The Amsterdam based mens’ fashion chain Suitsupply has caused a furore with its’ new ad campaign for the 2018 fashion season. In this campaign young men are shown in couples in homo-erotic poses, sometimes kissing and sometimes just touching each other tenderly. The campaign is now a couple of weeks old and the public debate about it doesn’t go down. It shines a sharp light on homophobia, also in The Netherlands.
The first wave of chatter
Immediately after the campaign was launch it was the talk of the town and of the internet. As the few examples here show, the pictures are explicit with a certain glamorous 1950’s or 1960’s styling. The men are beautiful and the poses of them are sensual an electrifying. The ads make people turn their heads and click the buttons on website. In short: a success!
The reactions were strongest initially on the internet. Many followers of the social media accounts of Suitsupply hit the unfollow button. We can assume that these people were offended by these ads. The numbers of unfollowers ran into the thousands. And the reactions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were often negative. That shocked the people at Suitsupply, who had expected some backlash but not that strong. That’s why they hadn’t published the posters in homophobic countries like Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
Luckily support also game in the online world. Many gay men and their friends were pleasantly surprised with this campaign. They voiced their support for the company online and helped Suitsupply to regain the followers on social media they had lost.
Gay friendly or just selling sex?
Now we all know that the world today is still mostly heteronormative. In other words: in day-to-day life images and descriptions of hetero relationships dominate. The last years some progress has been gained, especially in popular culture like pop music, tv and movies. But in for example advertising you have to look hard to see some LGBTQI+ representation. So has Suitsupply become a true commodity activist, by promoting its products and social diversity, inclusion and tolerance at the same time?
That question is still up for debate. The director of Suitsupply, Folkert de Jong, told the newssite Business Insider that this campaign was all about “love, attraction and passion” and not particularly targeting a gay audience. Basically he adhered to the old advertising truism ‘sex sells’.
And that has been a criticism that has been put to them before. For example in 2016 they ran a campaign with miniature men on larger than life women. Many called out the sexism towards women in this campaign and even the undertone of racism in many of the pictures.
That is way we at Gaylinc were in the first instance not impressed by the media hype around the 2018 campaign. ‘Here they go again’, we thought. Although we could certainly appreciate the beautiful men in the pictures. That certainly brought a smile on our face when we saw such a poster on our way trough the city.
The ugly truth about homophobia in The Netherlands
But the media hype around the campaign didn’t quiet down after a few days. And this took a turn for the unexpected (?) with a strong homophobic backlash within Dutch society. Over the last couple of days many posters have been defaced and displays have been destroyed. This happened all over The Netherlands and also in Amsterdam.
Apparently many men find the image of two men kissing or stroking each other threatening. So they took it out on the posters and destroyed the displays on the streets and in bus stops. Or they took to the spray can and painted over the heads of the men and sometimes accompanied that with a swastika. Especially extreme right men are very insecure about their own sexuality.
This back lash didn’t come as a total surprise. In the first few days of the online debate these men let themselves be heard on the social media. Often complaining that they found these pictures offensive, disgusting and couldn’t explain them to their children. They obvious lack the capacity to think, understand and be open-minded.
On the barricade for LGTBQI+ rights
Within the LGBTQI+ community a call of action has been made. It started out with people posting tweets reporting the ‘well being’ of their local Suitsupply poster in the neighborhood. That was quickly followed with a statement from the Amsterdam Pride organization, that this evident homophobia showed the necessity of the Pride event and its’ famous Canal Parade. And several gay men shared a picture of themselves kissing their partner online with the hashtag of Suitsupply.
More hands on (or should we say lips-on) is the organization of an Amsterdam Kiss-Inn on Sunday the March the 11th. At 2PM that day people get together on the national square Dam in the city centre. By kissing for 30 minutes people want to show that “that people are allowed to love who they want to love or be who they want to be”. In other words “Come-out and Kiss-Inn.