Alex Blaze

Clear Channel censors Pride billboards

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 13, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: billboard, Clear Channel, public space

One of the only pleasures of taking the metro to work is checking out all the ad-busting. There are lots of ads in the metro, and every now and then a clever person will have taken a marker to an ad to touch it up a bit.

Lots of ad-busters go with the mustache - a classic, although it's definitely played. Ads for Galeries Lafayettes, a big department store, often get "PUB SEXISTE" (SEXIST AD) etched on them for their uber-photoshopped and almost naked female models. The only man I remember seeing in one of their ads was holding a female mannequin, which, at St-Lazare, got a longer discourse on how women aren't toys for male pleasure. I even saw a running debate going on a Google Chrome ad at Gambetta about which is better, Chrome or Firefox. (Note to Google: if you don't want people writing all over your ads, don't put so much white space on them.)

Ads are a form of public discourse, and while the people who put them up would love for them to be a monologue, I have little sympathy for the advertisers here. Maybe it's because my media experience is all in the blog world and I'm used to my work getting responses along the lines of "Yer stoopid" and "Yer sinful." Or maybe it's because I question why these ads are even there in the first place (instead of artwork... what about artwork?) and think that it's not productive to determine who gets to speak in public spaces based on how much money they have.

But that's the system we have in lots of places, and, even worse, the ads get filtered by a private company that owns the ad space, even though the ad is in public space. I love it when queers go out and buy public ad space because it forces engagement with people who won't be reached through marches in front of state capitols and columns in the Washington Post. The results are usually unpredictable.

So it's frustrating that billboard behemoth Clear Channel rejected two of four Pride ads in St. Petersburg, Florida, and won't even explain their decision to censor some pretty tame images.

Here are the two ads that were rejected:

Rejected Billboard 1.jpg

Rejected Billboard 2.jpg

And here are the two ads that were accepted:

Accepted Billboard 1.jpg

Accepted Billboard 2.jpg

Clear Channel refused to comment on the matter to local media, but I think the difference between the accepted and rejected ads is pretty clear. Gays are OK, as long as no sex is implied. The two women on the beach seem to be getting along quite nicely, and the two men, while looking right at the camera, are shirtless and touching in a really not-straight-bro way. The drag queen is barely showing any skin and the two men in the family are sitting a comfortable distance apart (wonder what Clear Channel would have thought if they were together and the kid was on the left?).

But I'm really wondering why Clear Channel gets to make this decision at all. Their business depends directly on public subsidies - if the government didn't build roads in a particular area there would be no people to look at a particular ad. People can't avoid looking at their ads while driving because people are attentive to the road, so people have an interest in and a right to determine what messages are presented, or not presented, along the roads they built.

Obviously no one's going to go forcing them to explain themselves or reverse their decision. St. Petersburg Pride has removed all of their ads, saying they "would not allow Clear Channel to dictate what message we could convey." As well they shouldn't.


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My guess as to what happened:

1: They look like they might kiss, and the one on the left is showing too much cleavage. Rejected.

2: No shirts, even some armpit hair. Plus, everyone knows what "fun" means when referring to the "gay lifestyle". Rejected.

3: Cute kid, plus they can't reject it cause them might be accused of racism. Approved.

4: Gays are clearly freaks, let them be freaky. Approved.

Just a thought.

I talked to Clear Channel here in Tampa, and we agreed to disagree on whether the Ads should be used, but (and I don't like ClearChannel so it pains me to say this), some information was disclosed to me off the record which leads me to understand why Clear Channel wants to work with St. Pete Pride to come up with other designs...as they have always done in past years, and why they are entitled to have some say in the content of the Ads. I wish I could disclose that info, but I made a promise.

As I said, their local President and I agreed to disagree on the acceptability of the ad designs, but they are actually trying to be fair to St. Pete Pride and work with them.

I understand where you're coming from, but unless they're willing to discuss their reasoning on record the rest of us are going to keep on being mad that they're cracking down on some pretty tame imagery.

Marimba Ani | June 14, 2010 9:58 AM

Nice try, ClearChannel sockpuppet, bjohnm.

There's nothing wrong with those ads. They don't need to "work with" the Pride people to come up with something "acceptable". Stop trying to spin it so ClearChannel looks like it's all for compromise. Those ads were already a sane compromise (no nudity, no kissing, no blatant embraces, etc).

I'm glad St. Petersburg Pride isn't going to give ClearChannel their money. I hope this gets enough coverage to make up for the lost publicity.

Marimba, ask St. Pete Pride how much they pay Clear Channel?

Frank House | June 14, 2010 11:32 AM

Bigotry,discrimination,inequalities,and hatred need to be confronted up front and in the faces who perpetrate these acts as soon as they occur. If we do not act strongly and immediately we have lost that opportunity to knock those walls down. If you are neutral in these situations...we all lose.This ad company needs a bit of education via our wallets. There cannot be compromises to full equality...enough said.

I looked at the two that were approved and pretty much thought, If I were a real homophobe, which ones would I run that would be guaranteed to piss people off about these queers? Not the happy, lovey-dovey ones, nossir. The drag queen and the incipient child molesters.

Outrage always sells.