or, Can Mayonnaise Turn Your Child Gay?
A Heinz advertisement which shows two men kissing has been taken off the air here in the UK, amid a storm of protest. (The Guardian had a video of the ad here).
Men don't kiss men. At least, not in Britain. Not on television. Not where the children can see, please, or we might have to explain this alien phenomenon to them.
The overlying message of the advertisement is that this particular mayonnaise can transport you into another world in which your sandwiches are made in a Manhattan deli, not in your own kitchen. This is an enticing image. We all crave a little of the exotic with our lunch.
More subtle is the reinforcement of the gender-roles involved. ‘Mum’ makes sandwiches, the kids go to school, Dad rushes off to work. It’s a nice little nuclear family. Right down to the faintly nagging and passive-aggressive ‘Ain’t you forgettin’ something?’, the ‘Mum’ figure is a walking stereotype, even though, in this case, she is replaced by a burly man from an American sandwich shop.
The 200 complaints received by the Advertising Standards agency focus on the male-male kiss – an unerotic, quotidian peck bestowed by a husband running late, his mind already on his first meeting of the day. This is not in any way offensive. Replace one male figure with a woman and no one would take a blind it of notice. Replace them both with women and sales of mayonnaise among men would probably soar. But two men kissing is so alien a concept that not even a New York accent and caramelised onion flavouring can disguise its exoticism.
The mere fact that male-male affection needs to be explained to children, a theme of many of the original complaints, illustrates the extent to which gay men are marginalised by the mainstream media. Series like 'Dr Who' - whatever its faults - are doing good things towards changing this. The character of Captain Jack Harkness is openly bisexual, and physically demonstrative with his male lover, on a prime-time Satuday evening show which is still mindful of its young viewers. There is nothing offensive in this. This is how television should be.
Television should aspire to the status of art, and hold a mirror up to life. It should accurately reflect the lives of people who watch it, by which I mean the whole diverse and delightful population of this country. It should not be purely about the white, middle-class, heterosexual, home-owning couple with two nauseatingly sweet children and a cat called Arthur.
In the real world, women have careers, husbands stay at home, and gay men, lesbians and a whole variety of non-nuclear families are parenting children and making an excellent job of it.
Meanwhile, the companies who take our money sell us short, the advertising industry tells us how to think, and just when they seemed to have finally caught up with the 21st century, they take an advert this advert off the air because a few bigots tell them to.
Not even really nice mayonaise can take away the bitter taste of that.