In This Issue

Gay Times November 08 - Issue 362


Selling Sexuality

Mark Simpson yearns for the days when advertising really was trying to turn people gay

Why, I wonder, are gay guys – or at least the busybody, button-holeing, milk-monitor types – so keen on ads being nice to them and telling the world it’s OK to be homo, especially when this strategy frequently leaves them with mayo on their faces?
Stonewall’s apoplexy over the removal of the Heinz ‘gay kiss’ ad earlier this year is a messy case-in-point. Excuse me, but it wasn’t a gay kiss, it was a joke: Heinz’s sandwich spread is so good, it turns Mum into an ugly New York deli short-order chef whom dad pecks on the cheek before leaving in the morning. They’re not a gay couple. The fact it wasn’t a very good joke doesn’t make the sulky gay boycott of Heinz look any more humourless than the literalist Christians and ‘family-values’ freaks who complained about it in the first place. Likewise, whatever Snickers were saying in that TV ad featuring Mr T barking, “Get some nuts!” while firing candybars at a swishy speed-walker, the much swishier response of gay groups on both sides of the Atlantic who succeeded in getting it banned sent out the entirely unambiguous message that gays don’t have any.
More to the point, besides Stonewall and pensioners, who watches TV ads these days? Isn’t that what the fast-forward button was invented for? Gay people, and for that matter most straights, are too busy uploading their ‘home movies’ onto their on-line profile to watch TV in real time. ‘Impressionable’ kids that the gay busybodies want to protect certainly aren’t watching: they don’t see the point of TV that doesn’t turn the world into a lake of fire at the touch of an Xbox controller. I’ll bet ready money most people only heard about these ads after the gay milk monitors started huffing, “How very dare you!” – and driving even more traffic to YouTube. It was the only place I actually saw either ad.
Gay protests about ‘homophobic’ ads today sometimes seem to exist in a virtual world, defending virtual people from virtual slights where the only thing that’s real is pointlessness. I’m old enough, alas, to remember when people did watch ads. It was a time when they were, as everyone used to say repeatedly, “the best thing on telly,” when, instead of diving for the mute button, people would turn the sound up. And it was a time when ads were doing their damndest to turn everyone gay. It was the 1980s.
In the 1980s, advertising was gay porn – and the only gay porn generally available. Which is why it was so powerful. Now, thanks to the net, porn is porn – or rather, porn is advertising: I want those pubes/ that body/ that cock/ that orifice/ that surgery/ that lampshade.
The legendary Levi’s male striptease ads of the 1980s, in which humpy young men took their clothes off in our living rooms – and introduced the existence of the worked-out, attention-hungry male body to an equally astonished and enraptured British public – not only brainwashed an entire generation of straight boys into joining the gym and then going to gay discos and joining boybands to show off the results. It also succeeded in making even straight women gay. After all, in place of cooing about “twinkly eyes,” it taught women to look at the male body with the same critical, impossibly demanding, carnivorous eye that gay men had used for years.
Pre-1980s there wasn’t much gay lust in ads or, for that matter, Britain. I remember as a kid spending most of the 1970s watching an Old Spice Aftershave ‘Mark of a Man’ commercial, which featured a surfer riding a vast, spuming wave in very long-shot, to the climactic strains of Oh, Fortuna from Carmina Burana. The number of times I watched that ad as a kid, waiting, hoping, praying that this time the camera would move in closer. In the 1980s, my prayers were answered and the lens moved in, big time. Since then, it’s never moved back. It has zoomed ever closer, until now we’re looking at the mitochondria on the walls of men’s small intestines. Maybe I’m an incurable romantic/ masochist, but I sometimes find myself missing the aching, blurry, long-shot tease of 1970s’ Old Spice masculinity.
You might think my take on how 1980s advertising queered up Britain is fanciful, but there were lots of people who objected to the Levi’s commercials back then because they saw them as promoting sodomitic immorality. If those nay-gay-sayers had succeeded in having the ads pulled – in the way that gay groups succeed today with ads they deem to be immoral to gay people – who knows what kind of six-packless world we might be living in?
In the post-advertising, post-gay porn world we’re living in, there’s an American website called Commercial Closet devoted to how ads treat homosexuals, which you can visit if you want to get worked up over ads you haven’t seen – many of them foreign. It has a gay grading system for each ad that, using a complicated very American formula, scores them from 0 to 100. Anything under 49 is deemed ‘Negative’, between 49-69 is ‘Caution’; 69-89 ‘Equal’; and 89-100 ‘Elton John’ (OK, I made that last bit up).
One of the more interesting contributions was a series of ads for the trainers ASICS, which ran in France this year. In them, two male French comedians, Omar & Fred, one black, one white, ‘go gay’, making passes at one another. Sans ASICS, they’re rebuffed indignantly by the other party. Avec, they go gaga for them. There’s nothing especially offensive about the ads. They resort to fewer stereotypes than gay-adored Little Britain and, more importantly, are (mildly) funny and seem to be entirely accurate in what they’re saying about the effect that consumerism in general – and advertising in particular – have had on men.
How does it score according to Commercial Closet’s gay-friendly grading system? ‘40: Negative’.

Mark Simpson’s website is at www.marksimpson.com

More from Gay Times November 08 - Issue 362