Friday, June 27, 2008
Cowardice vs Bravery
I was shocked to read earlier in the week about the Heinz mayonnaise advert which the company has taken off screens after around 200 complaints about obscenity. The advert, which features two men kissing, was called 'obscene' and 'inappropriate'. Many also complained saying that the advert was detrimental to children and would put parents in the awkward position of having to explain to their children that same-sex couples exist.
An online petition has been set up asking Heinz to reinstate the advert and not to give in to bigotry. So far over 9000 people have signed the petition – far more than the two hundred or so who complained about the original advert. We're no longer living in the 19th century. I can't see how people find this brief kiss offensive. It's not as if they started rimming each other on the kitchen table (cf. Queer as Folk episode 1, about twenty minutes in).
The issue of parenthood amongst same-sex couples came up again last night in two films shown as part of the Helsinki Pride 2008 (going on this week). The first was a documentary Tuplaisät ('Double Dads') focussed on a gay couple in Helsinki who have two foster children and who are now trying to have one biological child each. How refreshing to see a documentary about 'normal' people going about their lives. The film gave a fascinating look at what life with two dads must be like. I found the following anecdote particularly endearing: the two older children were arguing and calling each other gay, when one of the fathers walks in and says, 'That's enough! If anyone's gay round here, it's me.'
The next film, another documentary called The Marching Season, focussed on the differences between Pride marches in London and Riga in 2007. Gay rights hasn't been a political issue in the UK for years; young gay men in particular don't seem very interested in the politics of the movement, nor of the struggles that went on through the 70s and 80s. It was heart-warming to see the brave young members of Mozaīka, the Latvian LGBT rights organisation, determinedly planning their Pride march despite widespread hostility – a counter parade entitled NoPride was to be held at an adjacent park; the event attracted thousands of people who flocked to sign petitions against the Pride march. At the 2006 march, Mozaīka members were pelted with stones and excrement. How brave they are to carry on their work, regardless of the fact that their lives are constantly at risk.
We've come a long way in the last forty years. Equality has increased in many areas of life and gay people don't need to feel threatened in the street. This is largely because, in most western countries, it has become wholly unacceptable to hold such flagrantly homophobic opinions. Sadly, this is not the case in Latvia, where it seems that the neo-Nazi activities of NoPride and other homophobic factions are not universally frowned upon. Mozaīka has the right to hold a march, but the police cannot guarantee participants' personal safety.
In Britain, such attitudes would be, in the words the Heinz complainants, 'offensive and inappropriate'. This is why, although the Heinz debacle is a million miles from the problems in Latvia, the advertisement must be reinstated. Homophobic attitudes are to be condemned unequivocally. After all that people have fought for, it is absurd that something as trivial as two men sharing a kiss can cause such great offence. Reinstating the advert will be a powerful signal that such bigotry will not be tolerated. As things are now, the removal of the advert has caused far more offence than the kiss itself. Heinz: do the right thing.