Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gulf Electric is not turning ME on...

So, there have been these billboards recently in my area, all on inconvenient stretches of highway so I must admit I did not take the picture that follows.  Massachusetts State Representative  Carole Fiola seems to be the only person openly expressing outrage at what respondents on both the Twitter accounts of Representative Fiola and the Children's Advocacy Center of Bristol County(CAC of BC) have carelessly handwaved, because of course they have.  So what, exactly, is the problem here?

The billboard in question, borrowed from @CACofBC
Lots of things.

Admittedly, the first reaction I had was to giggle.  Somewhere inside, I'm a seventeen year old boy at heart.  I enjoy humour that might be dismissed as sophomoric, juvenile, or crude.  But here's the thing: I enjoy that humour among friends.  Not every joke is appropriate for every audience; I'm not going to tell the same kinds of jokes when I'm having drinks with friends that I'm going to tell at a family dinner with Grandma or at a business dinner with my boss.  The issue with the billboard isn't a matter of being too uptight to enjoy the humour, it's a matter of the setting in which it's being presented.  The response that, "Anyone who is offended needs to take the stick out of their ass," [source redacted to avoid misdirected hate tweets] is only contributing to the problem by silencing any protest against systemic sexism as a prudish and underdeveloped sense of humour.  I get the joke, Gulf, I just don't think you understand ad targeting very well.

And speaking of ad targeting...  just who IS this targeting, anyway?  Well, one assumes, from the fact that it's a utility, it's targeting, to use tax lingo, the Head of Household.  Real progressive, Gulf, assuming that the Head of Household is a straight man, just like it was in the '50s. The owner of those legs is just window dressing anyway, am I right?  Wouldn't want to make them worry their pretty little head about something like how the electricity is being provided!  That's for the red-blooded, heterosexual MAN to worry about!

Of course, as is often the case, the same assumptions that hurt women are hurting gay men.  Just as the stocking clad leg is unlikely to appeal sexually to a straight woman and likely to be more offensive than appealing to a gay or bisexual woman, using heteronormative sex to sell product serves only to further alienate gay men.  You are not our target audience, it says.  Whether that's because gay men shouldn't be heads of household, because they don't exist, because they don't matter...  all of these things are dismissive of gay men.  Even the defense I expect, which is, "I'm sure they weren't thinking about that when they ran the billboard," is not a defense.  They never stopped to consider that it might alienate gay men?  But you're trying to tell me that the experience of gay men isn't being minimized or dismissed.  They just didn't think of it.  The irony, it burns.

Lastly, of course, is the fact that they're using sex to sell electricity.  If they were a sex-toy manufacturer that specialized in electric toys (e.g. toys that are rechargeable, the infamous Hitachi magic wand, or Violet Wands), that would make sense.  Otherwise, the link between electricity and sex is tenuous at best, and the woman becomes nothing but a prop.  Please notice that there's not a pinup girl making eyes at drivers as she flirtily turns the light on.  There is a disembodied leg flipping a light switch.  I could see the owner of that leg at work, on the bus, or in the mall and have no idea it was her, because her personhood is irrelevant to this advertisement.  Her leg is an object to be desired, and to allow the play on words.

The news clip I linked in the beginning mentions that Representative Fiola contacted Gulf and received no response.  Worse yet, an unnamed Senator contacted Gulf, and was informed that they had no intention of reconsidering their billboards.  Gulf knows what they've done, and they don't care.  And they're going to get away with it, because anyone who finds the joke to be in poor taste just "needs to take the stick out of their ass."  Isn't that lovely?

If you're tired of seeing women used as window dressing to sell things, if you agree that this billboard is out of line, don't just sit back and seethe.  Tumbl.  Get #GulfElectricityTurnsMeOff! trending.  Blog. Email Gulf Electricity.  Don't assume you won't make a difference.  Prove that you will.