Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superbowl, Sexism and CBS

There's been a lot of discussion about CBS's rejection of the ManCrunch ad proposed for this Sunday's Superbowl game. Some have decided it was all a PR stunt (which, as someone in the PR business, I'm not entirely opposed to), and some have decided it's yet another indicator of how entrenched homophobia and sexism are in our society today (which, of course, is probably true).

[image source:]

Both sides of the argument have a point. The fact that our culture is still so uncomfortable with the idea of two men kissing is precisely why this event has generated so much attention for

From a PR perspective, ManCrunch was likely to get news coverage whether or not the ad ran this Sunday - a PR win regardless of the actual outcome. From a cultural perspective, there was likely to be some kind of backlash whether or not the ad ran this Sunday - confirming that we still have quite a way to go in our community's quest for acceptance.

From my perspective, though, the real question is whether all of this attention benefits our community as a whole. Is this the kind of storytelling that moves our message forward? Or does this create as many, if not more, problems than it solves?

Of course, I understand that many, many Superbowl ads play to the basest of our culture's sexist impulses. Women in bikinis are inexplicably used to promote technology products. Fast food retailers readily cast obese men, but will only consider emaciated female actresses to market their calorie-laden meals.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Superbowl ads are fair-minded, or culturally-sensitive as a rule. My concern is that the ManCrunch ad is a missed opportunity for our entire community. This is not an ad about same-sex love. It's an ad about sex. And while there's nothing wrong with sex per se, the ad's submission to (and subsequent rejection by) the Superbowl places it squarely in the existing public debate about whether same-sex love is worth protecting.

Rather than using this an opportunity to help put a human face on the validity of same-sex love and relationships in one of the most public forums available, I worry that the ManCrunch ad appears to reinforce the stereotype that gay men are purely sexual creatures. The ad suggests that a simple brush of the hand in a shared bowl of potato chips is enough to catalyze sexual aggression - leaving love and relationship dynamics out of the equation entirely.

What concerns me is that the LGBT community has no ability to offer a counterbalance to images as prominent as those connected to the Superbowl. We know for sure that, for the most part, people who are not themselves LGBT but know someone who is, are much less likely to vote against us when our issues are on the ballot. If this ad was our one shot to introduce the LGBT community to more mainstream Americans than ever before, I'm not sure it's worked to our advantage.

As a community, we can choose to connect with people in our own backyard, and show them that our rights are no threat to theirs – or we can take advantage of their fears and ignorance to further our own commercial enterprises.

The choice is ours, but the long-term impact of that choice must be weighed very, very carefully.