Italy snaps over gay poster excess
Barbara McMahon in Rome
Sunday September 18, 2005
Half-naked models are commonplace on Italy's advertising hoardings but a kiss between two fully dressed men has caused a furore on the streets of its capital.
Photographer Oliviero Toscani has ignited a furious debate over homosexuality with his latest adverts featuring two men kissing and groping on a sofa. The billboards have triggered outrage at a time when the rights of homosexual couples are being hotly debated in Catholic Italy.
In one poster for the men's clothing line Ra-Re, one of the models is clutching another's crotch. Another shows the same model lying across the sofa and pulling his boyfriend on top of him for a kiss.
'These posters are vulgar and a bad example for our children,' said a spokesman for the parents association MOIGE, which wants the adverts banned. 'It's not a matter of sexual orientation. They would be crass even if they featured a man and a woman.' Complaints have flooded in to the offices of Rome city council and an organisation called The Citizens Defence Movement has joined the chorus of criticism. 'Obviously we respect homosexuality but it can be difficult to explain to young children,' a spokesman said.
Toscani, who was behind the controversial Benetton clothing company adverts and whose career has been built on shock tactics, was typically unrepentant. The 63-year-old photographer admitted he had taken advantage of the current debate in Italy about the legal and civil rights of gay couples.
'There's a big discussion going on about homosexuality in Italy so I thought it was the right time to do something like this," he told The Observer. "I don't think it's vulgar. It's just two men having fun together. These parents who are complaining - their kids already know about this stuff. The Vatican is not too happy with me either but the church is an anachronism in the world today. I don't think it has any influence on young people.'
During his 18-year collaboration with Benetton, Toscani was accused of cynicism in using controversial images for commercial ends. They included a dying Aids activist, handicapped children, a man slain by the Mafia, and a nun kissing a priest. In 2000 he left the company after a campaign featuring death row inmates sparked a series of law suits. Demands for the adverts to be withdrawn have had little success. A spokesman for Rome city council said it was not their job to decide what was morally acceptable in advertising.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams