Discussion on GLBT portay in advertising

You click on the TV and watch as an attractive young woman gets ready: racy shots of her garter belt and thigh high stockings, even a corset.

When she enters a restaurant, the men gawk at her. The television screen flashes to shots of her in just her undergarments ? extrapolations made by the men. When she reaches her table at the restaurant, the text on the television screen wonders: ?Do men deserve it?? When the woman sits down and kisses the woman sitting beside her, full on the lips, the screen answers: ?No.?

You?ve just witnessed what Mike Wilke calls a positive portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT) people in commercials. Why positive? Well, as Wilke explained last Wednesday, in commercials similar to the one described above that came from Boisvert Lingerie, GLBT couples are shown together, happy, and there are no negative reactions from the surrounding people in the ad. The Boisvert Lingerie commercial comes from France and would seem very scandalous on U.S. airwaves, as Wilke?s website www.commercialcloset.com acknowledges in its description of the advertisement.

Wilke began his lecture with an explanation of how he came to have a collection of over 2000 commercials portraying GLBT people. These advertisements are all over the range of portrayals. Some are extremely positive, such as ads by MTV that portray gay and lesbian couples alongside heterosexual couples, while others are extremely negative, depicting worn stereotypes just to get a laugh.

Wilke talked about his theories for what makes an otherwise negative portrayal more like a neutral one. In one ad for Salon Selectives, an overtly gay hairstylist is complaining that he is out of a job since women began to turn to Salon Selectives for products. The reason Wilke believed that this commercial was going beyond the GLBT stereotype was because the commercial was funny for other reasons. Viewers see the stylist attempting to work as a mechanic ? and failing miserably. Wilke said that by making the stylist?s incompetence funny, the commercial did better than a purely stereotypical portrayal of a flamboyant gay male.

Advertisers are more aware of politically incorrect stereotypes, said Wilke, but they do not always take into account the stereotypes of the GLBT community as seriously as they would with racial or religious stereotypes. Whereas corporations are very conscious of advertisements that portray stereotypes of race, they may not be as sensitive to those that portray stereotypes of sexuality.

Wilke now speaks with many of the companies that run or want to run advertisements with a GLBT theme. When Volkswagen aired a commercial featuring two men driving around town, some in the GLBT community saw the two as a couple, even though they didn?t make any physical contact during the commercial. The reason for the interpretation, Wilke suggested, might have been that the commercial was aired during the premiere of Ellen. Commercials like the VW one that contain images that could be interpreted as representations of GLBT people are what prompted Wilke to coin the phrase ?gay vague.?

?We?re looking to see ourselves reflected in the media,? said Wilke, noting a possible reason that commercials and other media forms are being interpreted as possible representations of GLBT people. However, he noted that when he polled people who searched his website, most agreed that they would rather see open marketing towards the GLBT community than gay vague advertisements.

Some trends in GLBT advertising are pretty disturbing, as Wilke?s lecture pointed out. Only a third of the commercials Wilke has in his database portray lesbians, and among those the overwhelming portrayal is of ?lipstick lesbians.? Wilke believes that the appearance of lipstick lesbians is primarily geared towards straight men, and often straight men have a presence in such commercials. A portrayal Wilke has never seen is the ?diesel dyke? stereotype ? basically a lesbian who is more masculine in appearance and demeanor.

Other trends are actually very promising for GLBT people. Wilke finds that MTV has had a consistent campaign of advertisements that show GLBT people. Among those shown at the screening were two MTV ads, one anti-discrimination ad, and one that showed a gay and a lesbian couple experiencing the same things as a hetero couple in the ad, such as quarrels and love of music. MTV and other corporations, such as John Hancock, have placed portrayals of gays or lesbians in their advertisements to speak to the ?diversity of their audience,? according to Wilke.

The trends in advertisements that portray GLBT people seem to have a bright side. There are still ads that show discomfort, such as one Heineken ad that shows two men becoming extremely uncomfortable with one another after their hands brush. Recently, GLBT people are beginning to show up in commercials ?as part of a larger situation,? said Wilke. The portrayals of the GLBT community that show them as everyday people in the same situations as anyone else are one step away from ads that focus on stereotypes to create humor and a fair portrayal of GLBT people in the media.