Planet Soap

Kisses and Mayonnaise

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams – whose wisdom is known to us – today asks her readers the burning question,

Why don’t lefties complain more?

What prompts this question is the recent, rather baffling, fuss over an advert for Heinz mayonnaise. The Advertising Standards Authority has apparently received around 200 complaints, many of which concern the advert’s dénouement in which one man kisses another. The ad wasn’t shown during children’s programming  - due to the mortally harmful effects of full-fat mayonnaise - and has subsequently been withdrawn by Heinz UK. In light of such controversy, I feel obliged to share the offending advert with you. Brace yourselves.

Everybody okay? Now, the ad strikes me as innocuous and faintly amusing, and hardly malevolent or corrupting. (Though an image of Bernard Breslaw does, unfortunately, come to mind.) The ad isn’t even explicitly about a gay couple. The visual pun being that the husband is actually kissing his wife, who - thanks to her choice of mayonnaise - has acquired the zing and authenticity of a New York deli stereotype. However, the minor hoo-hah surrounding the ad leads Ms Williams to argue – indeed complain - that lefties don’t complain anywhere near as much as they should:

It never occurs to me to lodge a complaint with the ASA and this is categorically not because I’m never offended. I'm constantly offended…  When an ad featuring men kissing is one of the most complained about, that matters: not as a reflection on the nation’s scattered homophobes breathing their last gasp, but as a sign that the rest of us don’t complain anything like enough.

Elsewhere on the Guardian website, Ben Summerskill obliges with some umbrage of his own about the same Heinz advert:

While Heinz’s decision to withdraw the ad might be seen by them as an easy way to palm off 200 fundamentalist Christian complainants, it seems to have been made under the quaint impression that it will cause no offence to Britain’s 3.6 million lesbian and gay consumers. Or any of their friends. Or families. Or colleagues. It also seems to have been made mindless of the impact it will have on Heinz’s lesbian or gay staff, or graduate recruitment programme. Do young people nowadays really want to work for a business so demonstrably out of touch with the way we all live now?

There’s that presumptuous “we” again. And, as usual, it isn’t quite defined. Is Summerskill talking about Guardian readers? Gay Guardian readers? Gay people generally? Or enlightened beings everywhere, who will, sooner or later, come to read the Guardian? And what exactly is it that’s giving such terrible offence to “Britain’s 3.6 million lesbian and gay consumers”? Are so many, many people really that aggrieved by a decision not to show an advert for mayonnaise? Is it really payback time?

Heinz’s prim retraction seems to have been made without any thought for the damage that might be done to its business. Popping into my usual Costcutter on the way home this evening, I look forward to missing out on my regular Heinz purchases, as many thousands of Stonewall supporters hope you will too.

Ah. To the barricades. It’s a war of competing indignation. Not so much a clash of titans as a weeping contest between two tribes of self-important, whiny bitches.

Branston baked beans. Baxters soups. Buitoni spaghetti. Jardines tomato ketchup. Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Yum yum! They’re all delicious. How sad that for Heinz in 2008, beanz meanz bigotz.

Bigotry ahoy. But of course. Or maybe not. As a man who kisses another man quite often, I’m finding it hard to see much bigotry at work here, at least on the part of Heinz. And if the withdrawal of an advert for mayonnaise has now become a focus of such high feeling and inflated indignation, perhaps the problem isn’t that lefties are complaining less than they should. Maybe the problem is that some of them are complaining far too much over far too little, thus devaluing the currency.