By now, most people know about the controversy surrounding Snickers’ Super Bowl ad. The spot featured two mechanics whose lips accidentally meet, in a Lady and the Tramp-style kiss, as they both chow down on the same appetizing candy bar. Their horrified reaction, and subsequent bizarre attempt to “do something manly” by pulling out their own chest hair, was apparently supposed to be funny in some way. More disturbing was the “extra content” available on the Masterfoods Snickers website, where you could watch “alternate endings” to the commercial, one of which included the two men beating the crap out of each other, and footage of Bears and Colts players reacting with disgust to the chocolatey lip-lock. Gay rights groups, sports writers and bloggers were not amused, and called for the ad and website to be pulled. On Tuesday, Masterfoods (what kind of a name for a company is that, by the way?) relented and pulled both the ad and the website.
As an admitted gay, I’m definitely sensitive to homophobia in the media. It’s pervasive and depressing. However, I’ve always found criticism of expression, whether it be the “art” of a TV show or even a commercial, to be suspect. To look more closely at these ads, first of all, how disgusting is the idea of accidentally kissing anyone after biting down on the seductively bouncing end of their Snickers bar? Did anyone else find that suggestive of far more filthy sexual practices than just gay makeouts? And what, exactly, is “manly” about ripping off your own chest hair? I got my chest waxed once and it was both excuciatingly painful and the least manly thing I’d done that whole week. What was going on in these ads? Is portraying the apparently excessive homophobia of a couple mechanics, or the actual homophobia of football players, the same as endorsing homophobia? And in a country where you can be fired from your job for being gay in a majority of states, is it worth it to spend any time worrying about a potentially offensive commercial? Anyone who’s spent time studying Socialist Realism has to pause at the idea of requiring our artistic expression to represent reality (or an idealized vision thereof). At the same time, free expression of course allows (demands?) speaking out against work you find offensive. Not all writers agreed with the interpretation of the ad, with some saying it was the homophobic reactions that were supposed to be funny. Who knows.
Ultimately, it seems like the ad and website were (at best) misguided, or poorly executed, attempts to illustrate the ridiculousness of homophobia. But they just weren’t funny, and it sure didn’t seem like watching the players’ reactions were supposed to give us pause at the state of gay-straight relations: we were supposed to grimace along with them. King Kaufmann, Salon.com’s sports writer, called the whole thing “distasteful” and quoted Molly Willow in the Columbus Dispatch as saying she’s “ready for homophobia not to be funny any more.” In this instance, it’s hard not to agree. But I hope the next time people want to protest a portrayal of homophobia, or gay stereotypes, they remember that a) stereotypes are, often, very funny, and b) discussing and mocking prejudice is one of the best ways (if not the only way) to disarm it.