This month’s Super Bowl LIV saw an unprecedented number of commercials with LGBTQ+ inclusion, which has led many people to celebrate the supposed rainbow wave of advertisements. This pinkwashing, however, is the epitome of corporate cynicism. It exists to hide the fact that these massive corporations are not your friends, and certainly not allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
The night’s most watched commercial was an advertisement for Amazon Alexa, which starred Ellen DeGeneres and her partner Portia de Rossi. Ellen is likely the most well-known lesbian woman in America, and her starring role with de Rossi puts one of the least represented groups in advertising at the center of advertising’s biggest night.
While this might seem like a momentous step, it’s important to remember that Amazon is a company with a history full of labor exploitation and abuse. These abuses include constant supervision and tracking of warehouse employees leading to “hellish” workdays, and lack of appropriate medical care for workplace sustained injuries. Despite representation from upper-class LGBTQ+ people like Ellen, the vast majority of queer people are working class, and have far more in common with the exploited workers of Amazon than with exuberantly wealthy talk show hosts.
Sabra Hummus also made headlines for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, with its star-studded ad featuring Drag Race contestants Kim Chi and Miz Cracker. While an advertisement for hummus may seem harmless by itself, Sabra is a subsidiary of Strauss Group, an Israeli based food manufacturer that has provided material support for the genocidal Israel Defense Force, especially the brigades that have been notorious for their abuse of human rights.
Engaging with corporations like Sabra Hummus violates Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, a non-violent international movement that seeks to emulate the success of South African boycotts during apartheid to end the occupation of Palestine. By violating BDS, these celebrities are announcing that they very clearly do not care about the abuses faced by those in Palestine, particularly the queer Palestinians who are incredibly vulnerable to blackmail and intimidation from IDF soldiers or living undocumented in Tel Aviv. Queer liberation means supporting LGBTQ+ people across the world, not just celebrities living in the United States.
Perhaps the most talked about advertisement of the night was made by coffee megachain Starbucks. Their ad depicts a trans masculine person being repeatedly deadnamed before visiting a Starbucks and having their chosen name written on a coffee. While this ad struck a chord with many trans people, the reality of Starbucks practices towards transgender employees tells a much different story. Many Starbucks employees have spoken out about the abuse they have experienced while working at Starbucks, including being misgendered by managers and software, outed as transgender and denial of their supposedly trans-inclusive healthcare. Additionally, last December a transgender Starbucks manager was fired after a coffee cup was given to a police officer with the word “Pig” written on it by a friend of the officer, extremely ironic given the subject of their advertisement. While Starbucks may air big budget ads that pander to the LGBTQ+ community, their actions as employers reveal a lack of commitment to queer people.
It is important for us to remember that giant corporations are not our allies, and that advertisements which are designed to sell us products and take our money are not replacements for real activism or advocacy. There is a cynicism to advertising directed at LGBTQ+ people, which demonstrates that only because we are now seen as a viable market are we being acknowledged by these companies, and even then, they are often outed as hypocrites when no one is looking. Solidarity is vital to queer liberation, and we must resist these attempts for corporations to pander to us, and instead stand together with our queer and working class comrades in the working class and abroad.
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Thumbnail Photo courtesy of Peter Klauzner/AP
Zoey Turturino is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.