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67 Comments

culture

In Which Astral Media Plays the Goon

Movie posters removed on day of premiere due to extreme puritanism. Why do we hate some ads more than others?

Our city’s ubiquitous street advertiser, Astral Media, pulled 38 bus-shelter ads yesterday after receiving an unknown number of complaints regarding their lewdness. The offending image: posters for the movie Goon, in which actor Jay Baruchel is sticking his tongue out between two fingers—what the Canadian Press called a “sexually suggestive sign.” (Duh.)

The posters were up for two weeks before coming down on Wednesday, the day Goon premiered at the Scotiabank Theatre. Frank Mendicino, senior vice-president of Alliance Films, told the Toronto Star: “Apparently different districts of Toronto had lodged complaints. They deemed the artwork too offensive.”

In the same article, Liev Schreiber, who also stars in Goon, is quoted as follows: “Having two small children myself, I can appreciate somebody being offended or not wanting that out there on the streets.”

Not a reference to going down on someone! The horror! Hide your children because the Cunnilingus Monster is on its way!

Please. To anyone at an impressionable age that sign is just a tongue. Taking offense to such an image just exposes an unwillingness to deal with and explain sex, which is your responsibility. But is violence offensive? Apparently not.

For those who don’t know, Goon is about a bouncer who leads a hockey team to glory by “beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way.” Other posters promoting the film feature the bloodied faces of Liev Schreiber and Seann William Scott, as well as phrases like “if you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em up” and “sex, drugs, and scoring goals.” Curiously, these drug-positive and pro-violence ads seem to be just fine for public viewing.

It isn’t just the sexy nature of Baruchel’s gesture that makes it so very offensive—it’s that it’s very much about female pleasure. I doubt Astral has ever taken down posters of women in lingerie or swimwear, or draping themselves over men. That would just be so silly. Besides, we’re all too used to seeing that.

The traditionally “shocking” message of the tongue-plus-two-fingers sign is different because it explicitly references female pleasure, and few things bring out more anger and embarrassment in people. Looking for a gasp, or claim of indecency, or an “ew gross?” Simply imply that you’re performing oral sex on a woman.

When Baruchel was asked about the removal of the posters at the Goon premiere, he said, “It must be exhausting to be that uptight” and repeated the gesture for photographers. According to the Star he says, “he ‘was just trying to be funny’ and playfully called the pose a ‘reflexive motion.’”

Just trying to be funny. The fact that it’s so natural to simulate cunnilingus just because we know it will provoke laughter and/or discomfort says a lot about how we think of women and sex.

Instead of debating whether or not something is lewd, and thus offensive, we should ask ourselves why we have these reactions to certain images and not others—why mocking sex workers in advertising isn’t offensive, but it’s perfectly fine to promote sexism and violence on a regular basis.

CORRECTION: February 23, 2012, 7:25 P.M. This post originally misspelled the name of actor Seann William Scott. The name has now been corrected.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    In certain parts of Toronto ads showing exposed shoulders are deemed offensive. These are probably the same areas that complained about this ad

    • John Doe

      Probably just the Muslims.

      • Anonymous

        Uhhh. No.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mannik5000 Ryan Mannik

    “The traditionally “shocking” message of the tongue-plus-two-fingers sign is different because it explicitly references female pleasure, ”

    I’ve only ever seen it actually used by guys to taunt lesbians and sexually harass women. Saying it’s about female pleasure is kind of like saying catcalls are “just compliments, don’t be so prudish.”

    • http://twitter.com/OutdoorCanada Outdoor Canada

      False equivalence. This gesture isn’t always derogatory, though certainly in the situations you described. In those circumstances it’s used as street harassment, just like catcalls, and I would never tell anyone to brush that off as being complimentary.

      In my experience I’ve only ever seen people do it in drunken photos or to authority to get some kind of reaction.

      The aim of this piece is to highlight the fact that a gesture that simulates the act of performing oral on a woman is considered gross and offensive and maybe we should think about it that way.

    • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

      False equivalence. This gesture isn’t always derogatory, though certainly in the situations you described. In those circumstances it’s used as street harassment, just like catcalls, and I would never tell anyone to brush that off as being complimentary.

      In my experience I’ve only ever seen people do it in drunken photos or to authority to get some kind of reaction.

      The aim of this piece is to highlight the fact that a gesture that simulates the act of performing oral on a woman is considered gross and offensive and maybe we should think about it that way.

      • Red Green

        Oh come on, this isn’t a comment that can be limited to one gender. This is about oral sex, and sexual gestures as a whole, being perceived as crude and inappropriate.

        Think about it – would making a more phallic gesture have been taken differently? Likely not.

        Instead of making this a debate about “female pleasure”, we should be discussing the fact that gestures depicting oral sex are often used in antagonizing ways. It’s a hockey movie, so I’m all but certain this is the context of the poster. Nothing more than that.

        You can have the “we as a society should stop perceiving sex as something dirty or shameful” discussion, but this is hardly the place.

        At the end of the day, it’s a lighthearted poster for an otherwise mildly shocking advertising campaign. We can chalk this one up as a bit crude, but certainly not an affront on womanhood, “female pleasure”, or anything more than that.

        Keep your stick on the ice.

        • http://twitter.com/la_panique la_panique

          She’s not against the poster. The piece is about those who object to the poster, and why.

      • Anonymous

        Move to England and it means something totally different.

        • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

          But the complaints came from Toronto, not England.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, but that’s without the tongue and with the fingers not necessarily anywhere near the face.

          • Anonymous

            Double whoosh

          • Anonymous

            And not nearly as likely to result in this kind of kerfuffle. Not an equal comparison. Whoosh, yourself.

  • ian

    when i viewed this — there was a ‘proactive’ banner add featuring a woman very ‘thoughtfully’ licking her raised finger…a matched pair book-end to the add in question…loved it

  • Anonymous

    “The fact that it’s so natural to simulate cunnilingus just because we know it will provoke laughter and/or discomfort says a lot about how we think of women and sex.”

    It says nothing about women and says sex is still taboo in post-Slut Walk Toronto The Good. If the ad had Baruchel pretending to perform fellatio it would probably have received just as many complaints.

    • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

      Again, false equivalence. Blowjob motions are seen in porn. Phallic objects and face shots are featured in advertising frequently. “Pussy fingers” has a different cultural history and is used in a much more negative way.

      • Anonymous

        “Blowjob motions are seen in porn.”

        And cunnilingus isn’t?

        “Phallic objects and face shots are featured in advertising frequently.”

        A ‘phallic object’ isn’t an explicitly sexual action, sorry. Faces aren’t intercourse either.

        “‘Pussy fingers’ has a different cultural history and is used in a much more negative way.”

        Spoken like someone who is blissfully ignorant of the prevalence of homophobic slurs directed towards men. Cocksucker – you know, someone who performs fellatio? – is one of them.

        • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

          To the last point: I’m not ignorant of them, but perhaps should have elaborated on that more. Traditional insults are all rooted in what doesn’t align with stereotypical masculinity, and that includes anything associated with femininity, such as homosexuality. They’re related.

          • Anonymous

            It may not be stereotypically masculine, but there’s nothing inherently feminine or effeminate about homosexuality.

          • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

            To the homophobic people who make the comments there is.

    • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

      Yes. The issue is crassness as crassness. If it was a blowjob motion, a middle finger, anything would have been taken down.

      The bigger problem with this piece is that it ends up coming off more knee-jerk and reactionary than the original decision to remove the posters. “Pussy-eating posters are bad!” people complain, and Astral takes them down. “Pussy-eating posters are bad, as mediated through a bogusly complex series of cultural signifiers!” says Emma Woolley, and…what? We get no sense of where she actually stands on them, except for the arrogant assumption that she’s read more fem-theory than whoever filed the initial complaint.

      • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

        My point in writing this was that we should consider why certain things are deemed offensive and others not, as well as the nature of crassness itself. While yes, a blowjob motion would be considered just as crass—that is not what we have here. And as noted above, it’s not used the same way at all.

        I refer to my last paragraph: “Instead of debating whether or not something is lewd, and thus offensive, we should ask ourselves why we have these reactions to certain images and not others—why mocking sex workers in advertising isn’t offensive, but it’s perfectly fine to promote sexism and violence on a regular basis.”

        It’s aimed at people who walk by such a poster and think: “Wow, that’s gross. And offensive! And should totally come down!” And asking them to think about that. And asking other people to think about why bloody faces aren’t crass and pussy fingers are.

        I’m not sure how I could have possibly made this point any clearer.

        • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

          The point is that it’s boring. Is there a google doc of quick-wrap fem-crit conclusions that don’t actually pertain to the issues that you can dispense whenever you want? Or whole boilerplates to lay over stories and then just fill in the particulars? Can’t people be offended by it because it’s using the pussy fingers gesture as shorthand to suggest that making fun of cunnilingus is inherently gross, and thus degrading the act that way, and not because they cringe at the idea of the female orgasm? The arrogance emerges in your assumption that you’re half-a-step ahead of what the non-controversy is actually about.

          Anyways, this should really get Torontoist’s readership of progressive, left-leaning misogynists thinking. Tres incendiary!

          • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

            Well John, I’m sorry this bores you.

            I’m sorry that you can’t see how finding cunnilingus inherently gross is related to not being down with female orgasm.

            Furthermore, I’m sorry that an entire culture hasn’t arranged itself around oppressing your sex to the point that most of its gravest insults are feminine (bitch, cunt, pussy, etc.), and that’s why you can’t see the false equivalency in your claims.

          • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

            FALSE EQUIVALENCY ALERT: 3 USES CONGRATS U HAVE SMASH PATRIARCHY!!!

          • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

            I wanted to dismiss this equivalency entirely because the poster doesn’t use the blowjob imagery and is therefore not what my post was about, but so many people have brought it up that I’ll get into my thoughts about this a bit more.

            If we’re just talking about what it means for something to be crass, yes, crassness is crassness. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the poster was of a blowjob gesture instead that it would receive complaints, not only because society is pretty prudish when it comes to sex in general, but also (as you and t-rex point out) because it’s used to call other men cocksuckers, which is also offensive. While this wasn’t stated, it was never in question.

            On another level, I sincerely believe that the actions are different. If used to insult a man, what pussy fingers says is: “You’re a pussy. You’re weak/stupid/whatever adjective here.” It’s used as a taunt or for basic shock (like when girls pose doing it in pictures for no discernable reason). When the blowjob gesture is more often used to dominate. It says: “Blow me” (dismissive, submit to me) or: “You’re a cocksucker.” The message each action conveys is similiar: If you are not stereotypically masculine, you’re lesser.

            But to say they’re exactly the same is to ignore everything else associated with representations of sexuality. For example: fellatio is glorified in almost everything (especially mainstream porn) and cunnilingus is not (it is vastly underrepresented. There’s a James Deen interview out there in which he comments on why he does it and adds that directors often request it not be in there because “no one wants to see it”); male pleasure is almost always portrayed as being more important than female (because we don’t even like sex, duh); we are told vaginas are ugly so women are getting their lips shortened and are reconscructing their vaginas to make them “tighter;” women are slut-shamed much more often than men are; it takes us years to figure orgasms out; I could go on but what I’m getting at is that there is an awful lot of vagina hate going on.

            And it’s part of the cultural landscape that produces the kind of homophobic person who insults others by calling them cocksuckers because they see fellatio as a feminine act—they can’t manage to see the world any other way.

            It’s like people who also call others cunts, bitches, pussies, insert other feminine association here. In their minds it’s always worse to be a woman or what they think is like one. “Pussy fingers” (I hate this name) is the action that directly comments on female sexuality.

        • Anonymous

          How does this promote sexism? I’m really at a loss on that one…

    • http://twitter.com/AntonSirius Anton Sirius

      There was a scene of ‘simulated fellatio’ in Forgetting Sarah Marshall that was used prominently in the ad campaign for that film. I don’t recall it causing any complaints, here or anywhere else.

      • Anonymous

        It wasn’t explicit (there wasn’t even a phallic object present or suggested, let alone something unmistakably penile), whereas this poster has a simulated vagina and tongue action.

  • Anonymous

    I’d love to know how many complaints it takes for advertising to be taken down.

    • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

      One.

      • Anonymous

        Depends on who’s complaining. One is not the right answer.

        If it’s a BIA, then yes 1. If it’s an individual, it takes around a dozen. Believe it or not, there are insane people like Rami who complain about EVERY f’n billboard that goes up.

        • Anonymous

          “BIA” is what?

          • Anonymous

            Business Improvement Areas

          • Anonymous

            Business Improvement Area

  • http://twitter.com/DWxander Denny Alexander

    The blame here goes to the city, not Astral. Astral funded the film and will air it on The Movie Network. The writer needs do her research.

    • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

      The city claims it merely passed the complaints on to Astral and did not order that the posters be taken down.

      Signed,

      The Writer Who Did Her Research.

      • http://twitter.com/DWxander Denny Alexander

        Sorry about that jump in logic.What did Astral have to say? They are not usually that quick to shy away from a little controversy. It’s surprising that they would pull ads for their own product with few complaints.

    • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

      Astral also replaced the offending posters with one of the other two, as I understand it, meaning they’re still meeting the requirements of the ad buy.

  • http://twitter.com/johnsemley3000 John Semley

    What does porn have to do with it? There’s plenty of cunnilingus in porn, too. The But blowjob motion is not a sign of phallic potency. Doing it doesn’t say, “Hey dude, I want to suck your big, powerful guy cock.” It says, “You are a cock-sucker” and so equates cock-sucking with a position of subservient powerlessness, which could be construed as just as anti-feminist, and homophobic.

    • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

      Yep, you’re right, except porn wasn’t the subject of my statement. I didn’t write about that gesture, you brought it up it an effort to conflate it with pussy fingers. In use and history I don’t think they’re the same.

  • Anonymous

    I do remember back in the early ’90s that there was a kerfuffle in Burlington (Yeah, I know) about having lingerie ads in bus shelters, with interviews in the local paper about women feeling vulnerable and exposed having to sit next to those kinds of images when there were men around. I think they were removed, or at the very least they weren’t allowed to advertise again.

    Kind of off topic I guess. Just when I see something saying how Astral “never” had to take things like that down, remember that “never” is a lot longer than you might think.

  • Guest

    Well said, Emma.

  • Kevin.

    Am I the only one who sees this as an obvious publicity stunt? The ads were pulled to create the controversy, why else would anyone be talking about this movie? Come on, people! Some PR person just earned their paycheque.

  • Anonymous

    The poster is offensive because it’s misogynist. It’s really that simple.

  • Anonymous

    Rocker tongue, gesturing: “Piss off”

  • Anonymous

    “Please. To anyone at an impressionable age that sign is just a tongue. Taking offense to such an image just exposes an unwillingness to deal with and explain sex, which is your responsibility. But is violence offensive? Apparently not.”

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Juscoz00

    It’s offensive because of THIS but not the way YOU think it is. – a man

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I’m offended by how utterly unrecognizable Jay Baruchel is after the Photoshopping.

  • Democritus IV

    I get you, Emma. You might have been clearer, if you don’t mind me saying… but your point was, I believe, that it is kinda interesting that ‘pussy fingers’ makes us ‘gag’ and we have to be freed from something so dreadful as a woman’s genitalia, especially being pleasured; and most particularly interesting (to me) that a couple of smiling, bloody faces (implication of violence, not sex) is what we use to ‘purify’ it! I have three children, and I would much rather they saw silly sexuality than silly violence.
    What you miss is that we are a teeny bubble of relative sanity in a foaming sea of religious-based ignorance, intolerance and violence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=710200094 Russ Schaeffler

    please remove all advertisements from public spaces. replace it with art work that is not trying to separate you from your money.

  • Guest

    I teach 12 to 14 year olds. Posters like this normalize this kind of behaviour. Boys learn to treat girls like sexual objects and I have to deal with girls telling me they don’t feel going to their locker. Boys are making gestures like this at them, asking if they want to see their privates, saying things that I can’t write because they would remove this post. That’s sexual harassment. So yeah, this poster is a problem.

    • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

      Except this behaviour doesn’t come from out-of-context posters. It comes from a combination of societal factors and problems that are not solved by removing it.

    • Anonymous

      Movie posters aren’t supposed to raise kids, parents are.

    • Anonymous

      Wait wait wait… so we now have to start censoring posters because 12 year old boys are making nasty comments? Last time I checked 12 year old boys have always made nasty comments, and will continue to do so with or without ‘normalizing’ posters.

      “Boys learn to treat girls like sexual objects and I have to deal with girls telling me they don’t feel going to their locker. Boys are making gestures like this at them, asking if they want to see their privates” Isn’t it the role of teachers/parents/ guardians to have discussions on why making nasty comments/gestures are a problem?

  • Jpeck

    This movie sucks.

  • Goofy Buckles

    Maybe the person was offended because every hockey movie ever made is garbage.

    • Anonymous

      Slap Shot? Garbage??

  • Anonymous

    A highly successful publicity stunt, by any standard.

  • Anonymous

    There are two things here: the differences in how we treat sex vs. violence, and the way we depict (and fail to depict) women’s sexual experiences.

    On the first matter: there is reasonable ground for dispute on various facets of this—how explicit advertising should be, for starters—but the essential point here is that it isn’t reasonable to condemn advertising that is explicit about sex while sanctioning advertising that is explicit about violence. The issue that set this piece in motion is a double standard which holds that sex is problematic/offensive while violence is not—that Astral allowed the ads about bloody fights while removing ones about a sexual act.

    Violence is inherently problematic. Sex is not. But we live in a culture which is far more permissive about depictions of violence than depictions of sex, and that, in and of itself, is a problem.

    On the second matter: we still live in a culture that stigmatizes female sexuality in a way that it doesn’t stigmatize male sexuality. If depictions of performing oral sex on a woman are used to signal shame or disgust, we perpetuate that problem, too.

  • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

    In which I attempt to make myself more clear than I did above and in other comments:

    I had two main points.

    1. Funny that we remove this poster and not others depicting sex and violence. I’d rather explain to my kid why that gesture is ridiculous than why it’s totally acceptable for men to kick the shit out of each other.

    2. This gesture is used in negative ways and we should think about how that came to be.

    boywithredwings on Twitter pinpointed my clarity issue best when he wrote: “I think the bit about the Cunnilingus Monster reads like a thesis, so the swerve at the end registers as a headscratcher.” That’s fair.

    I don’t love the poster but I don’t think it should have been removed. I’m deliberately flippant and reductionist about the gesture and refer to puritanism to point out how ridiculous it is that such imagery has come to mean something so terrible, while we don’t even flinch at bloody faces or other sexist and objectifying imagery. Stripped of some of its uses, it really is just a tongue to some, implied oral sex to other. Not so bad.

    Then I go on to add sociological context and acknowledge that the gesture is generally used for awful and not empowering reasons—something I thought I made clear by quoting Baruchel’s juvenile comments.

    Finally, I strip it down again and say maybe we should think about this stuff when looking at advertising, why it’s okay to leave other violent and sexist ads up and not these ones, which wasn’t meant to be arrogant. More of a “this is very interesting culturally” kind of thing. When I wrote this it was unclear how many complaints had been made. The Star phrased it as “at least one” but I assume there’d have to be more to justify taking them down. It still isn’t clear. Regardless, I think examining this is worthwhile.

    Was it a mistake to have two points? Maybe. I thought both pertinent and important. Did I write about them well? Perhaps not. Could it have been clearer? Yes.

  • http://twitter.com/emmamwoolley emma woolley

    There’s also an issue of perspective. When I look at the poster I’m not offended but I think: “Ugh, this again, really? Why can’t this be a happy gesture? Why do people hate vaginas (and the feminine) so much?” Someone else could think something entirely different. I was asked to make my own commentary and that’s what I did, limited by my own experience and views, just like anyone else.

    John asked me on Twitter whether I was pro or anti pussy fingers. I said that the post wasn’t about me because my views on the gesture are complicated and it seemed like it’d take a long time to explore, but it’s become obvious that clarifying my stance has become necessary. The answer is mostly anti. I’ve had men do it to me on the street (which is a particularly gross form of harassment) and I’ve had friends parody it because they think it’s funny. I’ve seen teens and kids do it because they think it’s just a badass thing to do, like saying “fuck you.” Some men do it to taunt or call other men pussies, which as some commenters note, is equally misogynist and homophobic. I’ve seen entire groups of women (including myself, not proud) do it drunkenly simply because they know it’s somehow shocking. The gesture ranges from intentionally harmful to almost meaningless in its uses.

    I don’t like how female pleasure has been co-opted to symbolize—more often than not—such negativity. It’s inherently misogynist. At its most basic level it actually represents something pretty fantastic, which is why I find the evolution of meaning is so telling. I’m tempted to try to reclaim it (which sort of comes out in the first part of this) but I’m not sure that’s possible.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ms.Woolly, enjoyed your commentary. I wonder what would happen if progressive Torontonians started complaining about suggestions/depictions of violence in advertisements?

  • Anonymous

    First, I want to thank Emma for writing this because otherwise, I would never have known that this particular gesture had anything to do with oral sex. Never seen it before. I don’t doubt that other people (teenagers?) use it and are aware of it, but I wasn’t.

    Second, I think the article was off base in its conclusion that removing this poster because of complaints has anything to do with female sexuality and discomfort with the notion of females enjoying sex. Although I wasn’t familiar with this specific gesture, one look at the photo on the poster, and it’s obviously supposed to be rude. This gesture is to cunnilingus as a raised middle finger is to sexual intercourse, i.e. not really the same thing.

    If someone objected to a poster with a leering guy waving his middle finger, it wouldn’t mean that that person was anti-sex. It would simply mean that someone was offended by a gesture meant to cause offence.

    As evidence that cunnilingus is not the issue here, I remember a TV commercial that ran on Canadian TV in the Toronto market several years ago where a young woman was discussing a new boyfriend with her friends. One of the friends asked, “Does he like to…” and then she made a different but equally expressive hand gesture that indicated “going down”. The answer was, “Loves it!” Then the guy showed up and the ladies all giggled. I can’t remember what the product being advertised was (cologne? beer? toothpaste?) but I do remember that it ran for about a year, so apparently no one complained that the ladies were enjoying the sex too much. Also, as a guy who talks to a lot of other guys, I certainly don’t get the sense that guy culture looks down on going.

    I’m sensing mountain molehill syndrome.

  • Anonymous

    I’m offended by the reversed apostrophes in the second poster.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    This is a phenomenally stupid post even by post-Topping Torontoist standards.

    Where are the “pro-violence” ads that actually depict or symbolize violence the way the removed ad symbolized oral sex? The other billboard shown in this post, the one with bloodied fist and lips, depicts the aftermath of violence, but how does that make it pro-violence? How ’bout those “pro-drug” ads, though? Where are those?

    Where are the examples of real advertising brokered by Astral showing “women in lingerie or swimwear, or draping themselves over men”? Do they exist, or are they part of a hazy memory from gender-studies class?

    It’s a real stretch to claim that a single poster for a movie in a genre with barely any examples – hockey – “promote[s] sexism.” It’s also contradictory, because you can’t simultaneously argue against critics of the poster but also against the gesture.

    I see Woolley is faring about as well defending herself in the comments here as she did in making her initial point, if she even had one.

    Torontoist used to be a Weblog done right. Now it is one of a huge coterie of interchangeable, and interchangeably awful, purveyors of commodity downtown leftist blogging.

  • Guest

    I don’t know about you guys but when I get out of bed in the morning, before I brush and before I shower, I look for things to over-analyse and get offended about because that’s what makes life worth living.