh, and families, as the Web site clearly explains.
On the other hand -- apparently the one saluting the flag -- the ads also serve a deep societal purpose, according to PlanetOut Inc. media relations manager Jennifer Woodard and senior vice president of marketing and communications Donna Gibbs.
When a Time magazine cover story on the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals" features a flag and a cross, "It's clear the nation is divided. We are in the midst of a war against the American values of freedom and justice for all," Woodard e-mailed.
"Clearly people will have a reaction to this advertising," Gibbs told me by phone. "I just hope people will understand that the message is inclusion. This flag is here for everyone. The worst kind of reaction (to an ad campaign) is no reaction at all."
I agree that there is no time to be timid when human rights are under attack. Certainly the civil rights movement made little progress by being polite.
And, in America, advertisers have a long-established right to grab our attention by almost any means necessary. I pledge allegiance to Abercrombie & Fitch!
But I wonder if the cause of equality championed by the hundreds of gays and lesbians and their hetero supporters who marched in Sunday's gay marriage rally in Seattle feel well-served by flag-wrapped ad images that are almost certain to offend.
Here's what the Queer Day News Web site had to say about "Come Together" ads crafted to elicit an emotional response:
"Our emotional response is outrage," Queer Day said. "With a government set on eliminating our rights, not to even mention all the blood on our flag these days, we now have reason to hate Gay.com beyond their continuing visual homage to body fascism."
Or, as one blog (GeneCowan.com) put it: "If Gay.com wants to make a statement of a more responsible sort why not just put some clothes on the guys and remove the double entendre? Without the nudity and sexually-related tag line, this campaign could have made sense in the arena of civil rights. As it stands, it's just titillation."
Susan Paynter's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call her at 206-448-8392 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As soon as I saw these ads, I was enraged. How irresponsible to sexualize these ads to the point of mockery, all in the name of trying to promote a responsible political statement in an attempt to sway people who might be undecided? This is so completely outrageous that it almost defies description. FUCK gay.com. Who the bloody hell even looks like these guys? I am so sick of this ridiculous notion that you have to have 3% body fat, no visible hair except for sculpted eyebrows and "product" laden stylish haircuts, all kinds of airbrushed muscles and innuendo in order for you to really have your interest piqued in an ad campaign. I'd be much more inclined to pay atention if the people in these ads looked - oh, I don't know - MORE LIKE REAL FUCKING PEOPLE than the crap they're serving. Jesus H. FUCKING Christ!