Confused Swedish Ad Board Says 'Distracted Boyfriend Meme' Is Sexist
from the i-think-you're-missing-the-point dept
It’s pretty difficult to have been on the internet over the past year or so and not come across the distracted boyfriend meme. It has been everywhere. And, unlike many other memes, this one’s popularity has shown little sign of waning. If somehow you did miss it, uh, welcome back to the internet after a year away? The meme involves a stock photo of what appears to be a guy checking out a girl who just walked by him, while his somewhat unhappy girlfriend looks angrily at him. Then to make it “meme-like” you put captions over all three characters. Here was one of the early ones that kicked off the meme:
There are thousands of other ones, some of which are actually kinda funny.
The reason this is in the news again is that the Swedish ISP Banhof attempted to use the meme in an advertisement on Facebook and Instagram:
A bunch of people complained that the ad was sexist, and reported it to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, who recently agreed that the ad was sexist.
“It portrays women as interchangeable objects, and that only their appearance is interesting,” wrote the ombudsman, which was unanimous in its decision. It added that there was no link between the services provided by Bahnhof and the objectified image of the women.
“According to the committee, the objectification is reinforced by the fact that women are designated as workplace representatives while the man, as the recipient of the advertisement, is being produced as an individual,” the judgment said.
Some of the reviewers involved in the decision also said that the advert presented “degrading” stereotypical views of both women and men. “It gives the impression that men might change female partners in the same way they change jobs. One notifier pointed out that Bahnhof may put off female applicants with the advertisement,” the judgment stated.
That feels… like a particularly humorless way to read a meme (it should be noted, FWIW, that the same photographer has a similar stock image with the gender roles reversed).
Also, the meme doesn’t seem to be commentary about women being interchangeable objects (if anything, it’s about what a jackass the guy is), but especially it’s use as an ad here seems to be a lot more about playing off the popularity of the meme, and making Banhof seem hip and on top of what all the internet kids are into these days. Amusingly, Banhof noted this in its own statement — while mocking its own late-to-the-game use of this meme:
“Everyone who follows the internet and meme culture knows how the meme is used and interpreted. [Whether someone is a] man, woman or neutral gender is often irrelevant in this context. We are an internet company and are conversant in this, as are those who would look for a job with us, so we turned to that target group,” the statement continued. “If we should be punished for anything, it’s for using an old and tired meme.”
It’s unclear from the reporting if there’s any actual punishment for Banhof, or if it just can’t keep using that advertisement (though, given that this has now received a ton of press attention, it probably has given the company a lot more attention). Either way, Sweden’s Advertising Ombudsman needs to lighten up a bit and maybe enjoy a meme.