07/09/11 | Posted by MattPage
Back in April, when we were thinking more about the new life and promise of spring rather than the cold and windy start of autumn, Phones4U ran an advert in the national press featuring an image of Jesus winking and pointing, accompanied by the slogan “Miraculous Deals on Samsung Android Galaxy Phones”. A number of people complained to Phones4U and, as a result, they withdrew the advert immediately.
A small number of people, fewer than 100 in fact, went to the Advertising Standards Agency as well/instead. Some 18 weeks later, the ASA have finally decided that the advert was “disrespectful” and “likely to cause serious offence”.
There are a number of points about all of this. Firstly, rulings in favour of complaints of this nature are a fairly rare event. What was so offensive about this image compared to the many others that are overlooked?
This question becomes even stranger when the context of the advert is taken into account. Far from creating an originally offensive image, the Jesus depicted is entirely based on the “Buddy Christ” statue from the 1999 film Dogma. Given that the statue was one of the least potentially offensive aspects of that film, I suspect that the 98 people who complained were unaware that this was the origin of Phones4U’s winking Christ. Crucially however, within the film, the statue is the creation of crass clergymen desperately trying to appear relevant by touting a dumbed-down Jesus. It was kitsch taken to a comical extreme in order to make a serious criticism about Christianity becoming overly commercial and tacky.
Phones4U however have seemingly set that process in reverse, taking that satirically-trivialised image of Jesus and using it to flog their phone packages, seemingly unaware of any irony. If Dogma‘s criticism was that the church was aping the worst aspects of commercialism to get their message across; commercialism has struck back. Nevertheless, I still can’t muster enough misgivings about their advert to find it in any way offensive.
Yet it does seem strange that this ruling has taken so long to emerge. The advert had already been withdrawn, so the story’s resulting re-emergence in the papers and on internet sites (yes, I get it, that includes this one) has only served to bring the story, and the supposedly offending accompanying image, back into circulation. It’ll give Phones4U a nice little publicity boost, and perhaps even a good deal of sympathy from the silent majority, whilst just re-offending all those that were troubled by the image first time around.
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