So, after the tragic events in Orlando, I’ve been at a bit of a loss this week. I haven’t written at all on the music blog, I haven’t had the motivation to start any of the (multiple) assignments I’ve got coming up, and my patience for stupid people at work was thinner than usual, which is saying something. This whole thing has just shaken me in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. So please forgive me if this isn’t my best writing, I’m kinda just emptying my mind right now. Anyway, here goes:
In class this week, we had a conversation about gender equality in the field of advertising. The issue of advertising being a ‘boys club’ has been discussed many times in the past six months alone (here, here and most recently here), but none of the women in my class had even considered their gender as being of any detriment to rising within the industry prior to Tuesday’s lesson. I’ve been thinking about the issue for a few days now, and began to wonder if, as a gay man, I will experience any detrimental conditions in the industry.
If nothing else, Orlando (and also Mexico, by the way) proved that we haven’t come as far as we think we have. ‘We’ meaning both the LGBTIQA community and society as a whole. In addition to the ‘butch’ lesbian, gay men (specifically of the twinky or effeminate variety) have become something of a trope in today’s society. We love the ‘sassy’ (read: bitchy) fashionista who says whatever he wants and doesn’t take shit from anyone, and the high-pitched, overweight queen who belts out showtunes and shatters emotionally at the slightest mishap.
Titus from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Actually, hang on. This is kinda me. Never mind.
We see those sorts of characters in sitcoms and as ‘supporting’ actors fairly commonly today, ever since shows like Will and Grace pioneered LGBT visibility on TV in the 90s. Many of the sitcoms of the era featured off-colour, fear-based jokes about the community, and yet two decades(!!!) later we still seem to fall into the same traps in terms of stereotyping and misrepresentation.
The same can arguably be said for the advertising industry. In this report (which I can’t find a date on for the life of me!) Ken Krober mentions that ‘…a significant portion of our (employee) population is homosexual’. Indeed, all of the men I know in the field are gay. Advertisers know that appealing to the equal rights movement can often result in campaigns going viral. Why, then, do we get LGBTIQA representation in our everyday advertising so wrong?
Let’s take ANZ’s Mardi Gras campaigns over the last few years for example. These campaigns run the full length of Mardi Gras, and seek to position ANZ as a brand who supports and ‘gets’ the community by using rebranded GAYTMs and even a GAYNZ branch on Oxford St. While a clever pun, the use of the word ‘gay’ as an umbrella term for all homosexual orientation is old and outdated, and instead actually contributes to the erasure of all other individuals who fall under the LGBTIQA umbrella.
This campaign (much like Nick Jonas’ last two album cycles) is a clear case of pandering to the gays and attempting to capitalise on the ‘pink dollar’ – marketing to the gay man and saying ‘we’re with you’, in order to form brand loyalty. Keep an eye out for businesses employing tactics like rebranding their social media pages with rainbows and messages of solidarity, with minimal to no actual action to back up this apparent support, particularly around pride celebrations or tragedies within the community.
Nick Jonas. On the cover of Out Magazine. During Pride Month.
THE A DOES NOT STAND FOR ‘ALLY’ YOU TWIT.
In an era where bi erasure and trans visibility are well-known issues, one would think that the apparently high numbers of LGBTIQA employees in the industry would lend itself to more sensitive and inclusive campaigns. So what’s really going on? Could it be that LGBTIQA people simply aren’t in positions of influence? Are we more junior creatives, having our voices drowned out in a sea of straighter, more senior agency members during brainstorming sessions? Is management still a straight man’s game? The hetero-normative nature of the ads we are surrounded by suggests this might be the case.
We as advertisers have a real power. We can influence the public in real, meaningful ways. And yet, even in a place as diverse as Sydney, we still seem to be talking to one particular person. The more I think about the events of the last week, the more I want to use my time in the industry to showcase diversity. Hopefully, if we see more gay and lesbian families sitting down to dinner, or more trans people simply being, we might eventually see a shift in attitudes within the general public.
Maybe we can do something to prevent tragedies like Orlando from happening again.