I take issue with the Vicariously Offended; the virtuous who take up the mantle of oppression, regardless of whether they are personally affected, at every given opportunity.
I bit my tongue last week when they took offence at Protein World’s Tube campaign questioning commuters’ ability to “keep up with a [very slim] Kardashian.” It was, allegedly, an affront to the corpulent; the promotion of unrealistic body ambitions: “fat shaming”.
A week on and enter the Germans, faced with their own barrage of offence over an ad from supermarket chain Edeka.
Like all good German folk tales, this one is backdropped by a snow-laden village, where the populace are thoroughly distended through poor nutrition. The protagonist, a young balloon, eats lots of healthy berries, loses weight, and learns to fly, much to the disdain of his still-fat townsfolk. The point is, healthy eating helped him to lose weight.
Talk about unrealistic body expectations. It seems that whether you’re a photoshopped-thin Kardashian, or a rotund German boy, your weight is insulting to someone. For an advertiser to avoid so-called “fat shaming”, you need to employ only the decidedly average; those with a BMI of 18.5 – 24.9.
Or maybe don’t. Perhaps, as humans, we’re predisposed to find extreme difference – whether svelte-bodied or cartoonishly plump – engaging, because it makes us question ourselves. And obviously, especially in the case of Protein World, a repeat offender in the realm of “fat shaming” following the “Are you beach body ready?” campaign in 2015, the point has become to shock and offend, because it gets column inches from those gracious enough to get offended on our behalf.
Advertising is unrealistic: it offers accentuated versions of our desired or undesired self, and solutions to achieve or avoid them. A Volvo ad showing a happy family isn’t #familyshaming, inasmuch as a grisly anti-smoking campaign isn’t #smokeshaming – it’s advertising, it has a purpose.
I will boldly surmise that most people aren’t offended by these ads; it’s patronising to think that we’re so vulnerable as to be incapable of seeing through them. But it’s dangerous to assume they should be censored.
Perhaps advertisers need the Vicariously Offended; the most famous books have been banned for upsetting someone. Every time a media outlet annoys Trump we’re told that “if you’re upsetting someone, you’re probably doing something right.”
It’s healthy to be offended, and both of these advertisers are challenging preconceived notions of normality through distinguishing the extreme. Are we really so impressionable, so servile to the media, that absurd advertising dictates our reality?
Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.