Paul McNally
Paul McNally

Do you find the Vodacom meerkat sexy?

The way that cellphone-selling meerkat jives around, strutting its ass in a provocative way kind of reminds me of the dancing baby from Ally McBeal — and if I find 14 other people to agree with me and lodge a petition then we can sink the bastard.

A similar logic plagued a verdict by the Advertising Standards Authority last week. A billboard portraying a kid in denim-print nappies serving tea to its teddy bear with the tag line “work it baby” was banned.

The argument for the banning, helmed by 15 angry people, is in the context of South Africa’s high level of baby rape. Portraying a baby as adult like this is deemed grossly insensitive. And who is going to argue with baby rape? The shocking mention knots up any conversation. It is a grotesque tragedy that continues to escalate. If binning a nappies advert offers a slim chance of minimising baby rape then what self-respecting person will disagree?

Because banning this advert is the same as saying Bugs Bunny dressed as a girl bunny is going to play into the milieu of bestiality.

What about Miss Piggy in the freaking Muppet Babies? This was an animated show where the muppet characters were portrayed as babies going on adventures. Miss Piggy tried to kiss Kermit in every episode. What about when they dressed up those kids in the Dairy Milk adverts? There was sexual tension there.

If you think I’m being flippant about baby rape now, you were probably one of those 15 people.

This censorship, ironically, plays into basic advertising techniques. First, swapping one association for another. You like this giant clown, therefore you should like McDonald’s. You like this Huggies advert? You probably want to buy nappies. There’s a fear tactic in justifying censorship that tethers an easy argument for a complicated one. Here an easy stance is being against rape, but that isn’t the same as being against a kid portrayed as an adult for humour or commercial gain. It’s a discussion on the sexualising of babies and if this has any influences on the crime. By linking anything to baby rape you could have it tossed out. There is no evidence but fear that ties this advert to sex.

This follows a fear of exclusion. Advertisers prey on people not wanting to be left out. Huggies pointed out that most people joined the protest once they discovered a social anger, not from seeing the advert. Take a skittish insecure person and you can sell them a viewpoint or a new toothpaste. Can’t you SEE how sexual these new clothes are emperor?

Here we have an example of an advert offending people because of they have imagined that it will cause harm. And by choosing a harm so great, it’s not worth taking the risk of allowing it. Would you prefer a picture of a baby drooling? Can you guarantee that your baby rapist isn’t going to find a standard baby shot salacious?

I don’t understand the mind of the baby rapist and neither do these 15 people who protested or the board who decreed it unsuitable. The line in the sand is shifting and it is understandable as an irrationally fearful response to the climate. We are stabbing in the dark and a huge billboard is a pretty easy target to hit.

I understand the “greater context” but if we enter that realm you could ban everything. We are powerful at associating. Take the Rorschach test: most splodges are a couple of degrees from symbolising something horrific.

The travesty here is not that a conservative attitude prevailed, but that the basest of thought processes won. The verdict will create a false sense of accomplishment to the cause against baby rape and give a poor copy writer at Ogilvy a major headache.