Assvertising: VicRoads' "Stop the Gingas" Campaign

by Shaker oatsofwrath

[Trigger warning for bullying and dehumanization of red-heads.]

Controversy over new road safety ad campaigns is fairly common in Australia. These campaigns are usually funded by our State Governments, and the newest ad campaign by VicRoads, the road authority in Victoria (one of the most populous Australian states – its capital city is Melbourne), is generating quite a number of complaints. The two new film advertisements in VicRoads' new campaign centre on ridiculing people with red hair.

Exhibit One:

This one shows two white people with red hair in bed, a man and a woman, engaging in some sort of sexual activity (the ad plays on the incredibly original "women don't enjoy sex" trope, as the woman looks terribly bored by whatever is happening underneath the covers, as well as the "sex-happens-to-a-woman" trope, as she is having something "done" to her, rather than being an active participant), and the voiceover says: "Every time you use your mobile phone whilst driving, gingas get fresh, with other gingas. Don't be a dickhead. Don't use your phone." Then, in the 'small print' sort of voice, it quickly and quietly says, "Using your phone whilst driving may or may not result in gingas getting fresh".

Take-home message: People with red hair are ugly and disgusting, and no one wants to think about them "getting fresh".

Also, there's the oblique implication that a man and a woman (who will be presumed to by cis by most viewers) with red hair having sex together is particularly bad because they might just breed and then there will be MORE of them. There's a word for one group of (privileged) people trying to exert control over the reproductive behaviours and outcomes of another group of (marginalized) people, and it's pretty gross that eugenics would be played for laughs.

Exhibit Two:

This one shows the red-headed man from the first advert, just standing there, looking gormless as white wings sprout from his shoulder blades, as the voiceover says, "Every time you use a phone whilst driving, a redhead gets its wings. Don't be a dickhead. Don't use your phone".

"Its" wings. People with red hair aren't even really people, they're/we're* THINGS.

Obviously, VicRoads is aware of the bullying and hatred experienced by people with red hair, because otherwise, the ads wouldn't make any sense—not that they "make sense" exactly, but if red-headed people weren't treated with hatred and disgust, it wouldn't be seen as a bad thing for them to be "getting fresh" and possibly multiplying, and it wouldn't be bad for them to "get their wings", whatever the heck that's supposed to mean.

Hatred toward people with red hair may not be as bad in Australia as it is elsewhere (as in Scotland, where nearly 10% of the population has red hair, and the bullying of red-heads can be positively vicious), but it still exists, and plenty of people report being bullied as children because of their hair colour, as well as facing ongoing discrimination as adults. And this ad campaign seems to be actively encouraging that bullying, hatred, disgust, and prejudice.

Additionally, this campaign has been criticised for its use of the word "dickhead" because it's a swear word – though the word is quite obviously also problematic because it genders an undesirable behaviour, despite the irrelevance of gender when it comes to using a mobile phone whilst driving.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has received a number of complaints about this campaign, but they have no power to pull the ad. Of course, the ad has gone viral (as was intended) which makes it practically impossible to "pull". Complaints have also been lodged with the Advertising Standards Bureau, but apparently the ads do not contravene the code of ethics because red hair is not a disability, nor do these ads constitute discrimination, apparently.

There are a number of ways for Shakers to get in contact with VicRoads – this is a link to the 'Contact Us' section of their website, where you will find an online form you can use.


* I have red hair by henna, rather than by birth. I note this because, although I have had some crappy things said to me because of my hair colour, I am not in a position to share personal stories of bullying and discrimination people with red hair face, particularly during their school years. I do indeed have what I can only describe as "brunette privilege", so I welcome contributions from natural red-heads speaking to their experiences.

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