In a new ESPN commercial for their NBA coverage, Shaquille O’Neal reacts to Mike Breen’s request for a “fist kiss” by moving away from him, calling it “weird” and “disgusting”, and then mimicking Breen in an effeminate voice. Via John Aravosis at AmericaBlog:
One simple question. If the ad called a show of affection between blacks and whites “weird” and “disgusting,” would you find it just as funny? The point of the joke is that a man showing affection to another man is weird and disgusting. It’s subtle homophobia – actually it’s not subtle at all, at one point the one guy moves away from the other out of fear he may touch him. Gay-bashing is not acceptable from ESPN or the NBA, or the idiotic ad firm that came up with this ad. Every year we have a new ad that pokes fun at the notion that a man might show affection to another man. They wouldn’t make fun of inter-racial affection, so why are gays fair game?
And anyone out there who thinks this ad is much ado about nothing, where do you think kids learn to hate gays, and adults learn to kill gays? From their friends, and their icons. Shaq just told millions of kids that it’s weird and disgusting for another guy to show him affection. Lesson learned.
UPDATE: Michael Jensen at AfterElton sends us the reaction of former NBA player John Amaechi, the only out pro player in NBA history.
John Amaechi: I think the ad is in poor taste; it just seems like another signal of yet another flagging, unimaginative, desperate, clutching-at-straws marketing department grasping for the lowest common denominator. It seems so out of character to ESPN ads of old. It makes me feel disappointed, but not angry in anyway…the ad itself is just too tenuous to even bother getting riled about. AE: Did you find Shaq’s reaction — the use of the words “disgusting” and “weird” and his moving away from Breen — to be homophobic?
JA: The character’s reaction to the “fist kiss” is of course homophobic, the subtext is that a man asking another man for any kind of kiss, even a ‘fist kiss’ should be met with repulsion – I am surprised Shaq went anywhere near this ad, given I don’t think that would be his true intention or belief; but as a player, I too would have disparaging words to say about someone calling ‘fist bumps’ anything like “fist kisses” – simply because it’s massively dumb.
AE: Some are finding the ad to send a message that same-sex affection is to be denigrated and possibly influencing young people to be intolerant. Perhaps as a retired NBA player you have a different take?
JA: Firstly, I don’t like this ad at all, less an less as I watch it with more thought, and I haven’t asked yet, but I BET big money that the NBA doesn’t like it either. But let’s face it, this ad is no reincarnation of the Snickers ad. I don’t think this ad is funny enough to have the kind of negative power we all fear. I think people, straight and gay, athletes or not, will all find this ad unnerving, trivial and unfunny to watch. I think there are far more insidious and important ways parts of the media teaches children to be intolerant. Whilst I am massively in favour of the idea that celebrities and sports people are and should be role models (with no personal choice in the matter) and that this ad is a mistake, let’s focus our ire on the FOX news channels constant offenders, the Family Research Council, Rick Warren and the pro-prop 8 lobby, etc. instead.