Thursday, 17 November 2011

World Leader Porn*



Benetton's latest advertising campaign, featuring various personalities in photoshopped clinches, has succeeded in its aim of attracting free attention by garnering headlines. One design that showed the Pope with a leading Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, was swiftly withdrawn after the Vatican got upset. Ratzinger's spokesman called it "an offence against the sentiments of the faithful" and claimed that it violated "the elementary rules of respect for persons in order to draw attention through provocation."

"We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms" said Benetton. The company wished to create "a new culture of tolerance ... building on Benetton’s underpinning values."

On the contrary. The company wants to sell sweaters. Their distinctive advertising campaigns are designed for one thing, and one thing alone, which is to promote knitwear.

The new posters, which also feature Barack Obama smooching with Hugo Chavez and Benjamin Netanyahu getting up close and personal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are fairly blatant rip-offs of the famous East German mural which depicted a full-on snog between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and the GDR's Erik Honneker. You've probably seen it.




I always assumed that the mural was a purely symbolic affair, a pictorial representation of the closeness between the Warsaw Pact allies. But not a bit of it. Good old Google turned up the original photo on which it was based, which was taken at a ceremony in 1979 to mark thirty years since the creation of the German Democratic Republic.



And poking around, I found some eerily similar images, enough to have given Benetton material for its campaign without any recourse to Photoshop. Here's Yasser Arafat with the Ayatollah Khomeini:



Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greeting an anti-Zionist rabbi (I think at his notorious Holocaust-denial conference):



And less explicit (but they still look very pleased to see each other), Colonel Gaddafi and Tony Blair.




It would be wrong, of course, to read any of these photos as in any sense homoerotic. The leaders concerned are representing not themselves but their countries. They are providing a visual synechdoche for the relationship between their countries that they wish to present to the world. In other words, a relationship based on emotion rather than pure pragmatism. The language of public diplomacy, and especially its expression in press reports, is often couched in intimate, pseudo-sexual language: of allies "getting into bed together", for example. There may be echoes here of an earlier period in which international relationships often actually were sexual in nature, alliances typically being cemented by marriages between members of respective royal families.

*Title copyright Quiet Riot Girl

PS: Luckywood below draws attention to the "suppressed homoerotic charge" of this picture of the Bush/Blair bromance. Who could possibly resist?