Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Feb. 13, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Outcry cancels bigoted ad

By Leslie Feinberg

It's halftime at the 1997 Super Bowl. Revved-up television commentators break for a commercial.

Cut to alluring blond bombshell, in a low-cut dress revealing bounteous cleavage, striding into her class-of-1975 reunion. Every man she passes leers. The camera zooms in on her nose, then lips, then bosom, while a narrator announces how much money each cost to change.

An old classmate who doesn't remember this woman practically drools on her. He insists on guessing her name.

Suddenly he shudders and draws away in horror, whispering:

"Bob? Bob Johnson!"

The narrator intones, "It's amazing the changes you can make for a few thousand dollars."

Here's the point of the ad, finally: Imagine the makeover the Holiday Inn hotel chain has accomplished with its $1-billion renovation program.

Welcome to capitalism

The commercial is vicious and backward.

It demonizes transsexuals. The old schoolmate recoils in revulsion from a very beautiful woman. Holiday Inn and its ad agency-Fallon McElligott-are instructing millions of viewers that she is loathsome simply because she is transsexual.

This transphobic ad also trivializes transsexual women and men by reducing their identities, life decisions and courageous battles against bigotry and discrimination to a few cosmetic surgical changes.

The commercial is sexist as hell, too. The close-ups of the model's mouth and breasts are objectifying and sexually exploitive. The men's leering behavior is salacious and inappropriate. But they are not the villains in this ad.

The woman in the ad-perhaps a transwoman, perhaps not- remains a silent "sex symbol." This ad is another reminder that sex and gender oppression are intertwined, requiring the combined might of the trans and women's-liberation movements and their allies to effectively combat.

Transsexual women and men, transgender, drag, cross-dressing, bigender, intersexual and other trans activists are shattering the silence of centuries. They are raising their voices and are being heard.

Decades ago, such an offensive commercial would have made no sense to mass audiences. Without giving an iota of credit to Holiday Inn or Fallon McElligott, this vicious ad can be seen as a measure of how the trans movement has reached millions of people in the United States.

The trans movement is swiftly gaining strength and allies, and has been bolstered by coalitions with the women's, lesbian, gay and bisexual and other progressive movements.

With increased mass education and struggle, corporations and their ad agencies will fear provoking the outrage of the trans movement and its allies.

Already some capitalists warn each other that transphobia isn't profitable. A brief article in the business section of the Jan. 28 New York Times reproached Holiday Inn.

"What's next," the Times asked, "narrow rooms for the narrow-minded?"

Actually, what came next was an outcry that forced Holiday Inn to drop the ad. The hotel chain announced Jan. 29 that it is dropping the commercial it premiered during the Super Bowl because it "offended some people."

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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