Warning: this article is rated PG – not recommended for persons under the age of 15. Why? On account of the enormous, hot pink condom on display in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
The 18-metre, fluoro pink sheath was lowered over the Hyde Park Obelisk as part of an advertising campaign to raise awareness of HIV prevention among gay men.
As with most things 18-metres tall, hot pink in colour and erected in a public space, it was unavoidable.
My gut reaction is that public spaces should be free from sexual messages. They should be places to walk with your children in the assurance that you’re not going to have to shield their eyes or broach a big topic like sex while tying up shoelaces and wiping Vegemite from mouths.
The HIV prevention theme was fine – spread that message! But let’s do it in a respectful and relevant way.
Queensland director of the Australian Christian Lobby Wendy Francis weathered a barrage of criticism after she publically questioned the suitability of the pink penis in the park.
“It’s never appropriate to put sexually explicit advertising in public places,” she told the media.
“My position on this is always that the government, but also the community, have responsibility to our children. There is a time and place for talking to children, and an age appropriate time for parents to talk to children about condoms.”
I have to agree.
Ms Francis has campaigned tirelessly since 2009 for outdoor advertising to be G-rated. Seems like a no-brainer but her struggles say otherwise. Loopholes in the Advertising Standards Board’s controversial system of self-regulation have allowed cashed-up businesses to advertise highly sexualised and inappropriate content basically because it was not aimed at children. Never mind that their little eyes will come to rest there.
Condom ads. Longer lasting sex ads. You name it…
It’s a similar story for grassroots campaigns movement Collective Shout, which keeps a close watch out for advertising material that objectifies or sexualises women and girls.
One of the latest campaigns was for the removal of clothing retailer General Pants’ ‘Wet Dreams’ ad in shop fronts around the country.
Women are photographed in bikinis, lying in a bathtub with sultry expressions, arms behind their heads, breasts pushed forward and the words Wet Dreams in neon pink lettering.
I think most of us know what ‘wet dreams’ is referring to.
Yet, when the Advertising Standards Board dismissed a battery of complaints, its defense was this:
“The Board noted the term “wet dream” is a colloquial reference to an erotic dream that results in an involuntary ejaculation of semen and that most members of the community would prefer that this wording wasn’t used in advertising…however…the reference to “wet dreams” is linked primarily to the competition to win an overseas trip to Dubai.”
I applaud lobbyists like Wendy Francis and Collective Shout who must at times feel like pulling their hair out. Every victory against a sex-saturated advertising industry is a win for children everywhere.
The assault on children’s innocence is far-reaching and aggressive. Violence, pornography, sex, foul language – every grimy, salacious thing you can think of is never more than a swipe or a click away. All the more reason to protect. A child’s time of innocence is foundational to their adult concept of morality. From that pure place everything else can be measured.
I’m reminded of a verse in Proverbs 4, a chapter devoted to attaining wisdom. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (verse 23) Children rely on their parents and carers to guard their heart in those early years. Are we up to the task?
As for the pink shaft in Hyde Park – no parent should be forced to explain what a condom is to their inquisitive toddler. Perhaps they could instead explain the history of that particular obelisk – that it was built as a sewerage educt vent to allow noxious gases to escape from the sewer.
A stench then and a stench now.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday November 17, 2014.