Taco Bell And "The One I Feed"
Update: By the way, the important message here — a message that I don’t know if I highlighted enough in this piece — is that if an LGBT community member or ally sees or hears a homophobic or transphobic ad — Contact GLAAD! We can and do often get good activism from LGBT community organizations when we give them good input.
Often times, GLAAD isn’t aware of poor media portrayals until we tell them we’re hearing or seeing these. So, fill the void, and help GLAAD do it’s job better!
A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered “The one I feed.”
~From an anonymous voice, as told in Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Anna Wipfler has an informative post up at the glaadBLOG entitled Taco Bell Acts Quickly to Remove Transphobic Radio Ad:
After receiving several reports from constituents and advocates about a transphobic radio commercial for Taco Bell, GLAAD joined a handful of watchful bloggers in calling on the company to cancel the ad. This afternoon, Taco Bell agreed to pull the hurtful material from further broadcasts after conversations with our National News team and other concerned advocates, including Autumn Sandeen of Pam’s House Blend.
While no audio recording of the commercial has yet been found, BorderHouse blog published the most complete description of its content on January 7th:
Some male tells a female (presumably his wife or girlfriend) that it’s a surprise that there is nacho cheese in a layer of the Taco Bell burrito. The woman responds with “Well, I have a surprise for you. I was born male, my name was Claudio” and her voice is lowered several octaves. After which, the male says “Ew.”
Over the past few weeks, I’d heard from three separate people about this ad. The last one was my friend Kelly Moyer (of GLTNewsNow) who contacted me Tuesday (January 12th, 2010). Kelly and I both contacted GLAAD; we both contacted Taco Bell; we both tried to find recorded audio of the commercial.
I heard from enough people to know that this was a real ad — just one that I just hadn’t heard. So, in trying to find the audio for the ad, I found the BorderHouse blog‘s post on the ad, and forwarded it to contacts at GLAAD. (GLAAD too had also been hearing from multiple people about this radio ad — folk who also weren’t pleased to hear the ad.)
So, both GLAAD and I contacted Taco Bell Media Relations, and both told their representatives that the ad was going to be problematic for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community — and specifically the trans subcommunity of the LGBT community — when more of the LGBT community heard the ad.
And, the reason why the ad would be problematic for LGBT people has to do with gay and trans panic. The synopsis of the ad is the same trans/gay panic defendant strategy that we’ve heard for many crimes before, including for the killings of Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata, LaTeisha Green, and Jorge Steven López Mercado, for example.
Taco Bell took it to heart. Within
40 4-working-hours of hearing the rationale of why the ad was problematic for members of the LGBT community members, the process for taking the ad off the air was initiated. (Correction of a typo that unintentionally multiplied the actual working hours it took by a factor of ten ~AVS ) In a statement by Taco Bell Corp. spokesperson Rob Poetsch Wednesday afternoon:
We sincerely apologize as the ad was not meant to offend anyone and as soon as it was brought to our attention, we immediately stopped airing it.
The issue appears that the folk who wrote the ad actually were looking to make a cheesy novella (think Nacho Cheese being hidden in a burrito layer), and trying to think of an ad that communicated a…well, cheesy message. But, what these writers didn’t do is think the ad completely through, in the sense that trans people really exist in the brick-and-mortar world; Taco Bell wasn’t aware that community members in the trans community, community members in the broader LGBT community, and allies of the LGBT community would take offense to the ad.
Which takes me to two thoughts. Visibility matters; community working together matters. Folk were contacting each other about the commercial, and as of Tuesday community members and a community organization began calling Taco Bell to engage their Media Relations department in meaningful dialog about the ad. It was not the action of any one individual that caused Taco Bell to realize that their ad was seen as offensive or painful to many trans people, but the actions of members of, and an organization of, the LGBT community.
The other thought takes me back to where I started this piece: Back to the quote about the wolves we feed. It would be so easy to be so angry at Taco Bell for being unknowledgeable about trans community — and assume the corporate intent was malicious. If those of us who were contacting Taco Bell behind the scenes fed our “vengeful, angry, violent” wolves and confronted them with anger, we might have had the same effect of seeing the ad pulled, but we wouldn’t have been seen as being fully rounded human beings. Presenting ourselves as fully human — as well as acting humanely to strangers — and willing to take the time to teach the folk at Taco Bell about trans panic…well, it worked without tearing down the humanity of those we were talking to at Taco Bell. We made partners out of folk at Taco Bell — instead of creating enemies — by appealing to the humanity in those we talked to. The “loving, compassionate” wolves made winners of both Taco Bell and LGBT community.
I think it was a good way to end the Wednesday this week, for sure.