Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Boobies, Ta-Tas, and the Ethics of Titillating Advertising Tactics for Non-Profits

Schools have been having issues with the breast cancer awareness campaign in which bracelets are sold with the slogan "I love boobies." Similarly, cars across the country sport magnet signs urging us to "Save the Ta-Tas." There is no doubt that we need more research into the causes and treatment for breast cancer and to promote awareness in order to detect treatable cases earlier. Seemingly, anything we can do to foster this good end would be desirable.

Those who consider ways in which to raise this money no doubt realized that they had something that colo-rectal or esophageal cancer advocates didn't -- they had a part of the body that Americans are obsessed with. The earlier approach based on "it's about your mother and sister, and don't you love them, let's all wear pink" was effective, but surely "boobies" and "ta-tas" could -- and did -- become a cultural phenomenon. Given the attention we pay to breasts, shouldn't they use it to help save lives?

Or is the use of such objectification only further entrenching it? The breast cancer folks are not the first to use these tactics, consider, for example, PETA's Naked campaign in which they got famous actors, male and female, to pose nude under the tagline, "I'd rather be naked than wear fur." They are using cultural elements that are not ethically healthy for the society, that undermine unhealthy approaches to sexuality. No one is saying that breasts or nudity are inherently problematic, there is nothing wrong with either, but the folks running these ads know they are doing it in a fashion that is consistent with a certain approach to them -- it is cheap titillation, something that works every time. They are making themselves the Porky's of non-profits.

The response to such a line is often, "Lighten up." Maybe that's a valid response. It's just a joke, it's not hurting anyone, and it's helping people. Or is it subverting deeper virtues that need to be emphasized in the name of caring for those in need? Is there a problem here or is it just good advertising?