Title: Everyone's in on the joke Credit: Chris Banks Features Tuesday 30th November 2004 - 12:00pm1101769200 Article: 507 Rights
Mike King is funny – yeah right. Stephen Franks is a caring, thoughtful MP – yeah right. Express is a gay newspaper – yeah right. These billboards have a lot of life left in them – yeah right. Yes, the possibilities are endless, and just when you think the popular Tui beer billboard campaign has been through every possible permutation, those “brilliant” copywriters (according to their employers, OTW Advertising) with their finger on the pulse of the nation hit pay dirt once more. Recently, however, they hit a bit too close to home for some in the transgender community with a moniker that suggested there was something “wrong” with Miriam, star of the British reality series “There's Something About Miriam”, in which six bachelors competed for the affections of the eponymous star, supposedly unaware that she was biologically male (at least until episode two when they started singing songs about it behind her back). Tui's response was to author a billboard bearing the legend: “There's nothing wrong with Miriam – yeah right”, which saw several complainants head straight for the Advertising Standards Authority. This, in itself, is not new. Tui's campaign has been subject to complaints for several of its billboards over the last few years, including “US Intelligence – yeah right”, “Her butt walked into my hand – yeah right”, “I just had a massage – yeah right”, and most recently “It's a church, not a cult – yeah right”, but every single one has been dismissed by the complaints board... until now. In their lengthy responses, Dominion Breweries, Saatchi, and OTW Advertising all used the favourite bigot buzzword “satire”, which has been successfully used by aspiring comedian Mike King in the past to justify his poofter jokes. Appealing to satire as an excuse doesn't wash with Claudia McKay, of transgender advocacy organisation Agender. “There's nothing wrong with satire per se, but like everything, when it goes too far, its offensive,” she says. “I could see where it [the billboard] was coming from, much of the Tui billboards work on that theme, but I don't see that as a defence of the advertisement.” Much of the debate hinged around the use of the word “wrong”. McKay's partner, one of the complainants, argued in her letter to the ASA: “I feel that this advertisement is indicating that there is something less than normal about transgendered people. It is offensive to transgendered people, their partners, their families and those that work closely with them. Transgendered people want to live normal lives and this type of advertising reduces their chances of doing so.” OTW Advertising in their response relied heavily on a critique of the Miriam TV show to justify their billboard. The almost breathtaking level of defensiveness displayed highlights a barely-concealed contempt for transgender people in general: “Unfortunately any harm done to the transgender community has been done by Miriam, and should perhaps serve as a warning to other celebrity transgender persons - they will be judged on their honesty and integrity and if they wish to be accepted as normal then they need to not engage in fraud and deceit,” they wrote. “As a transgender role model I believe Miriam has done great harm to the cause the complainants seek to protect.” McKay found the response quite over-the-top. “We had a one-paragraph letter of complaint, and we got pages of diatribes from the three companies. I thought it was ridiculous. It was like they were trying to justify themselves to the world, when they had been found in error. It obviously hit a tender point with them.” Blaming the Miriam programme for the content of their advertisement was something McKay found totally irrelevant, and also unfair. “If there was a way of actually complaining about the poor quality of the programme, I would, but this is about the Tui ad,” she says. “I only saw clips of the programme. It was pretty tacky, the emphasis on Miriam being at fault simply for responding to what the programme makers wanted is a load of nonsense.” OTW's suggestion that transgender people should always disclose their identity if they wish to be considered “normal” illustrates a complete lack of understanding surrounding that issue. Sometimes it's simply not safe to proclaim to the world you have a penis if you have the outward appearance of a woman, but sadly, whether or not you disclose, it's still a subject for public ridicule. "The staring, the whispering, most of us put up with it,” says McKay. “My partner and I were walking down Lambton Quay recently on a Saturday morning, and this young girl coming in the other direction with her boyfriend started whispering to him, saying something like, that's a man dressing a woman. It was so blatant, my partner stopped them in the middle of the street and corrected them, explaining that I was a transsexual. They reacted like a stunned mullet." McKay is pleased they've had their say, regardless of whether or not the complaint was upheld. Cries of "political correctness gone mad” accompanied the decision, mostly from media personalities like Paul "vicious faggots" Holmes who've been criticised for grossly offensive remarks in the past. McKay can't understand what all the fuss is about. "They made an advertisement, we saw it, we objected, it was upheld,” she says. "Take down the billboards and go do another one on something else." No doubt those hard-working copywriters at the modesty-free OTW Advertising (they described their Miriam billboard as “an exercise in sophisticated irony") will be wracking their brains with where to go next. Will LGBT subjects be off limits? Within days of the Miriam decision, a billboard appeared in K Road: "Dad's new boyfriend seems nice – yeah right". Dominion Breweries say this one is supposed to encourage people on both sides of the civil union debate to lighten up – it's more likely to have them scratching their heads. What on earth does it mean? The Civil Union Bill will make men leave their wives and get boyfriends? Anyhow, it looks like we'll never know. DB have removed the billboard already, which was displayed in three locations in Auckland and Wellington, including the gayest intersection in the country, the corner of Ponsonby and Karangahape Roads. In fact, the Miriam decision has prompted them to review a number of planned billboards, they say. "In light of the climate created by the "There's nothing wrong with Miriam" execution we felt it appropriate to revise those billboards already in the pipeline that may also draw similar comment," spokesman Nick Rogers told "As a result, the scheduled "Dad's new boyfriend seems nice" was changed out shortly after it appeared in all three locations." Revise the billboards already in the pipeline? How many more of these exercises in "sophisticated irony" were there? We've asked, but Rogers hasn't answered. "In no way did we intend to insult any particular members of society with this particular execution," he told us. Yeah right. Chris Banks - 30th November 2004    
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