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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Homophobic Barilla boss part of Italy's conservative culture

Guido Barilla, head of the eponymous Italian pasta company sparked a fierce row that spread globally along with calls to boycott his company's products after he voiced what were taken by many as highly offensive remarks about homosexuals, saying he would not consider using a gay family to advertise Barilla pasta.
"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. "I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don't see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."
The interview where this dog-whistling occurred took such a turn because the interviewer asked Barilla about his views on how women were portrayed in the media in Italy, as the Guardian reported.
The interview started by asking Barilla what he thought of an appeal made on Tuesday by the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Laura Boldrini, to change the often stereotypical image of women in Italian advertisements.
Italy, where the Catholic Church insinuates its influence in cultural and political arenas, is also the country that is home to Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset, a broadcaster (see pic) that definitively exploits women in its programming as providers of sex. Barilla's insistence that women function primarily in the home as providers of food plays out in the imagination along precisely the same lines. A conservative bias like this is extremely unhealthy for both women and girls, serving to bolster a culture of stereotypisation and discrimination and exploitation. The man's comments fit into the opinion among many that Italy is a country mired in outdated ideas where given the continual development of cultural products women and girls are more and more expected to conform to limiting role models for the gratification of men. Part of that paradigm is a tendency to relegate to second-class status anyone who dies not fit the dominant lifestyle pattern, such as homosexual men. (Interestingly, there is no acknowledgement at all of homosexual women, or lesbians.) In Australia, we see politicians doing a similar kind of dog-whistling when they talk of "values".

A man like Barilla's comments furthermore foreground the importance of global companies employing spokespeople who are able to project a positive image of the company, rather than merely relying on tired and outdated tropes that gratify personal feelings.

Barilla is a global company and the remarks played out within a day to a global audience, including many people who regularly consume spaghetti and other pasta products. Among my friends the immediate reaction - for those who are gay as well as those who are not - was to make a decision never to buy Barilla products again in future. This was even without seeing the hashtag that emerged in Italian Twitter circles asking people to boycott the company's products. A local player like Berlusconi who only has to think of what people at home think about his views is at least tolerable in political circles - even if he routinely figures in satire overseas. But a company that relies on the goodwill of consumers throughout the world cannot afford to continue fielding narrow-minded executives prone to on-screen gaffes like Guido Barilla.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to buy any more Barilla pasta and I don't believe that the owner is sorry. There's a parody of this whole thing at http://youtu.be/2y1l_OFOvyM and I think the guy in that video is just as sincere as Guido with his apology! lol