Friday, May 27, 2005

Queer Sells--Selling Queer

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I'm visually uncivilized as I've explained before. I often miss visual references in popular culture until hit over the head with them. Yesterday on that anti-visual medium, the car radio, I heard an interesting interview that sent me to a website where I spent an absorbing hour playing with pictures!

Commercial Closet "works to improve public opinion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through more informed GLBT portrayals in the powerful medium of advertising." They want to be sure we understand: "We work differently than GLAAD, we're not an activist organization, but a friend of business."

Well I'm not much of a friend of big, exploitative business, but I certainly want to notice and think about how advertising shapes perceptions in our culture and society. Like millions of others, I do look forward to critiquing each years' new batch of Super Bowl commercials. And if you have any interest in thinking about how advertising shows LGBT people, Commercial Culture offers a slightly horrifying but surprisingly broadly conceived opportunity to take a look. And it is fun.

Hundreds of ads, mostly but not exclusively from the US, are available for viewing, rating ("Love it," "indifferent," and "Hate it"), and your comments. The ads are grouped on a scale of "portrayals" ranging from positive, to neutral, to stereotypical. But even more interestingly, they are also grouped by "themes" that reflect a huge diversity of possible gayness. Those business folks sure pay attention to their niche marketing: over 50 theme collections include such topics as "Trans. Beauty," "Spanish Language North America," "Biracial Pairings," and "Women in male drag/butch." You can spend a lot of time exploring who has been seen, how we've been seen and how we are used to sell. This stuff does help shape the limits of the possible in our image-drenched culture. The commentaries on each ad are informative too.

There was an ad that come close to making me cry featuring an HIV-positive marathon runner. The notorious United Church of Christ ad promising a welcome to gay people which was rejected by the networks is here. And there's even a special Super Bowl theme for all of us football freaks.

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