CBS Rejects Gay Dating Site Ad; Phobic or Practical?
Turns Out the Super Bowl Isn’t Gay
So it’s that time of year again: the snow is slushy, the sun is blinding, the fingers are frozen – and its time for the annual spirited discussion about rejected Super Bowl ads. It happens every year. Someone tries to submit an ad that’s considered too racy or sexually charged, and CBS, mindful of the fact that the Super Bowl is traditional family viewing, throws it in the shredder. A search on YouTube for “banned super bowl commercials” shows pages and pages of ads, pushing everything from beer to domain names to vegetarianism. One year, however, one rejected ad has become a socio-political issue.
The ad is for a gay dating site, ManCrunch. It’s a low-budget, badly-lit spot that shows two men sharing a bowl of potato chips (presumably while watching the big game). Suddenly, their hands touch – their lips meet – and they lunge passionately towards each other. As they embrace, the camera pans to another man in the room, who look on with a mixture of horror and confusion.
The ad is often described as portraying two men kissing, but it’s patently obvious that the actor’s mouths never actually get near each other. Sex advice columnist (and openly gay man) Dan Savage blogged about the ad on The Stranger’s website, making light of the situation by pointing out that the ad might have just been rejected because it doesn’t show what it purports to:
But, again, the ad doesn’t show two men kissing. It shows two guys lunging toward each other, one with his mouth open, but at the last second their heads turn and they lunge past each other and place their chins on each other’s shoulders and tilt their heads from side-to-side. Which isn’t kissing. It’s not even simulated kissing. But the blond is foxy and his ass looks pretty good in those baggy gray sweatpants, huh?
According to CNN, a CBS spokesperson named Shannon Jacobs stated that the ad was rejected by standards and practices. As explained on the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ website, “standards and practices” is the industry term for what many people call “the network censors.” Their job is to screen all non-news broadcasts for “compliance with legal, policy, factual, and community standards.”
But in the next paragraph of the same article, CNN states that “CBS said it turned down the ad partly for financial reasons,” going on to explain that CBS was unable to verify ManCrunch’s credit status. ManCrunch states that they offered to pay cash, but CBS says they have no record of such an offer.
It’s a convoluted story. At first, ManCrunch was apparently told that all the ad spots were sold out, then later CBS clarified that they only had “one or two” left. If ManCrunch had decided to play ball and submitted a new ad, would we still be having this discussion? Exactly what “community standards” or “policy” might standards and practices be applying to this situation? One assumes that they have no legal or factual concerns with two men (not) kissing.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that physical touch between same-sex couples has been held to a different standard than hetero slap-and-tickle. But is it the content of the ad that CBS finds disturbing, or the service it advertises? Last year, AshleyMadison.com, a website that matches up partnered people who wish to pursue “discrete affairs,” was similarly rejected. Except in this case, CBS made it clear that a service like Ashley Madison would never be allowed to advertise during the big game. No such stipulation was made with ManCrunch, however – in fact, Jacobs told CNN that they are “always open” to revised or new ad submissions.
Though this ad portrays what might be foreplay between two men, it does not have the sexually charged feel of many ads that run uncontested in prime time. It is not meant to arouse or excite. The ad is almost charming in its simplicity, showing two average-looking guys who discover their attraction to each other over potato chips and football. The execution could be smoother, and the actors could be a little more comfortable with actually, you know, making out – but in a world full of ads that sexualize everything from deodorant to burgers, it’s comforting to see an ad that’s actually about sex, but isn’t really sexual at all.
The problem is that intimate touch – whether kissing, hand-holding, or writhing awkwardly on a couch while a friend looks on in bewilderment – has always been more difficult for gay couples to engage in without unwelcome attention. Men, particularly, suffer under the heteronormative standards that many of us are taught growing up. Though homophobia is never justified, it is a survival instinct: being homosexual is associated with being the receiving partner in penetrative sex, which has historically been the most dangerous and subservient position to find oneself in. Men who slept with other men were shamed, just like promiscuous women were – it was dangerous, it spread disease, and it was outside of the societal norms.
In our lizard brains, it doesn’t matter that condoms, antiretroviral therapy, and advanced testing have greatly reduced the risks associated with being on the receiving end of penetrative sex. It doesn’t even matter that plenty of gay men never even do it. Many of us still feel uncomfortable when we see gay couples, or portrayals of gay couples on T.V., doing the things that all couples do. That’s something that won’t go away overnight, no matter how far the gay civil rights movement progresses. We shouldn’t expect it to. But policy, whether public or private, can’t be dictated based on the icky feeling in your stomach.
The voices that are speaking out against CBS’s decision are relatively small and quiet. But they are making themselves heard nonetheless, and its time CBS sat up and listened.