18 November 2011

Benetton's Unhate Sucks the Air Out of Politics

Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China – President of the USA.
Photograph © Benetton.

"What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate."
That is the rationale, such as it is, for the new Benetton "campaign." I've lifted one of five digitally manipulated images of kissing world leaders. As is typical of the Benetton crowd, this one is safely diffuse, risque without actually risking offense or taking a stand on any political issue. It bemoans a presumably "natural" human propensity, not politics. Have I mentioned that the commercialization of "dissent" is bad news? And, of course, the design idea is not new; here is a poster from the Gran Fury collective of ACT-UP New York, designed in 1989 to go on the side advert panels of city buses.

So, the spoof actually predates the real thing. Notice three things besides the two-plus-decade lag. The Gran Fury design (1) addresses a specific controversial issue, (2) it is about causality and responsibility (it took sides on the issue of what was turning a disease into a catastrophe) and finally (3) Obama and Hu Jintao might as well be kissing their grandmothers ("No tongue!") whereas the folks in the ACT UP graphic are seemingly into it. Gran Fury offered incisive commentary on public fear and misunderstanding in the time of an epidemic. Benetton offers a Hallmark-like "let's just all get along" greeting which assumes there are no actual issues at stake in politics, no interests, commitments or attachments worth disagreeing or fighting over. So, for some perspective, I selected the particular image from the Unhate campaign above precisely in light of this news out of Australia this week. (Thanks Angad - I hope this passes muster!)
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P.S.: According to this report in The Los Angeles Times, the White house objects to the Unhate adverts not because they are political, but because they use Obama's image for commercial purposes. And the homophobes at the Vatican more or less immediately threatened legal action to suppress images that depicted a smooching Pope Benedict. Predictably Benetton immediately caved in the face of the threat. There is some political backbone for you! Here is the offending image:
Pope Benedict XVI – Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb.
Photograph © Benetton.

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2 Comments:

Blogger eugev44 said...

Totally agree with your assessment and appreciate the post. I did want to also offer that another reading of the Obama-Hu Jintao image as an essential partnership of world leaders to ensure the continued success of the sort of economic system necessary for consumption of Benetton goods. Ironically, I think there is a sense of honesty in the image - don't hate anything, because if you did, or at least began critically thinking, you might stop buying our goods. "...hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think" - i.e. we all want to buy a fashionable sweater, let's not destroy potential consumers. Marketers love to sell the "feeling" of risk while maintaining the status quo.

19 November, 2011 16:28  
Blogger eugev44 said...

Totally agree with your assessment and appreciate the post. I did want to also offer that another reading of the Obama-Hu Jintao image as an essential partnership of world leaders to ensure the continued success of the sort of economic system necessary for consumption of Benetton goods. Ironically, I think there is a sense of honesty in the image - don't hate anything, because if you did, or at least began critically thinking, you might stop buying our goods. "...hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think" - i.e. we all want to buy a fashionable sweater, let's not destroy potential consumers. Marketers love to sell the "feeling" of risk while maintaining the status quo.

19 November, 2011 16:29  

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