Domestic violence campaign is correct. Politically.

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Australian domestic violence campaign commercial

What a piece of work he is.

By now, you and most of television-watching Australia have got your share of the $30 million awareness campaign aimed at curbing domestic violence in Australia.

The Let’s Stop it at the Start campaign is another in a long history of taxpayer-funded television commercials created – allegedly – with the intent to create social change.

We have blogged at length about this governmental go-to tactic before. Suffice to say that Hootville believes that there are many ways to create social change in 2016 and television advertising would be far down our list of tactics. Particularly so if the campaign comes with a $30 million price tag that could be directed at services or other social awareness options.

Television commercials, along with fridge magnets and mass letterbox drops risk being criticised as guilt-easing governmental expense motivated by the desire to appear to be seen to be doing something.

TV campaigns have their supporters. Many people point to anti-smoking and anti-drink-driving television campaigns and credit them with massive improvements in both attitude and behaviour.

These people are often the same people that have commissioned such campaigns or profited from their creation. These boosters forget that it is legislation and enforcement which made smoking expensive, inconvenient and often illegal. No doubt anti-drink driving and speeding commercials help shape driving habits but we dare say they don’t have the same pre-emptive impact as booze buses, speed cameras and demerit points. Fines may have played their part too.

So to our new taxpayer funded anti-domestic violence commercial. Rewatch it before you read on.

A few observations:

We like that this commercial exists. We really like how the commercial focuses not on broad attitudes but on small everyday, changeable behaviours. Rather than asking people to evolve to a higher level of being it demonstrates specific ways to combat everyday aggression and sexism showing phrases such as: “Don’t throw like a girl” in a negative light. Likewise sexting or being too quick to forgive a young boy’s aggressive behaviour towards a girl.

This is good advertising aimed as much at parenting as it is aimed towards curbing domestic violence.

One of the biggest mistakes any campaign can make – and we see it often – is to make the audience feel guilty or accused. People of all persuasions reject environmental doomsdayism and resent being told that their meat-eating, car-driving, central-heated lifestyles are to blame for rising sea levels and Indian summers.

Rightly or wrongly, many men – the prime target of this campaign – feel offended at the suggestion that they are inherently violent or sexist. They are inadequate idiots but we probably need to reach them with the message this commercial contains the most. Could humour / irony help? We think so. And yes, you can tackle any issue with humour.

This campaign risks offending a lot of people beyond just men. After all – when was the last time a parent took kindly to your feedback on their parenting?

We don’t like the very first lines  in the commercial.

When people are sympathetic to an argument they can easily overlook some miscalibration. The Let’s Stop it at the Start commercial opens up with a curious line of dialogue with the mother saying to fallen girl: “You’re OK. He just did it because he likes you.”

Is this really something that mothers tell their daughters after they have been the subject of some little bastard’s behaviour? It struck a strange note with us and we suspect that the oddness of it will create a convenient distraction for people who should be absorbing the commercial’s message. “He’s tired.” “He didn’t mean it.” “Did you do something to Tom?” may have been preferable.

Another distinct criticism we have of Let’s Stop it at the Start is that it is utterly Anglo-centric.

We hope that the many critics of our Anglo-centric media landscape waste no time in protesting the mono-faceted cultural palette on display. (We don’t think many will though.)

We have witnessed with increasing discomfort a ‘party line’ in the domestic violence debate that is at pains to present DV as everybody’s problem. It is everybody’s problem but just like other problems -  illiteracy, unemployment, pay day lender debt, diabetes – this problem does not impact equally across the demographic smorgasbord. No problem ever does. Not even in death are we equal – rich folk live longer.

The 2015 Dropping Off The Edge report by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services states that those living in the least advantaged 3% of NSW postcodes have a 300% higher than average experience of domestic violence. Indigenous women are 34 times more likely than average to be hospitalised due to domestic violence according to Professor of Indigenous Studies at University of Melbourne, Marcia Langton.

Does the commercial reflect this? Nope.

Though this commercial is aimed ultimately at targeting domestic violence, in the short-term it is a commercial aimed largely at parents. We should be aiming at parents from all cultures particularly those – and this will lose us some friends – who have grown up in cultures with different social norms around gender, violence and parenting.

Those groups in the community need to see themselves represented in this commercial. It’s difficult to see how the creators of this commercial overlooked that point. There’s not an indigenous, Southeast Asian, sub-continental, Chinese, middle-eastern, African, Eastern European or Maori face to be seen. All of these groups are huge components of contemporary Australia and they need to see themselves in such commercials along with those who look like they belong at Summer Bay.

Is political correctness getting in the way of an important social message? We wouldn’t be surprised. Sometimes a diverse display of people is politically correct. At other times an all-Anglo display is just as politically correct.

This recent anti-gambling commercial failed to show key cultural groups with a proven penchant for betting. What a wasted opportunity! And that scene in the park! And that music! Oy vey!

To pretend that only Anglo-celtic people need to consider their attitudes is a great disservice to us all. It also tends to tar a great many innocent people with a brush we’d rather avoid.

Note: the campaign website has content in non-English languages for those keen enough to seek them out. There’s also an Indigenous-themed radio commercial.

To be 100% clear – we understand that domestic violence happens everywhere. It is a cancer on our community and should be stopped everywhere. Priority #1. Everyone needs access to education and services but those services and awareness campaigns need to be targeted at those who need them most. The problem is too wicked to let political correctness stand in our way.

anti violence commercial

Feedback

Response from Citizen Clare McHugh:

Thanks for your blog. Interesting analysis but I can’t let it go without a quick response. What follows is a personal view.

No ad can be all things to all people. I’d love to see—and hope the government plans—subsequent ads and strategies shaping messages for particular groups and communities. However the poverty/cultural dynamic that you correctly identify as missing could make this ad a melange that does not penetrate with any message (and which you more than likely would analyse for its failure to send a clear message).

I suspect the pitch is deliberate (notwithstanding the much commented on middle-class Anglo-ness of our massmedia generally) so that ‘average’ citizens can’t let themselves off the hook. The ad does a good job in identifying how our own innocuous comments justify small incremental attitudes and acts of violence.

The people who want to be part of the change in society may recognise their own everyday comments and begin to think about their influence on children. By the way I don’t think the ‘prime target of this campaign’ is men. I think it’s trying to show how all of us, even well-meaning non-violent people, contribute to a community problem.

The ad does seem to target parents and parenting. What would an adult really say? See this six year old’s birthday party to hear what adults do say to children and each other in real life. Unfortunately it is still pervasive that too many adults care about their own social standing with other adults than about intervening positively or stopping something terrible.

The Royal Commission into sexual abuse of children tells us this in too many painful stories, repeated over decades across multiple institutions in society. This is what happens when adults do not want to look like they’re interfering, are worried what people think about them or their parenting or worried that their child’s behaviour reflects on them ie  looks sooky, will rock the boat or looks badly behaved.

My other major project at ECA is Start Early. Respectful relationships for life. You can see ECA’s Start Early site here or the modules themselves, which are aimed at educators of young children.

Love your work. Don’t always agree. But obviously it got a reaction!

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