I don't do a lot of non-writing related ranting here, but today, I feel compelled. Bear with me.
I went up to the bus stop the other day and saw this poster on the side of the shelter:
It's an ad done by a company called ADSHEL promoting safe sex for men. I was struck by the poster because, well, it's not something you see on the side of bus stops every day. And there was something so intimate about the way the couple were holding each other. It felt like I was being let into a private, emotional moment in these people's lives. Also not something you see on the side of many bus stops. As I was pondering the poster, a five-year-old boy came up beside me. The following interaction ensued:
Boy: "Look Dad, look at the boys."
Dad (who had not yet noticed the poster): "Oh. Yes."
At this point, I was holding my breath, wondering if I was about to be made very, very sad. But then:
Dad (smiling jovially): "What're they doing, James?"
Boy: "The one boy's giving the other boy cuddles."
Dad: "They are, aren't they?"
Boy: "Are they boyfriends?"
Mom (also smiling): "They are boyfriends. Just like Uncle Tony."
Dad (smiling over at me): "Do you think I could have a boyfriend, James?"
Boy: "Sure, Daddy."
It was the highlight of my day, because it was lovely. It wasn't awkward or 'controversial'. It made me happy to feel like maybe attitudes ARE changing.
And then I heard a story on the news about ADSHEL taking the posters down. They did so because, apparently, the Advertising Commission had gotten a number of complaints (most of them from a Christian lobby group) about the fact that the 'explicit sexuality' of the campaign insulted them. I listened to a representative from that group (on Triple J's excellent HACK program) go on about how no, she doesn't have a problem with same-sex relationships, but with the fact that an ad containing the words 'condom' and 'sex' were being put up in public places. She said she was sick of not being able to walk her children to school without running into 'explicit' and inappropriate images.
This argument made me mad on a couple of fronts. First, because she was lying. Look at that poster. The men are fully clothed, and they are standing in an intimate but very appropriate way. The only thing that strikes me as 'explicit' is how very intimate the couple looks on an emotional level (they are, in fact, a real life de facto couple). If that ad had pictured a man hugging a woman, I really don't think she'd have complained. In fact, most of the people that did complain did so because the ad pictured two men. If you're going to have an opinion, lady, at least be honest about it. The fact that most of the complaints came from members of a Christian lobby group also made me frustrated. Because some of the most accepting, loving, open-minded people I've ever known have been devout, church-going Christians. Stories like these cement in the minds of many that the religious-minded are also our society's most narrow-minded, a belief that I have seen defied many times.
The other thing that bothered me was her belief that we should shield our children from anything that might be deemed 'explicit'. Let's put blinkers on our children so that they grow up believing that the world is always fair, that there are only certain ways to live, and that people aren't capable of doing ugly things. Because we're doing them all SORTS of favors by hiding the world away from them. I think that this issue a lot when I'm writing. I put swear words and fighting and sex into my Young Adult material because, guess what: teenagers swear and fight and have sex. Not all of them, but a lot of them; those that don't are thinking about it, so how are we 'protecting' our kids by pretending that they don't?
You want to complain about egregiously violent ad posters and public promotions of alcohol? Be my guest. I think it must be hard as a parent to see your young children exposed to difficult and potentially hurtful material, and it's your right to complain about that. But don't tell me that a poster of two men hugging and promoting safe, healthy sex is going to 'corrupt' our youth. Because I think you're full of it.
Posters like this Rip&Roll ad can actually promote healthy, safe, constructive interactions like the one I heard with that five year-old-boy. Conversations that help promote things like love and openness and acceptance. I think there's something wonderful about that. Which is why I was very happy to participate in the very swift and public outcry when the posters were taken down. They've all been put back up now, and my faith in progress has survived another week.