The Freedom To Offend

Chicago Defender: A billboard along the Dan Ryan Expressway touting radio shock jock Howard Stern’s move to satellite radio next month has raised the ire of St. Sabina’s leader, the Rev. Michael Pfleger.
howard_Sirius.jpg
The billboard, located on 86th and Lafayette, features a Black fist with the headline: “Let Freedom Ring and Let it be Rung By a Stripper.” The ad promotes Stern’s radio show moving from broadcast stations to satellite on Jan. 9.
“I am not surprised about Howard Stern, but am surprised with Viacom. The billboard is in bad taste.”
Viacom, one of the world’s largest media companies, owns MTV, as well as BET and UPN, the latter two networks that target African Americans. Viacom Outdoor, a subsidiary of Viacom, bills itself as “the world’s largest out-of-home media company.”
“Let freedom ring” was taken from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black fist is a significant symbol in the African American community because it has long been seen as representative of “Black Power.”
“To take this phrase made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for freedom and justice, and trivialize it in such a way is both disrespectful and unacceptable,” Pfleger said. “As we prepare to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, we will not tolerate this kind of brazen disrespect. Howard Stern may have managed to push his craziness on cable, but we should not have to tolerate it in our communities.”
[via Adfreak]
[UPDATE]
In related news, Adweek reports that Lamar Advertising, one of the nation’s largest outdoor advertising companies, has refused an ad sponsored by the New York-based Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License that shows an Arab holding a hand grenade and a driver’s license.
Saying that the advertiser was playing on racial fears to get its message across, the Baton Rouge, La., operator of more than 150,000 billboards rejected the ad planned for display in North Carolina and New Mexico.
The advertiser was able to run the ads on billboards operated by Magic Media.

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About David Burn

Native Nebraskan in the Pacific Northwest. Chief Storyteller at Bonehook, a guide service and bait shop for brands. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. Contributor to The Content Strategist. Doer of the things written about herein.

  • http://multicultclassics.blogspot.com HighJive

    While both billboards wound up offending audiences, they probably symbolize different issues.
    In Stern’s case, it’s a matter of copy and images that elicit completely different reactions from different audiences. Stern’s core audience probably thinks the ad is hilarious, and might not even see any Black references at all. Many Blacks, on the other hand, read the ad in a completely different style. It’s possibly unintentional insensitivity — pretty rare for someone like Stern. Plus, it may be another example of culturally-clueless mass market ad agencies failing to realize the mass market extends beyond White folks and Howard Stern’s listeners. Finally, it’s really bad media placement at a really bad timeframe (close to MLK Birthday and Black History Month). All ridiculously sad, but probably not planned to create this specific controversy.
    In the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License case, it’s straight up racial bias, playing off paranoia and profiling. You can view the work at http://www.securelicense.org/site/PageServer. Interestingly, a key official for the organization used to work for Ogilvy Public Relations. Sadly, terrorism and war seems to make these messages acceptable to many Americans. However, as Adweek indicated, many folks in the Arab-American community have already protested against this stuff.
    Great way to celebrate the spirit of the holiday season, huh?

  • http://multicultclassics.blogspot.com HighJive

    While both billboards wound up offending audiences, they probably symbolize different issues.
    In Stern’s case, it’s a matter of copy and images that elicit completely different reactions from different audiences. Stern’s core audience probably thinks the ad is hilarious, and might not even see any Black references at all. Many Blacks, on the other hand, read the ad in a completely different style. It’s possibly unintentional insensitivity — pretty rare for someone like Stern. Plus, it may be another example of culturally-clueless mass market ad agencies failing to realize the mass market extends beyond White folks and Howard Stern’s listeners. Finally, it’s really bad media placement at a really bad timeframe (close to MLK Birthday and Black History Month). It’s all ridiculously pathetic, but probably not planned to create this specific controversy.
    In the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License case, it’s straight up racial bias, playing off paranoia and profiling. You can view the work at http://www.securelicense.org/site/PageServer. Interestingly, a key official for the organization used to work for Ogilvy Public Relations. Sadly, terrorism and war seems to make these messages acceptable to many Americans. However, as Adweek indicated, many folks in the Arab-American community have already protested against this stuff.
    Great way to celebrate the spirit of the holiday season, huh?

  • http://adpulp.com dB

    It’s absurd to think Howard Stern’s “right” to free speech equates in any way with the struggle for civil rights.
    Throwing bologna at a stripper’s ass is stupid. This ad–and I can’t imagine that it is unintentional–is much worse.