The above billboard in Melbourne advertising details of an RACV sponsored Australia Day event became controversial over the last few days as a result of extensive social media criticism regarding the featuring of two muslim women in the advertisement. Yesterday it was removed in response to threats made to the company behind it.
A key theme in the criticisms was the issue of “inclusion”, with many contesting the selection and focus on a minority group of Australian citizens, rather than the use of imagery which included representatives of all Australian people. Another concern was the idea that the Billboard represented a move away from the traditional Australian cultural narratives, such as the beach, BBQs and in one tweet, “thongs” (the type you wear on your feet).
Common to the concerns expressed was a strong reluctance to be directed to a new form of cultural identity, especially one which not simply welcomed other cultures, but rather placed such cultures as symbols of Australia and Australian life. Australians it seems, like to be multicultural only if multiculturalism comes as sideshow to the main attraction. New cultures are welcome as long as they conform, respect and keep quiet. Be who you are, but don’t show your face.
This attitude does not of course belong to all Australians. As the continuing outrage in social media shows there are plenty who think otherwise. At least enough to raise $30,000 in a crowd funding campaign now being run to erect a new Australia Day advertisment featuring girls in hijabs.
Despite displaying what at times might seem like shocking beliefs, the airing of the various opinions surrounding the controversial Billboard is not however the key problem in this situation. Far from it. It is a key principle of our democratic society that opinions be able to be aired and confronted, in the hope that genuine and reflective moral progress in social values might be allowed to occur. In fact, the response of the population in such situations enables the identification of areas of concern which need to be addressed to promote social cohesion and respect. That some people have concerns is something to be addressed respectfully and with consideration.
The real issues here concern the actions of those who bullied the company involved into removing the Billboard and the response of the company in removing the Billboard. To empower those that threaten harm to others in order to maintain their own view of the world is akin to allowing the school bully to control the classroom. It encourages a climate of fear against those who seek to challenge the status quo. This in turn reduces our chances of achieving a peaceful and respectful community.
Threats are bullying behaviours. They should be reported to the police and dealt with as unacceptable behaviours, rather than being accomodated by the community. To do otherwise ensures that it is the bully’s voice, which will be heard the loudest.