Benetton Undoes "UnHate" Ad

The Italian fashion company Benetton recently launched a controversial advertising campaign that shows various world leaders, including President Obama and Pope Benedict, expressing their “un-hatred” with mostly same-sex lip locks that stop just short of tonsil hockey.  (German Chancellor Angela Merkel does get in on the action by swapping spit with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.  Presumably most of these things are PhotoShopped…)

After a few days of uproar, Benetton has decided to pull at least the Pope ad, as reported by Fox News:

Benetton says its campaign, which launched Wednesday, is aimed at fostering tolerance and “global love.” 

But the photo of the pope kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of Cairo’s al-Azhar Institute, the pre-eminent theological school of Sunni Islam, was pulled about an hour after the Vatican’s protest.
Al-Azhar suspended interfaith talks with the Vatican earlier this year after Benedict called for greater protections for Egypt’s minority Christians. 

A Benetton spokesman confirmed that the pope-imam ad was no longer part of the campaign. But the rest of the ad campaign remains in doubt.

 Yeah, it’s a shame the Pope can’t get over his hang-ups about Coptic Christians getting murdered and driven out of Egypt, and just settle his differences with Sheik Ahmed over a smooch.  The world is a total drag because it’s run by old fuddy duddies, man.

The San Francisco Chronicle has more details about the Pope’s objection to the ad:

The Vatican said it has authorized lawyers to take action to prevent the circulation of the photomontage of the pope.

“We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, said in a statement.

The White House has the same reasonable objection to the use of Obama’s image, saying that it has “a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the President’s name and likeness for commercial purposes.”  Fox News further notes that “With the president traveling abroad in Australia and Indonesia, the campaign might make things a bit uncomfortable.” 

There might also be some “discomfort” associated with the feedback from Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb’s followers.  Was Benetton running that ad in Cairo?

Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow offered a bit of psycho-sexual context for the “UnHate” campaign, describing it as an attempt to plug the notion of “sex and narcissism” equal freedom into our collective psyches:

“The only psychological interpretation of these images that makes sense is that corporate leaders at Benetton have decided that it is acceptable to suggest that the best route to world peace would be if the Pope and our President were to have homosexual, erotic relationships with world leaders,” he said. “This is meant to be an assault on organized religion and on heterosexuality, and it is being perceived and felt as such.” 

Dr. Ablow might be over-thinking this a bit, although the idea of sex as the sole genuine expression of freedom is a long-standing element of socialism’s conceptual arsenal.  People who buy into that notion tend to be much more relaxed about the dissolution of their other liberties.  Collectivism is willing to loudly declare the bedroom a zone of anything-goes privacy, provided it gets the rest of the house, and everything outside its walls.

Benetton has a long history of running weird and offensive ad campaigns to draw attention to itself.  The Fashionist has a rundown, including images of disembodied human hearts, people dying of AIDS, priests kissing nuns, death row inmates, and an overcrowded boat dripping Albanian refugees into the sea.

The key ingredient running through them all is smarmy post-modern superiority.  Young Benetton customers are meant to be flattered by the appeal to their arrogance, even as their jaded senses are modestly titillated.  The stupid problems of the world are caused by repressed grown-ups and their stale preoccupations.  If only they’d listen to the kids, who have all the answers – many of them as simple as getting to first base with people who think they hate you.

It’s not working.  The Chronicle mentions that Benetton has lost two-thirds of its market value over the last ten years, and its stock just closed at the lowest level since 1988.  Maybe young people are many of tired of these ham-fisted attempts to shock and manipulate them.  Perhaps today’s youth has already turned against yesterday’s trendy obsessions with their usual ferocity, and Benetton is already “the clothes Dad and Mom thought were cool,” with another ten years to go before they become a “classic retro look” brought back into fashion through ironic detachment.  Or maybe the kids just think their clothes are ugly, and no amount of puckering between popes, presidents, and dictators will convince them otherwise.