The Gruen Transfer “banned” size acceptance ad

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There’s been quite a controversy brewing back in Oz over the ABC banning part of a segment on, IMO, one of the most interesting TV shows to come out of Australia in the last couple of years — The Gruen Transfer.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it is essentially a humorous panel-style production which analyzes the media, advertising and marketing industries and how advertising is constructed.  That description doesn’t really do it justice… they have basically managed to take a media analysis course from university and turn it into something that is enjoyed widely by a mainstream audience.  Quite a feat.

One of the segments on the show is called “The Pitch”, where creatives from two opposing advertising agencies are given a difficult product or message to try and sell to the audience.  In the past, they have had to sell all sorts of funny and silly things… one I can particularly remember included selling the idea for Australia to go to war with New Zealand.  It caused a lot of controversy, but was also pretty hilarious.  Here’s one of the ads from that “Pitch”, which took the same format as the New Zealand tourism ads and turned them around…

But this week, the ABC banned one of the pitches from being shown.  I’ve obviously missed a lot of the media coverage about it, not being in Oz and all, but have seen a fair bit online.  This week, the challenge presented to the pitchers was to create an ad to promote size acceptance.

The ad that was not banned, by JWT Melbourne, was IMO, the kinda offensive one.  It was somewhat amusing, and in the fairly flippant style of Gruen, fitted in… but essentially the message it delivered was “fat people eat more, so they are helping the economy, so we should love them”, which harks back to that same old “fat people as gluttons” stereotype… it doesn’t do fat people any favors to perpetuate those stereotypes.

The ad that was banned, created by a freelancer working for The Foundry agency, was released online, at its own special website, to get around the ABC ban.  I’m glad that Gruen didn’t just chicken out from making it available, and set something up that worked within the strict strict content guidelines the national broadcaster has to adhere to.

Anyway, here’s the ad.  Obviously, since it was banned from the ABC and all, if you have a delicate disposition, don’t view it.  It’s quite full on.

This ad is the far more effective campaign for the pitch this week, I believe.  It shows that all discrimination is ugly, and it finally puts size discrimination up there on the same level as all those other horrible forms of discrimination that we now all know are socially unacceptable, even though, of course, those forms of discrimination still exist.

I can understand why the ABC banned it though, because being the government-and-hence-taxpayer-funded network, it has strong strong policies about airing things which are racist, homophobic, etc.  Funnily enough, I bet there’s nothing in the innapropriate content policy about airing things which are fattist…

But the banning of this ad has also sparked debate about the size issue… everywhere.  And unfortunately, for a nation where apparently most of us are overweight or obese now according to questionably BMI-based statistics, the debate seems to be heavily dominated by people saying fat people are lazy scum… a popular argument against this ad is that being overweight is a choice, while one’s race or religion is not a choice.

Well, I could choose to starve myself just as someone could choose to convert to Christianity or have sex with someone of the opposite sex.  But if those choices are not happy ones, then what is the fucking point?

The creative behind the ad, Adam Hunt, has written a fantastic piece about why he produced it for the Mumberella blog, which you can read here.  There’s also a great interview between Wil Anderson, the Gruen panel and Adam on the ad’s site.  Just keep watching after the ad to see the debate.

I mean, obviously, this kind of ad could never really be screened on a commercial or government television network.  But I think the tone in which the offensive “jokes” are presented makes it clear that HEY, this is an ad about unacceptable behavior.

But ultimately, the Pitch is about experimentation.  And I feel glad that someone has finally had the balls to put this into the mainstream and say that fat discrimination is not OK.  It’s an issue that never gets discussion in the mainstream media, particularly not in Australia where there isn’t the emerging size acceptance movement that is starting to have an impact in the States.

So what’s your take on it?  Effective?  Gone too far?  Should I not even be typing this entry and spend eight hours a day on a treadmill until I can fit into a size 8?

5 Responses to " The Gruen Transfer “banned” size acceptance ad "

  1. belle says:

    What I don’t get is the hypocrisy of public standards. The ‘end shape discrimination’ ad has ‘jokes’, if we are to call them that, that I’ve heard a number of times. I don’t find them shocking because I’ve heard it before. If anything, the ad should be more effective because what’s been said is so recognisable. Anyone one of the people that are targeted in that ad would have heard something similar themselves out of the mouths of strangers and acquaintances.

    (But can’t help feeling it’s just a tad too similar to the recent UN ad?

  2. Ashlee says:

    Just adding a clarification to my earlier, very rushed rant… I of course don’t believe homosexuality is some sort of choice, the point I am trying to make is more that when “society” discriminates, “society” is pressing individuals to make some sort of choice that will make their lives unhappy in order to conform with status quo expectations, as opposed to a choice that is more natural for that individual…

    I would have to survive on a diet of lettuce leaves to be the size of your typical idealized female body. That would be extremely unpleasant for me, just as the other scenarios I detailed would be unpleasant for other groups, etc etc. That’s what I was getting at. This was all kinda rushed, apologies!

  3. Andrew says:

    My girlfriend and I watched the episode, and the ‘banned’ video and discussion, last night. We talked about it and then she sent me here. Hello!

    I agree with everything you said above. It was shocking, yes, but it was a great ad – and much less offensive than the alternative which was aired. However, while I felt it was a great work in an artistic sense, I did feel a slight hesitation in claiming it was suitable for airing on national television. I think a part of me feels that many are just not ready for this type of advertising, and many would just not ‘get it’ and complain. (But that could happen with any ad?) Still, I’d love for us, as a nation, to be over that and be able to watch something confronting and take in its strong message without getting defensive.

    My only actual objection to the ad was due to a certain kind of discrimination I thought it was conveying, itself. (This will be hard to explain, but I’ll give it a try.) They were asked to make an ad to help people feel more comfortable with their weight (specifically obesity, or ‘not being less than a size ten’) they came up with three great words to use: ‘end shape discrimination’. This got the message across perfectly. But at the end of the commercial the fake organisation was called ‘Fat Pride’.

    Even though the guidelines stated it was to be aimed at ‘fat’ discrimination, I felt that calling the organisation ‘Fat Pride’ made it appear that ‘fat’ is the only shape which is discriminated against. If the organisation was called something non-shape specific, it would (I think) have had the same impact, still fit the guidelines (though my girlfriend disagrees with me), and not have discriminated against other bodily shapes in the process. I’m not sure if I’m making my point clearly. I guess I just read the ad as saying “if you stop teasing ‘fat people’, shape discrimination will end”, when that message itself is discriminating by claiming through omission that other body shapes aren’t relevant to the discussion of discrimination.

    And I think that sentence probably made it sound even more confusing =/

    I would be interested in hearing what others think.

    Oh, and Belle, I too see a similarity in the ad you linked to. I also thought it was great. (Additionally, I thought it was odd that I found it much less shocking. Why is showing unlikeable actors making offensive jokes worse than using the stereotypes themselves to play the part? Perhaps because the message is clear from the start and there isn’t an awkward stage where you’re trying to understand why you’re seeing this on television?)

  4. Ashlee says:

    Hey Andrew, thanks for commenting! That is a really interesting point that I hadn’t thought about. I agree that the FatPride slogan possibly wasn’t the best choice. Society’s ideas about what is “fat” have warped so much, that normal sized people are facing abuse over their size… the naturally underweight also are slugged with accusations of anorexia etc. Size acceptance should definitely spread across the whole spectrum…

    On a similar note, the fat joke was also the only joke that was sex specific (“fat chicks”)… it was not only fattist but sexist. (It was strange nobody got their knickers in a knot about that at the ABC censors…) But men are also discriminated against due to size.

    Ya, and Bel, I agree. I think the people kicking up the biggest stink are the ones who are missing the point. The ad condemns all forms of discrimination… and yeah, it does follow a similar format to the UN ad.

  5. Julie Betteridge says:

    Interesting discussion but don’t swear you weren’t raised to be a potty mouth.