|Most Londoners aren't homophobic. Get over it!|
Last year I railed against BUPA for its vile Helping you find healthy advertising slogan. Nothing since then has irritated me enough to write about it, but the gay rights pressure group Stonewall is trying its best with a campaign that started running on the side of London's buses last week.
I won't bother with the usual "I'm not prejudiced" blather. Naturally I'd prefer it if you didn't think I was a homophobe who lacked the courage to say so, preferring to snipe at the wording of a bus ad, but this post isn't about what Stonewall stands for. It's about getting a message across. But if you're worried about my liberal credentials, why not copy and paste the "equal and inclusive" mission statement off some MPs website and pretend I said that?
I'd better point out that Stonewall's campaign is in support of gay marriage. It's not exactly clear because the advert seems to confuse opposition to gay marriage with hostility to homosexuality in general. I'm guessing that the tiny text in the picture is a link to Stonewall's gay marriage mini site.
Stonewall's press release promoting the campaign describes it as "moderate", even though the slogan is one of the most confrontational you'll see. "GET OVER IT!" it bellows, IN CAPITALS!, with an exclamation mark JUST TO MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THEY'RE SHOUTING AT YOU! To gauge the difference in tone between this and normal advertising, imagine two slogans promoting, say, a gym.
Normal advertising: “Get the body you deserve at Goldy's Gym!”
Stonewall-style advertising: “Most people aren't as fat as you! Get some bloody exercise! www.GoldysGym.com”
Let's get this straight. I know that some people are gay. I don't need to get over it and I resent being barracked as if I did. What's more, according to the latest YouGov survey (which is consistent with pretty much every survey done in the past decade), most people in the UK are equally comfortable with it:
- 43% of Britons say they would support same-sex marriage
- A third (32%) support civil partnerships, but are opposed to same-sex marriage (source: http://labs.yougov.co.uk/news/2012/03/19/same-sex-marriage-britain)
So, three-quarters of Britons support gay marriage or its civil equivalent. London, which is where the adverts are running, has always been more cosmopolitan, liberal and tolerant than other parts of the country, so the number of supporters there must be even higher. So what is Stonewall trying to achieve by its hostile haranguing of people, 80-90% of whom already sympathise with its policies and agree with its aims?
There are a few possibilities here. One is that Stonewall is deeply insecure and is terrified of losing its minority status and oppressed image in an era of wider tolerance, because being gay isn't enough unless you're also a victim. This seems unlikely, but one never knows what subconscious thoughts drive our actions. This attitude was satirised by Little Britain's 'Only Gay In The Village' series of sketches, where Matt Lucas's character can't get over the fact that everyone seems to accept his sexuality.
Another possibility is that Stonewall is an activist organisation, so it feels it needs to be a bit militant and stroppy. In other words, this is all about self-affirmation. That would also explain why it has recycled a four-year old slogan that doesn't really address the issue at hand.
The other possible interpretation is that Stonewall is doing what the government did 20 years ago, when posters advertising help for the unemployed were mostly put up in prosperous areas with low unemployment. This implied that the government was less concerned with helping the unemployed than with assuaging the consciences of its wealthier supporters by showing them that something was being done for the victims of their policies.
If I were gay and had some spare money to spend on making myself feel better, I wouldn't buy ads. I'd probably buy some shoes and possibly a blender (since that's what I'd buy right now, and I don't imagine turning gay would change how I cook or would make these damned shoes I'm wearing now any more comfortable). If that suggests a pathetic lack of consumerist ambition, I should point out that last time I had some spare cash, I blew it on a nice car and then used it to make myself look a complete arse in a post about accusative pronouns.
Where are the bigots?
The wording looks like Stonewall is really sticking it to the bigots and haters, but if so, why do it in London, which apart from Brighton is the easiest place in Britain to be gay? Why not take the campaign to Northern Ireland or Scotland, where religious opposition helped keep male homosexuality illegal till the 1980s? I'm sure the bigots and haters are much more numerous there than in London or Brighton. But a look at Stonewall's website shows that none of its events are taking place further north than Chelmsford.
This all suggests that Stonewall isn't interested in changing the opinions of those who oppose its aims or in galvanising people who are apathetic. The advert seems to be more about making Stonewall and its more committed supporters feel good about themselves. In other words, it's brand marketing, and in a sense there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that it appears to be indiscriminately attacking anyone who isn't a vocal supporter instead of trying to engage them, which doesn't seem a good way of widening support for the cause.
Moral: Polarising opinions isn't a good way to encourage universal tolerance.