Benetton has ripped down its posters of the pope kissing an imam, but otherwise the Italian clothing company is holding steady in its insistence that the controversial ads of world leaders kissing on the mouth are about tolerance and love.
The controversial ad campaign features digitally altered photos. Among them are images of President Obama kissing Hugo Chavez, above (in background), and Chinese President Hu Jintao. The ads were unveiled Wednesday in major cities, including New York and Paris.
In response to a request Thursday for comment, Benneton offered this statement from Alessandro Benetton, executive deputy chairman:
“The UNHATE campaign is an invitation to people around the world to combat the “culture of hatred” that exists in the world today. We are giving widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of ‘the other’ and of what is unfamiliar. Our goal is to inspire closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures and the peaceful understanding of each other’s notions. For anyone who hates this campaign, we ask them to unhate.”
The White House didn’t say officials hate the campaign. But spokesman Eric Schultz did indicate to the Los Angeles Times that the White House wasn’t fond of the poster-size images of the president in a liplock with other heads of state.
The White House has long disapproved “of the use of the president’s name and likeness for commercial purposes,” he said.
As Nation Now reported earlier, Benetton is no stranger to controversy. In spring of 2000, “We, on Death Row” ads featured death row inmates. Victims-rights groups were appalled, spurring Sears to pull an exclusive line of Benetton clothing from its stores.
Then there was the 1990 photo by Therese Frare that became a company ad. It showed a deathbed scene with AIDS activist David Kirby as he was dying of the illness. That photo stirred controversy as well — with its similarity to a pietà (a painting or sculpture showing Mary grieving over the body of Christ).