“How does Obama look there? With his eyes closed! Like he’s inspired! … It was a good joke” -Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, commenting on the new Benetton ad that shows him kissing U.S. President Obama.
At last report, the Vatican is still threatening to sue Benetton over similar ads showing the Pope kissing an Muslim imam.
November 21, 2011:
“This is a grave lack of respect for the pope, an offence against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation” -Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, commenting on clothing chain Benetton’s new ad showing a (Photoshopped) Pope Benedict kissing a Muslim imam
Benetton… boldly going where even PETA hasn’t gone before (though probably only because they hadn’t thought of it).
Benetton is, of course, no stranger to controversial and deliberately-shocking ads (some past examples); and in fact earlier this year, as part of the same “UNHATE” campaign, they gave us President Obama locking lips with Chinese leader Hu Jintao.
(Nobody really seemed to care about that one. It got virtually no press attention, and Rick Perry didn’t even try to use it as a campaign issue)
I should mention that a large banner displaying the Pope/imam ad was hung from a bridge near the Vatican, which probably crossed the line between edgy advertising and just plain obnoxious.
The Vatican issued statements calling the photo manipulative, disrespectful, and “partly inspired by hate” — in addition, obviously, to being unauthorized — and demanded that Benetton pull the doctored photo from its ad campaign. Benetton did so. The Vatican now says that it will “take legal action” against Benetton, though they haven’t been specific about either the grounds or exactly what they want.
Some people have compared this to American Apparel’s 2009 billboard featuring (without his permission) an image of Woody Allen (from his film Take the Money and Run) dressed as a Chasidic rabbi (not, by the way, kissing the Dalai Lama). Clearly the American Apparel billboard was presented as an endorsement, which just as clearly the Benetton photo was not: nobody could possibly believe that Pope Benedict and a Muslim imam agreed jointly to be spokesmen for Benetton and decided to seal the deal with a kiss.
(Israeli Prime Minister Netanyanu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas are similarly shown kissing in a Benetton ad, and it’s not likely those two will ever agree on anything)
In the American Apparel case, Allen sued for $10 million, and eventually settled for $5 million. This case is — or at least should be — best remembered for American Apparel’s line of defense: faced with the inconvenient problem of having no defense (come on, who doesn’t know that you can’t imply a celebrity’s endorsement without his knowledge or agreement?), they went with the argument that since Allen’s public image had been tarnished by his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, his former girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Allen’s endorsement had little or no value anyway, so whatever they were “stealing” was essentially worthless.
Seriously, on how many different levels is that wrong?
But back to the original question: Was the Benetton photo tasteless? maybe; disrespectful? you betcha — I mean this is the Pope, after all — but what grounds does the Vatican have for a lawsuit, especially now that the photo’s been removed from the campaign (though of course due to the nature of the Internet, it will always exist)?