Decadent…Bus Ads?

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Religion, Sex
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m surfing the web instead of being busy with the things I need to get done before Thursday. Confession. But I did come across this article by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield titled When Bikinis and Black Hats Collide and thought the way he spoke about certain points was powerful and clear –  almost irrefutable. Although opinions are not fact, he manages to make his seem damn close. I’ve made red the part that caught my eye.

Is this nation governed by its laws or by the whims of narrowly defined religious groups? As we fight for greater freedom in Afghanistan, can we still assure our own freedom of expression here at home? Those questions are up for grabs in New York City, and if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority removed advertising from all its buses which pass through heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Well, not all the ads, just the ones for Georgi vodka, which feature bikini-clad women. They did so out of consideration for the religious sensibilities of the communities through which the buses pass.

What’s next? No pork adds in heavily Muslim neighborhoods? Perhaps we should accept the removal of all images of black people if enough white residents request that.

However well-intentioned the MTA may have been, their decision is nothing less than complicity in the Talibanization of Brooklyn. It’s profoundly stupid, ultimately dangerous, and I cannot believe it is legal. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Brooklyn Hasidim and the Taliban are the same. But this case suggests that given sufficient power, the propensity for at least cultural totalitarianism, if not political, is more similar than anyone should find acceptable.

I want to be equally clear that I find the ad itself disrespectful of women and in generally poor taste. It bothers me as parent and as a Jew, failing pretty much any test of decency I can imagine.

I don’t think that we need to connect sex and drinking any more than they already are. I am certain that we don’t need to be confronted by any more images of artificially inflated boobs on top of underfed bodies as paragons of feminine beauty.

To that degree, like the members of the Hasidic community which objected to the ads and called for their removal, I agree about their being objectionable. But when any one group gets to decide what any of us has a right to see, we are all in trouble, especially when that conclusion is reached through political pressure as opposed to the democratic process.

If the Hasidic community were to take the lead in organizing people across the political, cultural and religious spectrum to lobby for stricter guidelines about what belongs on any bus, I might join them. Or I might not, preferring to deal with the challenges of a pop culture saturated with ersatz sexuality in other ways than limiting expression.

What nobody should stand for however, is the carving up of a wonderfully diverse city into culture ghettos any more than is already the case. While I certainly appreciate that some people prefer greater diversity and others less, when public institutions limit public expression and commerce simply because some people don’t approve, we really do start to resemble the nations we claim to be liberating.

The argument, always advanced in these cases, that removing these ads is no different than not forcing people to work on the Sabbath or eat pork is also absurd. One should never be compelled to act against their conscience, but the presence of these ads does not demand that.

The presence of these ads simply demands that people figure out how to live with the expressions of other peoples consciences. And if a community cannot do that, then its inability to do so threatens all of us by holding us hostage to that group’s views.

I don’t like these ads. But I love both the freedom which currently allows them, and the political process through which they might be removed, a whole lot more. This really is one of those moments when we are called upon to think beyond our own immediate cultural and religious needs and protect the very system which assures them.

I say this is America, learn to deal with it.

Apparently the Village Voice ran an article after the offensive Georgi ads were removed:

​The MTA has pulled ads featuring models’ bikinied bottoms — with the Georgi Vodka logo on them — from some Brooklyn buses after members of the Hasidic community complained. Georgi Vodka producer Martin Silver was outraged, hiring Georgi bikini-clad models to protest in his company’s favor. Now, whether you side with the Hasidic community or not, if the MTA is removing offensive ads from the transit system, there are a few more the subway and bus systems could do without. Below, a list of other “offensive” ads we’ve seen on the MTA.

1. Bunion Correction Ads. There’s nothing like starting your morning commute with thoughts and images of deformed feet. Or ending your evening commute with thoughts and images of deformed feet. Or thinking about deformed feet all day and all night long. Please, make it stop.


2. Dr. Zizmor. Oh, Dr. Zizmor. Are you really a doctor? Is that your real name? Your vague but pleasant “serial killer with a heart of gold” visage sends chills down our spine that are mildly soothed by the beautiful stars and rainbows that surround you. Maybe we’ll make an appointment after all.


3. Target. This one hurts. You know there’s not one superstore in Manhattan (yet). Yeah, promises, promises.


4. Soda Lard. Dear NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, an undulating flow of fat pouring out of an ambiguous bottle of brown liquid only makes us avert our eyes from your advertisement immediately, not avoid soda. Plus, that’s totally a Snapple bottle.


Aside from the fact that Georgi Vodka is probably more offensive on your throat than a bikini bottom advertisement, based on the list above, we wish the MTA would exercise their authority more often.

Can’t say I agree with that last statement.


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