Transgender: Different Takes on Exploitative Ads

All ads are exploitative, but some are worse than others.

This last two months, three commercials about transgender people have arrived.

The first was from Vicks, a three and a half minute-long commercial about the real transgender woman named Gauri Sawant, who raised an orphaned child as her own in India. Second was from Absolut, a part of a series of commercials about people at a party, one of whom meets his old friend Dave, who is now Darla. The third is from Heineken, where people from different backgrounds make peace and build a bar and beer heals all.

I can’t help but feel a little exploited by the third one.

It’s true, they’re all ‘normalizing’ different, but there’s something weird about the Heineken commercial. In the first two commercials, and if I reach back further there’s the Secret stress test as well, where they are certainly selling their brand, but they’re also humanizing in a way that feels real. We can understand the man looking for Dave and meeting Darla and being weird, but recognizing the phobia in himself. We can understand the fear of outing ourselves. We can understand the struggle to love someone no matter who we are.

And then I look at the beer commercial and I see an attempt to tell us that the world will be better with a beer.

April started with Kendall Jenner trying to tell us that the answer to class wars, police brutality, the presidency, and racism was to be found in a nice cold Pepsi. Everyone mocked that commercial, and rightly so, because it simplified the world into one ridiculous thought. Hand a cop a Pepsi and he won’t beat you.

Well, Heineken would like you to think that if you hand a Nazi– excuse me, if you hand an alt-right a beer, he won’t hate transgender people anymore. Oh they couched it in the veneer of “once people work together, they realize they’re just people” and that is true. People realizing we’re all people is important, and if we did that, maybe there would be less war and hate.

After they build the furniture, they watch a video of themselves saying the things they believe. The alt-righter outright says in his that he can’t conceptualize transgender. There’s a climate denier who says it’s all piffle. You get the idea.

The problem with this is that everyone else is just saying a thing they believe in.

And the woman who is transgender is saying who she is.

I believe in climate change. I am a lesbian. I can change my beliefs, but I cannot change who I am.

On the screen, we saw the expression of a transgender woman, a person who is so used to hearing people’s views about their right to exist, and it’s heartbreaking. She put herself out there, and what happened? The Alt-righter pretended to walk out (which was an option given), and then came back and said he was just joking.

It’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. Besides the fact it’s not my job to educate everyone on what it’s like to be gay, and clearly not this woman’s to educate everyone she meets about being trans, that’s what the commercial is insisting. That it’s our job to talk to everyone about us, so they can stop hating us.

Heineken had a woman sit down with a man who didn’t think she had a right to exist as a person. And they made her justify herself to him. He risked nothing in his admission of being an alt-righter who didn’t understand transgender. She risked everything — her dignity and her safety included — and worst of all, if she’d walked away, everyone would have said that she was intolerant.

The bald truth is this: Not all viewpoints are equal. We shouldn’t praise people who do the bare minimum of treating another person as a human being. We should demand more of ourselves and each other. We should be better, do better, and act better.

And if we do it over a beer, that’s fine, but for me it won’t be a Heineken.


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