The limitations of advertising

Friday, 8 October 1999

It is sad to think that the first few people on earth needed no books, movies, games or music to inspire coldblooded murder. The day that Cain bashed his brother Abel's brains in, the only motivation he needed was his own human disposition to violence. Times have not become more violent. They've just become more televised.
— shock rocker Marilyn Manson

For those of you who have been out of the country for the past two weeks, here's the current event of earth shattering importance. Charlize Theron (whom avid cinema-goers may remember from the not-so-memorable Devil's Advocate with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino) did her bit for nation-building by appearing in a series of commercials on the subject of rape.

Ms Theron is quite attractive (in a sultry, pouting, I-may-be-a-fragile-waif-but-there's-a-strong-woman-inside-of-me kind of way), the ads were very well put together (by Cape Town agency Jupiter Drawing Room), and provided a convenient excuse for all of us in the media (who normally have to walk a tightrope of political correctness) to use pictures of "our" Charlize whenever possible (and preferably in a state of relative undress with lots of cleavage).

It was all good fun until someone realised that she was saying some relatively nasty things about some South African men (which are probably true) without pointing out that not all South African men fit that mould (also probably true). The offended parties invoked our Constitution (which prohibits such discriminatory behaviour), and complained accordingly to the Advertising Standards Authority who asked for that ad to be withdrawn.

Are you with me so far?

Since then, there's been a lot of bleating from the well-intentioned suggesting that men who have called for the ad to be withdrawn are insensitive to the Awful Thing of abuse of women which needs to be contained by Any Means Necessary.

I have a problem with this. I remember what Daniel Webster told American lawmakers during confirmation hearings for a would-be judge of the Supreme Court: "Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of power. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."

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To my mind, there's no doubt that the ASA's action in asking for the ad to be withdrawn was within both the letter and spirit of our Constitution. So, let's dump that subject for a while and talk about something more relevant.

Just how many men, do we suppose, took a look at the advertisement and decided to not rape?

Real men don't rape? Come on, let's get real. This is the equivalent of "Just Say No!" (to drugs) or "Don't do crime" and will be as effective. The only real benefits to have accrued from this campaign are to Ms Theron, Jupiter Drawing Room, and Femina magazine (who sponsored the campaign) who will have effectively stamped their presence upon the public consciousness. I approve heartily. It's a slick marketing campaign, and I wish I had thought of it first.

But rape is not going to be stopped by a public appeal to the male sense of guilt from a Hollywood starlet. The problem needs to be tackled at two levels.

First, teach women how to physically defend themselves. The well-placed knee in the exposed groin, biting down and severing the intrusive part of the anatomy, fingers thrust firmly into eye sockets with intention to blind — all of these things should be taught to women when they are still girls. That's why I send my daughter to karate classes.

Second, and more importantly, the economic power that allows rape to exist has to be fixed. No woman who depends on her husband for a meal ticket for her family can have him put in jail for the rape of her daughter when she lacks the education or skills to fend for herself. How does she live thereafter? Will the well-wishers who ask us to lock the cretin up for life contribute toward feeding his family in his absence?

The road to reconciliation, I have often said, is paved with jobs. Gainful employment leads to economic independence which leads to real empowerment which leads to a reduction in all crimes — including rape.