Karate Lessons

1 Feb

Given the recent suicides of young, gay men, this kind of blatantly homophobic advertising is despicable. These ads were produced by the ad agency Zubi for RDCA Academy of Martial Arts, located in Key Biscayne, Florida. They feature a young boy applying lipstick and trying on a pair of red high heels, and the text “Karate lessons”. The message is clear: if you think your son a little too feminine, put him in karate lessons.

Fortunately, the online backlash against these ads has been tremendous. The most obviously damaging aspect of these ads is that they reinforce the stereotypes that gay and gender-questioning boys are sissies, and should be engaging in more “masculine” (read as: violent) activities. The less obvious and more insidious danger is for homophobic parents who see these ads. The ads are not targeted toward 9-year-olds, they’re targeted at 49-year-olds, with whom the message may resonate more resoundingly.

While most of the reactions on the blogosphere to these ads have been negative (i.e., pointing out their homophobia), not everyone has reacted with the same disgust, particularly in the comment threads. Here are some examples:

  • “Given that there is no text on the poster, how do we know that this was the correct meaning behind the ad? One possible meaning: ‘fix your gay son with karate’. Another: ‘if this is the sort of thing your son likes, he might need karate’. One of these positions is judgemental. The other is realistic.” [martialtalk.com]
  • “I don’t think they are about toughening up a girly boy, but about offering a self defence option to those who might need it most, in a lighthearted funny way. What has happened to the world, why can’t we just laugh at stuff cause it is funny? Why must everything be appropriate or politically correct? You know what, lots of inappropriate things are hilarious and laughing at them does not make me a bigot/homophobe/racist/sexist person. Lighten the fuck up people. Sometimes things are just FUNNY.” [mamamia.com.au]
  • “To be fair, that kid is going to need to know self-defense. Isn’t it possible that the ad is trying to convey that instead of the nefarious message you’re suggesting?” [towleroad.com]

Given that most of the websites that called out these ads were left-leaning or progressive, that the majority of the comments are negative is unsurprising. It’s a classic sampling bias. What’s scary is that these three examples of non-negative comments were largely untouched by the other commenters. I imagine that they represent the common public reaction: one of covert homophobia or outrage that we need to “lighten the fuck up.”

Including these ads in this website was a no-brainer. Yet I am also challenged by Comment #2, and the potential to see humor in the ads. As a straight white male, learning more each day about the harmful effects of my words and the words of my peers, I’ve begun to be more careful with what I say, almost to a paranoia. I find myself often feeling the need to tip-toe in my conversations, being very careful when I’m speaking with people of color, women, gays, etc., not to say something that might inadvertently offend. And when I do say something off-color*, I’ll either feel guilty and scared, or immediately point out that I didn’t mean to offend. Not long ago, I did exactly this when I made a joke with my partner about being an immigrant (she is one). Her reply? — “TCM! It was funny! Lighten up!”

How do others find a balance between a sense of humor and living up to an anti-oppressive agenda? Where do you draw the line?

=====

*I even felt compelled to look up the etymology of the expression “off-color,” for fear of its covert racial implications. Is it so crazy that “off-color” could have come about to describe anything non-white, and therefore bad or dirty? Thankfully, the term was originally used for gems (Source: etymonline.com).

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One Response to “Karate Lessons”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Last and Worst: Rules for Men « The Conscious Man - April 27, 2011

    […] the assumed inferiority of women. These messages are all around us. They’re in the dojo where karate classes are 90% male. They’re in the high numbers of female nurses and social workers. They’re […]

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