Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Oh that abuse, it's just so funny!

If this Mike Moreu cartoon had the genders reversed no one would be ok about it. Just like Burying Brian was not really very funny (or ok) just cos it was a group of women covering up murdering one of their fellas.

But for jaw-droppingly not funny references to abuse it's hard to go past Homepaddock's example from an Australian advertisement:
The television commercial, which airs tonight, shows the father of a bride making a humorous wedding speech. Halfway through the ad he says: “I remember the first words that I ever said to her after sex - ‘Don’t tell Mum.’ “ “If only it was this easy to get over child abuse,” says the voiceover, over the laughter heard in the background. (Quote from Brisbane Times article)

The message is a very serious one and I watched the video of the ad with horror because the seriousness of the words in the voiceover were contradicted not just by the father’s speech but by the pictures - the expressions on the face of his daughter and the laughter in the background suggest child abuse is a laughing matter.

It’s not just a sick joke, it’s a sick advertisement. (Homepaddock's comments).

I know some readers may think I'm on shakey ground with my Michelle Obama picture from Monday. Surely this is a whole other level that we can all agree is not ok?

35 comments:

Giovanni said...

We are not pushing the art of taking offence a little too far, are we? Because, really: this is an ad for an organisation that helps the victims of child abuse. Of course it is shocking, of course it is sickening, that's precisely the point.

(And at http://www.asca.org.au/ there are more examples - some of them are pretty sharp.)

Julie said...

But does it do more harm than good to be that offensive? Will it get cut-through with the people it needs to, and if it doesn't will it just re-traumatise victims? And even if it does, at what point do we say the means justify the ends? I don't have any easy answers myself.

anna c said...

I have to say I largely agree with Giovanni here. The problem I do have with the advert though (and I admit I haven't watched it) is that is implies that if an abuse survivor is getting through, outwardly coping, then there's no real harm done.

If they were advertising anything else I'd find it really objectionable.

anna c said...

Or, Julie, is it helpful to know that people are recognising what you're going through? The world is full of triggers, some of them very specific to the individual and impossible to cut back on.

I don't have an answer to that question, but I think it's worth considering.

Ruth said...

This may be of interest to you :

http://patriotboy.blogspot.com/2009/02/training-up-weaker-vessels.html

Except it is not supposed to be a joke...

Anna said...

Like you, Julie, I'm struggling to see the point - who is the target, and what behavioural change is it supposed to induce? I can cope with hard hitting ads when the cost-benefit analysis is favourable, but in this case I can really only see offense and little gain to be had. (I'm also remembering ALAC defending their rape victim-blaming ad by saying that they weren't afraid to use shock tactics to get their message across - they were deflecting criticism of the message itself.)

I get a bit frustrated at the way increasingly shocking things are supposed to rouse us out of our supposed apathy. I'm actually not apathetic, and if I was, I'm not sure offending me would cure that. Shocking entertainment is also in vogue too - ie 'non-PC' humour which 'pushes the boundaries' (ie tries to make out it is being bold when it is just puerile).

Giovanni said...

But does it do more harm than good to be that offensive? Will it get cut-through with the people it needs to, and if it doesn't will it just re-traumatise victims?

Shall we get road safety ads off the air? I'm guessing they must be pretty hard to watch for somebody who's been through a bad accident or has lost a loved one that way. Here's another idea: shall we stop talking about abuse and rape altogether? Bound to be reopening old wounds for some.

I don't have any easy answers myself.

Just as well I do: stop worrying so much about what's offensive! Seriously, the Michelle Obama poster the other day? It was just lame. And even if it hadn't been, you know, it's okay. Society needs to be able to sustain adult conversations about its problems. Humour is part of adult conversation. In the case at hand, it was used pretty smartly I thought: it was the parody of humour. If anything, the target are the people who would say things like "get over it" and "lighten up", for there's a lot more to it to coping with trauma than that. And I'm guessing these people know it all too well.

anna c said...

*tries very hard not to tell Giovanni that the word "lame" is ableist*

Anna said...

I largely agree, Giovanni, but if you're going to cause harm to some, shouldn't it be because you're producing a greater amount of good in doing so (which I see as the premise of the other public health/safety campaigns you mention, although I don't know whether they're working)? If there are people out there sufficiently callous not to see a problem with child sexual abuse, is an ad going to fix that?

Giovanni said...

Anna C: well played :-)

I largely agree, Giovanni, but if you're going to cause harm to some, shouldn't it be because you're producing a greater amount of good in doing so

I dispute the harm theory, actually. Many abuse and trauma victims (not all) view opportunities to talk about their story and hearing the stories of others as tools for healing. And we talked elsewhere about holocaust jokes shared by holocaust victims, which also suggests that going certain places might have some value, for some, and that respectful silence and circumspection won't do for all. But at any rate...

If there are people out there sufficiently callous not to see a problem with child sexual abuse, is an ad going to fix that?

...I think the point of the ad is to promote what asca does, as well as making people aware of the scale of the problem. And if asca is effective in helping victims of childhood abuse, then there's your benefit.

Anna said...

Fair enough, but the joke you make yourself is the better than the joke that's thrust upon you. It's fine when I make fun of my own family, but woe betide anyone else who tries it...

Does the ad actually promote what ASCA does, and could the same promotion be achieved differently? Because I don't see the point of resorting to bad taste unless there's no other effective tactic. If you can achieve a goal without offending (even if the number offended isn't large), why not do that? Provoking merely to get a reaction is a bit childish.

And granted, bad taste is a matter of personal judgement, but there surely comes a point where so few people find something funny/thought-provoking, and so many find it offensive, that's it's no longer a good idea. A Republican recently recorded a song called 'Obama the happy negro'. He and a select number of his friends seemed to find it very satirical and clever. Most other people would see it as denigrating blacks, I should think. Surely there comes a point at which saying 'Can't you take a joke?' just doesn't cut it.

Giovanni said...

Surely there comes a point at which saying 'Can't you take a joke?' just doesn't cut it.

Oh, it seldom does. But neither does spending half our time worrying about whether a line of offence has been crossed or not, and actively looking for things to be offended by. Otherwise, where are we going find the time to smash the [insert the thing you most want to smash here]?

Here I think the exercise is particularly pointless because the ad contains absolutely no jokes: it's the surreal parody of a humorous speech, but there's no humour there - who would laught at that? It's like the re-enactment of a car crash. It's meant to shock the conscience and fair enough, sometimes consciences need to be shocked.

Still, your point of course is entirely valid and if a lot more people find it offensive than thought-provoking, then the ad will have failed. I personally think it's a good campaign and that it deserves to succeed - so I'd like it if we contributed by not condemning it here. But I'd also like to invite a reflection on why this community in particular and the progressive blogosphere in general is so focussed on locating and decrying all things offensive. Is it really the best use of our time, and what does it say about the limits of our politics?

Also, does somebody know a good roofer in Wellington?

anna c said...

I don't think this is aimed at people who believe child abuse is okay. I think it is aimed at people who don't realise what support survivors need (or that they really need it at all) or hold prejudices against them. And there is sadly a lot of that out there.

Having watched it now I'm not at work, I think it should be doing more to get that across, but I think it is good in that it draws attention to the issues and I certainly don't find it offensive.

Mostly it just reinforces how creepy giving away the bride is.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was abused as a child I don't have a problem with this ad. I don't care if nice people are shocked, in fact, I want them to be.

Julie said...

Thanks for the thoughtful debate. I guess I'm looking at it with the background of the Lisa ad stuff from ALAC, but that was different as it was perpetuating myths about rape, and this ad doesn't appear to me to be perpetuating myths about child abuse. If anything it is puncturing them. Hmmm, need to think some more.

stargazer said...

a really good discussion of the ad is here:
http://viv.id.au/blog/?p=3678

it ahs a transcript as well if can't/don't want to watch the ad.

i read the transcript and felt a little sick for quite some time. like commenters at hoyden, i object to use of the word "sex" when they should have used "rape". and i also object to the implication that it's ok if the victims "get over it".

yuk.

Giovanni said...

and i also object to the implication that it's ok if the victims "get over it"

If only it wasn't the exact opposite of what the ad says...

And of course the rapist would say "sex" instead of "rape". How many different ways can a point not be got, I wonder?

stargazer said...

If only it was this easy to get over child abuse.

sorry giovanni, but that sounds very much like saying getting over it would make it ok.

and if you're trying to show a scent where everyone has gotten over it, then the rapist and everyone else would be totally comfortable with naming what he did ie calling it rape and not sex, and they could all be joking about that.

i guess you've shown pretty clearly how not to get the point. now can you leave the snideness behind and just argue the point?

Giovanni said...

I'll take snide over "I haven't watched it, but here's what I think" any day.

I think the speech would be considerably weaker if the father used the word rape. The horror is the normalisation, the idea that having 'sex' with your daughter is okay (and can be called 'sex'). And the 'get over' part is clearly part of the mindset that the ad is critiquing - if you go to their site you'll find that nowhere does ASCA advocate 'getting over' anything.

Julie said...

Ok, I think this is a pretty fraught area. We're probably all bringing some invisible baggage to this debate and no one can see that. So let's all just keep that in mind please. Thanks :-)

anna c said...

I haven't watched it, but here's what I think

I largely agree with your views on this ad, Giovanni, but I think that comment was a bit unfair. I don't know why people chose not to watch it, but I'm sure it's triggering for some people, and I think they are probably the people best placed to comment on whether it is offensive, and whether the potential emotional harm to some people outweighs the benefit.

Stargazer, now you say it, I do see that they possibly have conflated two messages: "if only getting over it was this easy" and "if only it had this little effect on ones life". I think this could have been done better, and I'd really have liked to see something which indicated in what ways it can be hard to deal with later in life, because that's something that's often not understood. But on balance I don't find this offensive and it's drawing attention to something important.

Giovanni said...

I largely agree with your views on this ad, Giovanni, but I think that comment was a bit unfair. I don't know why people chose not to watch it, but I'm sure it's triggering for some people, and I think they are probably the people best placed to comment on whether it is offensive, and whether the potential emotional harm to some people outweighs the benefit.

I'm still at a loss as to how one can judge the offensiveness of something they haven't seen, or are happy to argue from a position of easily remedied ignorance. Concerning the use of the word rape v. sex, for instance, a visit to the website would have quickly revelead that the same campaign has no problem calling it rape when the speaker position is shifted (in the tee-shirt ad).

stargazer said...

if you go to their site

which the majority of people who watch the ad aren't going to do. therefore it has to stand on its own.

the "horror" would be maintained (in fact intensified) if these people were normalising rape by calling it rape. that shows that they are all now ok with the (probably) multiple rapes having happened, and can laugh about it.

and i don't see the ad critiquing "getting over it" at all. there is nothing that shows a critique, nothing that says or implies: "even if you & yours have managed to get over something like this, it's still awful".

basically, i agree with what anna says in her last comment above.

Giovanni said...

therefore it has to stand on its own.

Oh, but it does. It's just that perhaps the people who find it so offensive might feel they have the onus to watch it or do a little research instead of just letting rip, especially in a situation like this where the benefit of assuming good faith really ought to be given.

Decrying stuff whilst refusing to engage with it is best left to fundy censors I would think.

anna c said...

Um, but after you explained it to stargazer she didn't change her view, which would indicate that she holds a different point of view from you and would probably continue to hold it if she had seen it.

I'm not arguing that people who have seen it aren't better placed to comment on the subtleties of it, and analyse it on an academic level. But that isn't the only important thing, and I think that there will be a big correlation between those who feel unable to watch it, and those who are best placed to set it in context and have a view on the value of shock tactics in this area generally.

stargazer said...

actually, in this case, i didn't watch the ad but i did read the transcript at hoydens. and having read it, i did have a physical reaction, feeling nauseous for a couple of hours afterwards. which meant that i knew watching the video would definitely not be a good idea.

and i certainly wouldn't mind the physical reaction that i had to it if, as anna & julie have said, i could be sure that the ad did more good than harm. but i don't think it will, for the reasons i've given above.

i just think the whole concept is wrong, and there are other & better ways to get the message across. like, for example, showing the actual pain of victims or the effects on them (& their families, if they ever choose to tell) for many, many years afterwards. that's just one idea, i'm sure there are plenty of others.

Giovanni said...

Um, but after you explained it to stargazer she didn't change her view, which would indicate that she holds a different point of view from you and would probably continue to hold it if she had seen it.

I think her mind is made up anyway, but what concerns me, as I've said upthread, is that the way in which these kind of discussions develop here and elsewhere might reveal an inability to process strong and explicit language, and provocative contents, which is not at all the same as the facile, ignorant, racist or sexist or homophobic rubbish we're all variously exposed to. We need to be able to use humour and be explicit and subversive language in progressive politics, but if we can't even bear to watch a thirty second ad made by an organisation strongly aligned with our politics, and still feel authorised to decry it, I despair a bit.

stargazer said...

so reading a transcript and a full scene description is not enough for you? have a look at the transcript at hoydens, and let me know if it has missed anything out. and see my previous comment: i reiterate that i believe my own reaction is less important than getting an important message across. i just don't think this ad does it right.

just because i agree with somebody's politics doesn't mean i'll agree with a particular action that i think is wrong. for example, i'd agree with a lot of the aims of PETA, but i'll still strongly disagree with them deciding to dress up as the KKK as a shock tactic, as they did recently.

the notion that we should be more forgiving of something done by liberal progressives than we would be if the same thing had been done by conservatives just seems plain wrong to me.

anna c said...

Giovanni, this isn't meant to be snarky, but do you understand the response things like this can trigger in people who have been through similar things. It isn't a question of finding it offensive or uncomfortable (I think we all found this ad uncomfortable, and it was intentionally so) - this is an adrenaline response to what the brain percieves as a threat, and it can be completely debilitating. The length of the advert, or the intentions of the organisation behind it, aren't necessarily the point.

Though stargazer, I suspect if we're talking in terms of the effect it has on individuals, I think people could find hearing people talk about the effects much more triggering. Perhaps it is better to have something like this which draws attention and then people can make their own decision whether to read more online or whatever.

I would rather there was information on the effects, purely because it makes the ad more useful, but I don't think it would help make it less upsetting.

anna c said...

actually, stargazer, I've just registered that you answered my point. Sorry, please ignore it.

Anna said...

Julie, thanks for the important and timely reminder about treading sensitively. My point in comparing this to the ALAC ad was not actually about the content - more, it was the way shock tactics are used. When people object to them, the objections can be dismissed as squeamishness about the shock tactics - and the critique of the message itself can be lost.

Anon, this is in no way intended to cause offense or hurt (and comes from someone whose own formative years were less than sensational, but finds it difficult to talk about it). I agree that people should feel revulsion at child abuse. But I think that, when confronted with something like a shock tactic ad, its easy to lapse into righteousness - 'I'm repelled, I'd never do that, those people sicken me'.

Fair enough - but what next? Most people don't condone child abuse, but clearly we don't collectively to enough to stop it, or it wouldn't be happening. The revulsion isn't enough. It has to be followed by action in a range of areas - social services, the justice system, schools, health, you name it. I see the shock tactic thing as encouraging a knee-jerk reaction, but not long-term commitment to fixing the problem.

Giovanni said...

so reading a transcript and a full scene description is not enough for you?

No, it isn't. And of course I agree with your other point, that ASCA shouldn't be immune for criticism. But immune from blind criticism? why, yes.

It isn't a question of finding it offensive or uncomfortable (I think we all found this ad uncomfortable, and it was intentionally so) - this is an adrenaline response to what the brain percieves as a threat, and it can be completely debilitating.

There will be people for whom this ad will be particularly hard to watch, I don't question that. They will be ASCA's own constituents, of course, and some or many of them might take wholesale issue with the ad. But it's quite different from saying that the ad is wrong for subtler reasons, like the particular choice of a word (rape vs. sex). Anjum is in fact saying we ought to be showing "the actual pain", and surely that would also trigger a debilitating response. So it's really not what's at issue here.

Julie said...

For a start you would have to assume that Sarah Haskins was that kind of comedian, making attacks on the non-public figure children of public figures. Which she isn't. Then you'd have to assume that George W Bush was, at the time she made said comments, a child and not in the public arena in his own right, when George Bush Snr was president. So because neither of those things hold it's a bit difficult to really assess the validity of whether a humourous poster based on all those what ifs would be Not OK, ie violent, or not. I was trying to point out that your analogy did not compute Anon (not sure if it is the same Anon still?). But by all means let's keep inflating this thread.

Hugh said...

I think that reply went in the wrong thread, Julie.

Julie said...

Thanks Hugh, sorry about that folks.