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This Babe’s…er…Bud’s for You

If you’ve seen any beer advertising (and who can escape it?), you’ve probably noticed that it’s often something other than beer they’re selling in the ads. A billboard for Budweiser recently popped up in our neck of the woods – it’s on Route 9 as you head East over the river from Northampton into Hadley, which I do on my way to work – and it’s no exception. This one features only the torso of a woman with a bare midriff – and it’s a fairly inclusive definition of the midriff. The slogan at the bottom: “Expect Everything.”

Those familiar with the Pioneer Valley know that it is a place where anti-corporate sentiment, and feminism, not only thrive, but are loudly proclaimed. This billboard might as well have had a big target painted on it. It wasn’t long before the ad got reinterpreted through spray paint.

At first, it was changed to say, “We Infect Everything.” I saw this as some contractors were starting to remove the graffito, though I didn’t get a picture of it. The sign then had another week in its original form.

Then, it got altered again. Over Easter weekend, the “Everything” was
blacked out, and new letters painted in the same spot. This time, it was like that for a few days, and I got a picture:

“Expect Misogyny” I couldn’t have painted it better myself. Am I against sexuality, you ask? No, of course not. The point is that we’re bombarded with ads all the time that objectify women – reduce them to a sexual commodity rather than people – and someone decided here to call it like it is. The tough issue for me is the whole defacement of a billboard issue. I’m amused by what was done, but I certainly want to be careful about giving blanket approval to making political statements
in this way. I’d certainly feel different if Planned Parenthood put up a billboard about contraception, and it got defaced with an anti-abortion message. Of course, Anheuser-Busch is a much bigger and different kind of organization (and has much deeper pockets), so it’s not exactly a morally equivalent situation, but still.

I’d be very interested in any comments on this topic.

Also, I’m certainly not the first person to blog this.

Posted by seaking on 04-14-2007 at 11:04 pm
Posted in Humor, Politics

5 Comments »

  1. I have also had exposure to this sign and am very interested in public reactions to it. In fact, I am doing research right now around this billboard (all peripheral research to the crappy school research I have to do.) Soo… I started a blogspot here just so I could respond to your post as well as the other blogger who wrote about this incident. (I am interested in starting my own, but I will wait until I have a little more time in a few weeks.)

    Any way, I think you raise a good point about what is “public” and what is “private”–and also,though, what constitutes “resistance” and what constitutes “vandlism”? Furthermore, what is violent?

    While I do not advocate random acts of vandalism, I think this message is one that deserves a public–and often it is not heard or received by a public. Like you said, these kinds of images of women are ubiquitous, and in their ubiquity, they become invisible–commonplace, everyday. A thing that feminists need to just accept and get over. (Yeah..okay)
    One can certainly argue that the medium (graffiti on a billboard) undermines the message and that a public will be more angered by the arguably destructive act, but I think there is more going on here.Notions of property are interesting to note Who OWNS the billboard space? This is a private ownership, but public messages are sent out from its space. Is this ethical? Is it ethical to make money from such images that promote violence against women? What if the billboard were racist? Would people be “allowed” to deface it then?

    Thanks for writing such an evokative blog!
    I’d be happy to share my own pictures of the new graffiti with you if you’re interested.

    Comment by Emily — May 1, 2007 @ 21:04
  2. Thanks for posting, and I’m glad you like the blog (though this sign got a much more thorough treatment on the other blogs I linked to).

    You make a good point as well about a billboard being on private land but being placed unavoidably in the public view. It’s similar to TV advertising (and most TV programming in general) – the public supposedly owns the airwaves, yet almost all programming is done, and almost all access held, by private companies. In theory, the public can influence broadcasters via the FCC. In practice, very little public influence can be exerted.

    Back to the billboard issue, there might be more appropriate (and legal) ways to provide a message counter to the advertiser’s, but there is the question of whether it would be as effective at reaching the same audience. This is probably the widest reaching way to criticize the ad, and will certainly spark the most public discussion. I certainly admire the conviction of whoever did it, as they were willing to risk fines and/or jail time to make a statement.

    I actually saw the later graffiti on my way to work last week, so the pictures aren’t necessary for me. This week the ad is gone completely – that billboard now has an ad for Rolling Rock beer which doesn’t have any images of people on it at all. A victory for those that spray painted it? Who knows…

    Comment by seaking — May 2, 2007 @ 19:07
  3. Wow, tough call.

    I *love* the change that one word makes, and I love it that feminist activism is alive and well somewhere in this country.

    On the other hand, if I had a billboard for, say, my Coven, that said “Expect Magic” or “Expect Grace,” and someone replaced it wit “Expect Satanism” or “Expect Hell,” I’d be pissed as shit, hopping mad, and demanding prosecution.

    Gooood questions, Sean.

    Comment by Stasa — May 13, 2007 @ 14:57
  4. Hi, Stasa! Yeah, in general I would definitely draw moral lines between defacements of different kinds of billboards. In the coven example, it would be a small group being repressed by the dominant paradigm. In the Bud example, the target was a large corporation perpetuating the dominant paradigm.

    However, legally it’s much harder to really draw a line separating them.

    One wrinkle I just learned from a newspaper article about the defacement is that the owners of the billboard company, who live in Florida, didn’t see this ad before it was posted, and they were uncomfortable about the combination of the slogan and picture in the ad. They apparently would have been fine with just the picture, but feel it’s really misogynist to add “Expect Everything” – implying that a guy will get whatever he wants from a woman. They went on to say that they wish the sign hadn’t been defaced, and that people had contacted them instead to complain, in which case they would have taken the ad down.

    So, at least in this case, direct contact with the venue company would have had an effect. Of course, there was probably still a greater political impact on viewers with the defaced ad than if it had just disappeared prematurely.

    Comment by seaking — May 13, 2007 @ 18:53
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