Model Minority

Homosex is as invisible in Italian newspapers as it tends to be in “real” life (the Pope’s forthcoming ban on gay priests and seminarians, leaked by the New York Times, seems to have been largely ignored by the Italian press), though there has been a bit of controversy in recent weeks because of an ad campaign by Oliviero Toscani for the Italian men’s clothing designer, Ra-Re. Toscani’s ads feature photographs of a fully clothed (naturally, since the ads are for clothes) male couple in “graphic” poses.

The poses are only about ten percent of the problem, if you ask me–especially in a country where, on any given sunny weekend afternoon in any given public space, heterosexual couples are twined together like so many anacondas in mating balls. They’re doing absolutely everything but “it,” and nobody says “Get a room, you two. There are children here.” Let a same-sex couple try something like that, and le forze dell’ordine would be there in a hot minute, in order to enforce–natch–“order.” This is the kind of thing that can get you seriously hot under the collar if you think about it too hard.

But as I say, the poses in Toscani’s photos are only part of what is causing the ruckus. More “provocative” are the words that accompany the ads. In one, the younger guy in the couple says, “Sai che ci danno ‘del gay’”? [You know people are saying we’re gay?”] and his partner responds, “E allora?” [So what?].

ci_danno

That “So what?” in the Benedictine, ultra-Catholic, Italy-of-the-Capacious-Closet is practically a battle cry.

In any case, Toscani’s ad campaign has been declared an “ostentazione volgare e provocatoria” by the Istituto di Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria (Iap), an entity that monitors public advertising (the cognates are close enough to English that they hardly need to be translated), which also ordered the billboards and bus-stop posters featuring the campaign to be taken down.

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It’s hard to tell whether the ban will have any financial effect on Toscani or Ra-Re. Toscani’s work is being labeled a “shock campaign,” though one gets the feeling that journalists are simply repeating a phrase that someone else used once, not that they have any clear idea what they mean by it. In a certain light, the fact that a phrase like “shock campaign” can be used at all means that what Toscani did isn’t really shocking: It’s so familiar that it has its own name. At the same time, the phrase begs the big unanswered question: Shocking to whom?

On the other hand, the reaction is reminiscent of the one that followed the infamous series of Benneton ads more than a decade ago (in which images of AIDS patients on their death beds or withered and skeletal famine victims were juxtaposed with appeals to buy designer clothing).

toscani3

It would be hard to buy publicity better than what the Iap ban has delivered to Toscani (on October 9th, for example, La Repubblica whimsically printed Toscani’s quarter-page “E allora?” ad directly on the back of an article about the Iap “censura”), and the images are being reproduced for free every time a newspaper writes an article about the controversy. I am, of course, happy to do my part by posting them here as well.

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Still, I can only imagine that Toscani’s ad agency is pretty happy, liberals had a chance to show that even they were willing to draw the line somewhere, and Italian gay groups were, as usual, divided, embarrassed, and silent. In other words, when “ci danno del gay” in Italy, the reaction is still more likely to be duck-and-cover than a good, healthy, “E perché non si fanno cazzi loro?”

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Posted on 16 October 2005, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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