Double Whammy of the Day: Booze and Homophobia

21 Mar

This blog has seen its share of offensive ads over the last two months, and this beauty out of Brazil is no exception. Cachaça, if you didn’t know, is a popular South American hard alcohol. In Colombia it’s called aguardiente, and both are made from fermented sugarcane. Cachaça is the main ingredient in delicious caipirinhas, and – apparently – strong enough to console you if your son is gay.

Green: Your son; Blue: You son’s buddy; Purple rectangle: Brokeback Mountain | If you gotta be strong, we gotta be strong. – Cachaça Magnífica

What’s incredible about this advertisement is that it perpetuates not just one, but TWO of the strongest and most harmful male stereotypes out there: that men must drink booze, and that to be gay is the greatest sin a man can commit. Even the language (“You gotta be strong”) and the architectural theme of the ad reinforce this notion of male toughness, intellectualism, linearity, and stoicism. They imply that every man should be a Howard Roark – a strong, brave, confident soul fighting a sea of slings and arrows. What’s brilliant (and devious) about the ad is that replicates the same societal traps that we’re all lured into; no man should ever refuse the offer to “be strong,” because that’s what being a man is all about. Thus, no man can resist relating to the ad.

The more obvious oppression that this ad perpetuates is homophobia. It suggests that a father (or mother) may need to “be strong” in a time of despair — that time being when his/her son and his buddy are watching a gay love story. Why should one be driven to the bottle by such a mundane act? Because nothing – not even watching a movie – is mundane when a man’s sexuality is on the line. In this world, male homosocial interaction signifies homosexuality. And according to our heteronormative culture, to be gay is to wrong, backward, not “straight” (crooked? as if any aspect of any life follows a truly linear trajectory), unclean, unholy, untouchable. The only solution? More booze.


On a side note, what’s also interesting about this ad is that it subtly includes a classist/racial phenomena that is – to my knowledge – unique to Central/South America and the Caribbean. Bedroom #1, adjacent to the kitchen on the left side of the blueprint, is not a room that few of us (Americans/U.S.A.) would choose to live in. It’s an irregularly shaped room, more like a hallway, with a 6″x9″ space for a bed and a shelf(?), and a bathroom which is only accessible from that room – small even for New York standards. This room, based on my travels and admittedly limited knowledge of cultural norms, is where the empleada (“employee”) lives and/or works.

The empleada, also known as the criada, sirviente, servicio, or interna, is the a maid, housekeeper, or nanny (ignore the flagrant soft-pornographic photos in a Google Images search for some actual images). 90% of empleados are women (empleadas). They are regular fixtures in many Central and South American houses. They are rarely related by blood to the employing family, but often come to hold family-like positions in the household, particularly for the children, and may stay in a household for years or decades, yet they may be fired for any reason.(More than once I’ve heard stories of empleadas being fired for allegedly stealing). They are rarely contracted or receive any formal benefits, and pay is traditionally low. They are typically responsible for cleaning, cooking, laundry, childcare, and other household tasks. The bathroom in the back is normally reserved for laundering tasks, or for the empleada only. They are almost never invited to dine with the family, but rather eat in another room, or at a separate table. It’s no coincidence that the empleada’s quarters are attached to the kitchen and only accessible through it, or that they are as physically removed as possible from the employer’s sleeping spaces.

In my experiences living in and visiting South America and the Caribbean, empleadas tend to come from low-class backgrounds and have tended to be darker-skinned than their (often only slightly less dark-skinned) employers. While this is a deeply engrained element of many Latino cultures, many, such as the International Domestic Workers’ Network and other human rights organizations, feel that the empleada tradition is equivalent to slavery. That this element would show up in a Brazilian advertisement is, in retrospect, not surprising, since it is a normal part of that culture. However, to a North American or European audience, the leftmost part of the blueprint may not make complete sense. That’s why I noticed it.


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