Despite the oft-repeated phrase “all publicity is good publicity,” most people with common sense know this is not true. (Emphasis on people with common sense.) But today more than ever, some believe that as long as something goes viral, gets re-tweets and “starts a conversation,” it has accomplished something significant and made a difference.
I was reminded how untrue this is by a new gun safety ad from the organization Evolve that has gone viral and inspired a lot of laughter, winks, and figurative high-fives from the left. What the ad is unlikely to inspire, however, is any meaningful attention from the audience that actually matters.
The PSA, which you can watch here, features two young boys playing with adult sex toys. The narration eventually says, “If they find it, they’ll play with it. So always lock up your gun.”
Based on this language it stands to reason that the target audience for this PSA would be those who actually own guns. Gallup’s 2012 analysis of five years’ worth of interviews with more than 6,000 Americans provide some of the most comprehensive insight into our country’s gun owners ever conducted. The analysis found that gun ownership is significantly higher among those who identify as politically conservative than those who identify as politically liberal. Other significant indicators for owning a gun: being male, being Southern, and being married. Being Southern and conservative are not adjectives that describe someone likely to find dildo humor funny.
A sampling of comments on various news sites makes the political divide surrounding this ad painfully clear. The progressive program Young Turks hailed the ad as “awesome” and “marketing genius.” But on the Huffington Post one commenter wrote,
“Liberals...not happy unless they’re being crude and tasteless. You must be very proud.” Another replied, “As a liberal I am very proud that these kids aren’t dead because some idiot didn’t keep their guns away from curious children. I’d rather have crude and tastelss [sic] adds [sic] than another funeral because some kid pulled a trigger to gun without realizing what would happen.”
These commenters are representative of a nationwide ideological divide. An Alabama obscenity law passed in 1998 made the sale of most sex toys illegal in the state. Despite multiple lawsuits seeking to overturn the ban, the law currently stands, though some have found creative ways to manage to access adult devices in the state, nonetheless. Until 2008 the sale of sex toys remained illegal in Texas until the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law unconstitutional, following a lawsuit by the Texas-based owner of an adult film store that also sells sexual aids.
While some may find these laws silly, plenty of people in these states do not. For religious and moral reasons they don’t view sex toys as a laughing matter or something they want to see when they turn on their television or see a PSA pop up on their computer screen. Others are well within their rights to think these people are sexually prudish and wrong, and to hope for a healthy debate on obscenity laws. But the debate over the role of sexuality in our culture is a far different one from the debate over gun safety. For many of us the latter debate is far more important than the former.
Which is why it is such a shame that in exchange for “buzz,” gun-safety proponents sacrificed something much more valuable: the ability to share an incredibly important message with people who really need to hear it; the message that gun safety matters and can save lives-–particularly the lives of children.
It’s too bad that much of their target audience will be too put off by the execution of the message to appreciate the substance of the message itself. And it’s too bad that because of that lives that could have been saved may not be.