Saturday, September 24, 2011

Snickers TV ad: Is it homophobic?

Mexico's National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) and the National Women's Institute (Inmujeres) have accused a Mexican ad agency working for U.S. giant Mars, Inc. of promoting homophobia, sexism and misogyny for a television ad promoting the Snickers chocolate bar brand.

In many ways the ad is similar to one of the most popular ads that ran during last year's Super Bowl in the United States, with a couple of major differences.

In the U.S. version you see a number of friends playing touch football when out of nowhere actress Betty White goes for the ball and gets tackled. This is the exchange that follows:
Guy #1: Mike, what is your deal man!
Betty White: Oh, man, you've been riding me all day!
Guy #3: Mike, you are playing like Betty White out there!
Betty White: That's not what your girlfriend says!
Someone hands Betty White a Snickers bar and, after taking a bite, it becomes clear she'd been a guy called Mike all along. "You are not you when you are hungry" reads the tag line at the end.

In the Mexican version of the ad, pop singer Anahi takes Betty White's role.  Here is my translation of the similar exchange that follows Anahi falling down from a bike:
Guy #1: What's your deal, Carlos!
Anahi: Stop getting in my way!
Guy #3: Every time you get hungry you turn into a sissy.
Anahi: That's not what your girlfriend says!
And here is the actual ad:

In addition to adding Anahi, there is also the matter of one of the lines that was changed for the Mexican version: "Every time you get hungry you turn into a sissy."

In a joint statement released by CONAPRED and Inmujeres on September 12th, the government bodies say they received complaints about the ad and tried to reach the Effem Mexico ad agency to request the ads be removed and specifically call it misogynist, sexist and homophobic.

The ad agency has so far refused to remove the ads from the air arguing that they tested the ads with a number of women before the launch, none of whom thought it was discriminatory, and that versions of the ad have also ran in 15 different countries without anyone raising any concerns.

CONAPRED and Inmujeres argue that none of the women in the test screenings were experts on the issue and that the agency should have reached out to such experts before airing the ad.

On September 20th, an anonymous source at U.S. Mars headquarters spoke to Milenio and said that Mars would go to the Mexican courts, if needed, to prevent the ad from being removed from airing on Mexican television.

"It's something that took us by surprise, since the campaign was launched in October [of 2010]" said the surprisingly unnamed Mars representative who is only referred to as "a director of the business agency".

Pop music star Anahi also came to Mars' defense telling TV Notas that there was nothing sexist about the ad and that it is simply based on her reputation as being a troublemaker.

She stretched her defense a tad much by arguing that the line "you turn into a sissy" was meant to refer to a character she played in the successful soap opera that launched her career --- and not necessarily an insult.

Ismael Flores, writing for one of my favorite Mexican blogs Vivir Mexico agrees with CONAPRED and Inmujeres. In an essay published on September 19th, he writes:
In middle school we all had a call to battle: "The last to arrive is a girl!" Then, as we went on to high school, the word "girl" turned into "fag".  In college, when it began to matter conquering an improvised career, the phrase turned into "you turn into a sissy". And that's that's the way it has been with our language, changing from time to time, but staying true to its essence: The feminine as an insult, as something degrading, as an instrument of discrimination.  Hence, there is nothing bizarre about CONAPRED's complaint.
Wenceslao Bruciaga, who has a blog at Milenio in which he often documents gay life in Mexico, has a different take:
According to CONAPRED, the sequence of images [in the ad] "reaffirms the framework of the inequality between men and women... and highlight the erroneous and discriminatory social perception against girls and women as persons who may assume the masculine domain as being normal."

Every time I listen to commentary such as this I get mixed emotions: I bust out laughing or get a knot in my stomach.  It's similar to when I am asked to comment on my opinion or position regarding the usage of words such as 'puto', 'joto', 'maricón' [all can be translated as 'fag']. What am I expected to say? That it's discriminatory language? What about 'estupida' and 'babosa' [akin to using 'gurrl'], words used between gay men to communicate in the most intimate of circles... is it politically correct? Aren't they promoting the wrong common perception of women?  Should we tell them to behave more like men? Sorry, I'm probably promoting the most retrograde of machismos.

The vicious circle of what's politically correct.
Bruciaga closes his essay by noting that while CONAPRED is going after the ad agency that handles the Mars contract in Mexico, in part, because of homophobia, they failed to follow up on hundreds complaints of homophobia against Mexican morning talk-show host Esteban Arce.

Arce famously went live on air on December 18th of 2010 and questioned whether homosexuality was 'natural', said he was afraid young men who were drug users were susceptible to 'letting themselves go' into homosexuality and, when told by a guest on the show that homosexuality was prevalent in animals, Arce argued that male dogs who mated with other male dogs probably suffered from 'animal dementia' or been forced to go without sex for a long time.

Arce remains on Mexican television with his show "Matutino Express", which - wouldn't you know it! - recently began airing on U.S. television through Spanish-language network Galavisión. As recently as September 5th, there he was telling AOL Latino he hoped to bring his "moral and religious values" to American television.

So what do you think? Are CONAPRED and Inmujeres right to slam Effem Mexico and Mars, Inc. over the ad as Ismael says? Or is this a case of political correctness gone a muck as Wenceslao argues? I'll let you be the judge.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post I translated 'nena' literally as 'little girl'. A Mexican reader tells me that a more appropriate translation is 'sissy', which somewhat explains the homophobic claims.

  • Snickers Mexico website here


Anonymous said...

Oh, for God's sake, of course it's not. I thought it was funny. I actually know guys, gay AND straight, who turn into little girls if they can't get their food of choice. And I'm a certified translator - nena means 'little girl.' Had the guy said "cada vez que te da hambre te pones como marica/mariquita/mariconcito", THEN I would have seen the term as slur.

Anonymous said...

wow. Not homophobic, but really misogynistic... but it seems like many gay men are.

Ismael Flores said...

Hi, Andrés.
Thank you for reading my entry at Vivir México. I'm very glad you consider our blog as one of your favorites. Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

I don't know in Mexico, but here in Chile "nena" means exactly "little girl" not "sissy". Furthermore, in the very same ad here the word "nena" is replaced by "niñita" which translates also as "little girl". So, I wouldn't call the ad homophobic (I am a gay man myself). But I do find it misogynist, hands down. That I can't deny.
Excellent blog by the way. Saludos!