So other blogs across the feminist/progressive blogosphere have covered the “21 May is the End of Days” story in recent weeks. For the last two hundred years (at least!) religious groups in America have been predicting the second coming down to the day and sometimes even the hour. So far, we haven’t seen it happen. May this time it will, who knows. (And who’s to say what “judgment day” will really entail, anyway — maybe there will be bunnies and lemon drops for all!)
But on Tuesday, the Boston-based blog Bostinnovation reported that the specific group in question this time around, had sponsored advertisements on MBTA buses (for those of you who aren’t Boston locals, the MBTA is the public transportation authority in our area). And some local activists petitioned the MBTA to remove the advertisements because they were “extremely offensive.” Why? Because the group sponsoring the ads is (not surprisingly) anti-gay, and believes that the second coming is being precipitated, at least in part, by us queer folks having us some sexytimes.
Yesterday around 7pm, BostonTweet posted this tweet with the accompanying image (left). The image depicts an ad from FamilyRadio.com on a MBTA bus. Although the messaging is pretty dark, it is not offensive.
That was until Greg Arney, a Boston musician, did a little homework on FamilyRadio.com and noticed something extremely offensive hosted there: an audio study entitled “Gay Pride: A Sign of The End”.
Within the audio file, the speaker reads an article that contains the following: “Gay pride and same-sex marriage success is a sign from God that the end is very near”. The speaker continues in this vein for the duration of the presentation.
When Arney tweeted at Rich Davey, the General Manager of the MBTA, questioning whether FamilyRadio had been properly vetted as a potential advertiser, Davey was quick to respond and remove the FamilyRadio.com’s ad campaign from the MBTA.
Now, while I’m generally pro-consumer activism, I also have very mixed feelings about an ad campaign like this being pulled because a group of vocal dissenters believe the group sponsoring the ad has beliefs the dissenters don’t like.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the ads were pulled as a response to the complaints, or whether the ad campaign simply ended. But let’s assume for the sake of argument the MBTA did to the complaints and removed the ad. While I’m not 100% against the action, I have some pretty severe reservations about the wisdom of curtailing speech in this way.
Fundamentally, my discomfort about the action — applauded on Bostinnovation as a successful activist moment — lies in the fact that as much as we might disagree, dislike, ore even be “offended” by the message of the ads on the bus, I don’t believe we (as consumers or citizens) have a right to silence them. Heck, as a regular user of public transportation, I can think of a half-dozen ad campaigns in the past year I’ve been “offended” by. There are the crisis pregnancy center ads and the fertility clinic ads, both of which make claims about their services that I believe are often fraudulent and exploitative. Yet these ads have run their course, and if I expect to be able to read Planned Parenthood ads alongside them, I really can’t go complaining to the MBTA that they took the ad revenue. Because if I challenge pro-life organizations’ right to advertise on public transit, you can be absolutely sure they’re challenge the right of pro-choice organizations to advertise their services too.
And then where will we be? Pregnant women might not get shaming messages about their unplanned pregnancies, but they’re also not going to get real information about Planned Parenthood’s prenatal services either … how is that helpful?
And where would the censorship stop … could I petition the MBTA complaining that that the sexually-suggestive vodka ads are offensive? The ads for diamonds support civil wars in Africa? I mean, these things are true from my point of view (well, mostly I think the vodka ads are silly). But that doesn’t mean I have the right not to view them. I can write a blog post deconstructing them. I can boycott the services being offered. (I’m certainly not interested in quitting the sexytimes to forestall judgment day, so there’s that ad campaign successfully undermined!) But I really don’t think it’s a good form of activism to stop the opposing group from speaking their mind.
Am I being too lenient here? Should groups with bigoted beliefs not be allowed to buy ad space in public places? Is there a difference between buying ad space on a billboard and purchasing ad space on publiclly-funded transit vehicles? Would it be ethical to write an ad policy for such publically-funded systems that limited certain types of advocacy groups? Help me think this one through, Harpies!