About Me

My Photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Morag Zwartz needs to get a life

Here's a sanctimious whine by Morag Zwartz about a Tourism Victoria advertising campaign that seeks to entice us to the joys of Daylesford Lake, one of the many beautiful spots in the state where I lived for three decades (the image I've provided is from the campaign).

As we see so often, Zwartz favours the suppression of speech that is offensive to the religious, or at least to a sub-class of the religious who are driven by self-righteousness and moralistic fervour. That, and she's suffering stress over the slightly ... well, naughty overtones of, gasp!, leading "a double life" (a punning phrase used in the campaign to emphasize the joys of getting away from your usual routine and enjoying yourself). She also seems angry just at the idea of people enjoying bodily pleasures. Indeed, as far as I can see she's troubled by the very idea of sexuality and fine dining.

Zwartz goes so far as to complain that the ad campaign is "trampling community values and moral codes" and "subverting [a section of society's] foundational ideas and values". She wants the campaign withdrawn, with an accompanying apology.

If you'll forgive the holiday theme ... give me a break! First, many of us out here in the wider world couldn't give a rat's rectum about whatever miserable values and moral code Zwartz might want to promote, and in any event I'm sure that viewers are smart enough to understand the real message of the campaign, visual and verbal puns and all. If she's literal-minded enough to think that the campaign is actually about selling adultery to an unsuspecting public - if that's the concept she's trying to convey - then maybe she'd like to pop up to New South Wales for a bit, and I can sell her the Sydney Harbour Bridge at a good price.

I have news for you, Ms Zwartz. I find it offensive that your brand of narrow-minded claptrap, seeking that certain kinds of things not be said, or not be said in certain ways that might - oh dear! - upset the religious, can get published. I'm especially offended to see such material in a high profile outlet such as The National Times. It's offensive to me that rants such as yours can always seem to find a platform ... as long as they are written to promote or defend the ever-so-delicate moral sensibilities of the religious. Well done, though: once again, you've demonstrated the sinister aspect of religion, which will so often object to certain things even being said as and when it can.

I don't, however, ask in return that you be censored. You should be free to say such meritless and offensive things, and even to receive payment, as long as you can find a platform. Mere offensiveness to me or to you or to anyone else is not a basis on which any of us should be shut up. You should be free to offend my sensibilities with your nonsense ... just as I am free to poke fun at you for your evident priggishness, sanctimony, self-righteous moralism, and shameless sense of entitlement.

The bottom line, my friends, is that Morag Zwartz should get a life. Not necessarily a double life - just a life. Any sort of life.

16 comments:

jon said...

Presumably the connection in name to Barney Zwartz, the Age's religious nutjob-in-residence, is not a complete coindicence.

The Age is more and more becoming a mouthpiece for religion; I'm planning to stop reading it altogether for a few months once all the Mary Mackillop rubbish kicks off.

Russell Blackford said...

Coincidence? Surely it's evidence of Design.

verbosestoic said...

Russell,

Reading her article, it seems that she's far more upset about the subversion of religious themes and imagery to at least help promote the second part of that "double life", when that double life is indeed actually opposed to the values of the religion the commercial is invoking in the first part of the double life. And I have to say, I agree. I'm not going to say all that much about promoting things that my religion or moral values don't approve of, but I think it's quite reasonable to be upset when you drag my religion or moral values in to do it.

Why couldn't they have left religion out of it? You don't get to deliberately try to play on religious sentiments and then get upset when religious people point out that you're misrepresenting the religions whose sentiments you're using to sell your product.

Add in that this is indeed just to sell a product and not to make some important statement about religion in general, I'm not sure how much it can use the "Free speech" argument. It's not trying to say anything, really.

You know, reading it over, if they had wanted to do this the best way would have been to simply use two obviously different women. Then the ad becomes more of a "something for everyone" ad and some of the implications go away.

Brian said...

Careful Russell. You'll upset your good pal Barney. ;)

The think that made me nearly LOL as 'Christianity is Wise'. What a load of old cobblers. The only reason we can have a piss take on xtianity, and not some other religions might be the Enlightenment and associated long term push against xtianity. Not because xtianity is wise or has learned (how does a family of ideas learn?). Give the Pope the power, or which ever xtian cleric the chance and we'd all be in stocks or worse for taking the piss of xtianity. Blasphemy laws these days take the form of Victoria's laws against religious criticism.

Verbostoic:

You don't get to deliberately try to play on religious sentiments and then get upset when religious people point out that you're misrepresenting the religions whose sentiments you're using to sell your product.

Why not? It's religions stock in trade? Turn about is fair play. Just replace religious with secular in the above quote and product with religion to you'll get my drift.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, you're entitled to your opinion, of course, but I think that the playful of use of all sorts of material from our culture - including religious and moral iconography etc. - is quite acceptable. None of that stuff is out of bounds. And surely it is playful, using verbal and visual puns to sell the tourist delights of Daylesford. It's not literally marketing adultery.

I still think her response is humorless and all the other things I said. Keeping religion out of things doesn't mean that advertisers can't play with our whole cultural heritage; it means that the state doesn't persecute people for their religion or impose the religion of its choice.

The only possibly-legitimate argument she has is that this particular ad was by a sort-of government agency, so she could say that the state is persecuting her or at least giving a state-endorsed anti-religious message. Maybe that would wash in the US, where both sides of these sorts of debates are on a hair trigger, but really it seems a bit far-fetched in Australian circumstances to talk about persecution by a body like Tourism Victoria. And would she really have taken a very different attitude if the ad had been paid for by a private body such as the Daylesford Chamber of Commerce? If she would have, and was really arguing that this is a separation of church and state issue, she should have made that distinction, and the article should have been argued in a very different and more sober way.

And the principle of free speech does apply to commercial speech. Why think it doesn't? Free speech values may not be as compelling in that area as others, such as political speech, but they still have application. Commercial speech often has great aesthetic and expressive value.

verbosestoic said...

Russell,

Well, my take was never that it was promoting adultery per se, but that it was associating the religious lifestyle with the more decadent one that it doesn't support. And so I ask: where's the line between playful and mocking? Surely I'd have the right to be at least a little miffed if I could reasonably see the ad as being mocking, no?

Granted, I haven't seen the commercial. And I certainly don't think that there should be any law or legal action on this. But if this really can be seen as mocking and therefore insulting to the religion, then it deserves to be called out on that.

This ties back into free speech. While the right is certainly in play, how insulting or mocking you can be is seen to be -- at least by the standards of etiquette -- related to the importance and seriously of your point. Insulting people over serious issues to make serious points is far more forgiveable than doing it to make a quick buck. We'd certainly all say that they CAN in the latter case, but a lot of the time we'd say they SHOULDN'T.

And I'd add personally especially if in about 5 minutes I can come up with a way of doing it that's just as playful -- if not more so -- and expresses all the same things about the area, but doesn't have the insulting implications.

verbosestoic said...

Brian,

"Why not? It's religions stock in trade? Turn about is fair play. Just replace religious with secular in the above quote and product with religion to you'll get my drift."

Um, I'd still agree with it even with the replacement: if someone is trying to use secularism to sell religion they deserve to be called out on it if they are misrepresenting secularism to do it.

Rorschach said...

What a remarkably silly, humorless and narrow-minded article.I just wrote about Barney's latest clustermug, and only heard about this one when one of my commenters pointed it out to me today, but by Zeus, what a pile of garbage.

steve oberski said...

Granted, I haven't seen the commercial.

Colour me surprised.

And I'd add personally especially if in about 5 minutes I can come up with a way of doing it

So when does your ad appear ?

As one of the commentors at The National Times put it, truly mature cultures can poke fun at their institutions and not take themselves to seriously.

And speaking of comments at the Times, the winner is:

Welcome back Ms Deveney, your best piss-take yet.

You can drop the alias now, you're not foolin nobody.


And indeed, Ms Deveney would be a welcome relief from that sanctimonious whiner Zwartz.

Necandum said...

For those who'd like to view the ad, here's a link:

Lead a Double Life

My personal reaction is that is one odd ad. I can see what they were trying to do, and it was indeed quite "artsy" (as far as ads go), but suffered from that common problem of vagueness that reduces the impact and appeal. Not cheesy so much as...flaky, though your mileage may vary.

As for the moral / Christain side of it, I can't really see what the fuss is about. Its done in good taste, nothing too blatant or crude, calm music and the religious themes aren't overt apart from key lyrics like "prayer", "lord" and the baptismal bath (I think) at the end (why'd they put that in?). I'm thinking that unless your sensitive to that sort of symbolism, the stuff could go unnoticed. Or maybe I'm just good at blocking it out...eh.

But bottom line, nothing offensive about it. Definitely no more than those Ansell ads and the huge billboards asking if you want "make love" for longer.

Kirth Gersen said...

Anyone can choose to be insulted, anytime, by anything. They can also choose NOT to be insulted. That's one of the benefits of free will: you can air a slightly scandalous ad, and not have to worry about being forced to remove it because some people are quick to play the "it offends my religion" card.

Anonymous said...

It’s a marketing campaign right?

It’s funded by the taxpayers of Victoria, right?

I would assume the taxpayers can come from a wide range of ages, can be female or male, single, couple with young children/teenagers, old people with income streams, atheists, theists, the prudes or the daring and people in between all of those categories.

I think the ad was done by someone lacking in marketing savy.

It is suffering from tunnel vision, targeting just a small segment of the market.

Jeez, I bring my 2 young children in Daylesford.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, maybe there should also be ads touting the child-friendly side of Daylesford. I dunno.

But I know Daylesford quite well, and it does in fact provide the grown-up pleasures of fine dining etc. It's a great spot for busy people to get away, take things more slowly for a while, and indulge themselves a bit.

I don't see anything wrong with having an ad campaign focused on this aspect. Tourism Victoria has many ad campaigns and they get to focus on different things, including things that are valued by different demographics.

Ophelia Benson said...

Great post!

God, how many Zwartzes do you guys have?

verbosestoic said...

Steve,

"Colour me surprised."

Yes, it's completely surprising that a Canadian has not seen an Australian commercial, and so has to rely on what other people say about it.

"So when does your ad appear ?

As one of the commentors at The National Times put it, truly mature cultures can poke fun at their institutions and not take themselves to seriously."

So, then please explain to me what "poking fun" is intended here by directly associating Christianity with things it disagrees with. Having now seen the commercial -- thanks Necandum -- the most obvious point would be hypocrisy ... but surely that could be seen as insulting to Christians, no?

verbosestoic said...

Kirth,

"Anyone can choose to be insulted, anytime, by anything. They can also choose NOT to be insulted. That's one of the benefits of free will: you can air a slightly scandalous ad, and not have to worry about being forced to remove it because some people are quick to play the "it offends my religion" card."

I think it perfectly reasonable, though, to choose to be insulted by things that really are insulting, even if that insult wasn't intentional. So the question in this case is: was it really insulting?

If the point had been that it was just expressing things that Christianity didn't agree with, I'd say clearly "No". But when the commercial ASSOCIATES Christianity with values it doesn't agree with, that's a different story.