Thursday, 10 June 2010

Anti-abortion propaganda or just clever marketing?

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There's a spot of controversy regarding this forthcoming Christian advertisement, which is intended to attract more people to church in the run-up to Christmas, which I believe falls on the 25 December this year. So before I go into more detail, ask yourself this: when you look at this ad, what do you see? Because in this controversy, perception is everything – defenders see a novel take on the birth of the Son of God, while critics see an unsubtle attempt at subliminal anti-abortion propaganda.

Dubbed "Ultrasound Jesus", it's designed by the ChurchAds charity and, say the Guardian, "is backed by a number of Christian organisations including the Church of England, the Baptist Union, the United Reformed Church, the Anglican and the Methodist churches". For their part, ChurchAds make no mention of the abortion debate as they proudly announce their forthcoming advertising campaign on their website:
"Research has revealed that 85 per cent of people agree with the statement that 'Christmas should be called Christmas because we are still a Christian country'. But it also shows that only 12 per cent of adults know the facts of the Christmas story in any detail.

So if we Christians really want to keep Christmas focused on Christ, we must constantly re-tell the story of his birth in ways which engage positively with the public's interest.

In the 21st century, proud parents-to-be proudly announce the coming birth by showing friends and family the scan of the baby. Our new Baby-Scan Jesus poster uses this convention to place the birth of Christ in an ultra-contemporary context.

It is highly impactful. It has a sense of immediacy. It creates anticipation. And theologically it speaks of both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ."
So far, so straightforward. But is there something more to their use of an ultrasound scan? Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, quoted in the Guardian, wonders if there might be:
"It is an incredible piece of naivety on their part. If they are hoping to stop the secular drift away from Christmas as a Christian festival, they risk doing the opposite. It gives the impression that it was politically motivated, that they are trying to put across some sort of subliminal message. The image is too specifically associated with pro-lifers to be seen in a benign context. They should go back to angels and cribs."
So it comes down to how we perceive ultrasound images. Do they, as ChurchAds imply, merely connote the joy and anticipation of a forthcoming birth or, as Terry Sanderson suggests, are they too wrapped up in the abortion debate, particularly when used by Christian organisations? After all, showing pictures of ultrasounds is a common technique used by anti-abortionists to make their argument that a foetus represents an inviolable human life. And anti-abortion campaigners, naturally, have embraced the campaign with open arms. John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child told the Guardian:
"The advert is saying that Jesus was alive as a person before he was born. They have a halo round his head and you don't have a halo around the head of a blob of jelly or a cluster of cells. This is not a cluster of cells but a human person and it just happens to be the God man Jesus. It is about the humanity of the unborn. That is a very, very powerful statement that will strike a chord with the general population."
I'm not sure what to think with this one. It'd be nice to think that abortion didn't even cross the designers' minds when they came up with the ad. The Church of England is, after all, involved in the campaign, and they tend to steer well clear of the abortion debate. Personally I would be more likely to associate ultrasound scans with expectant parents showing off their forthcoming arrival, which is what the designers say they intended. In which case, I'd say it's a smart piece of marketing. But perhaps ultrasound images are too closely associated with abortion for their use to be uncontroversial in this context. And that's without the addition of the halo, which you could easily see as intended to connote the sanctity of human life, as viewed by anti-abortionists.

So, I'm putting this to a poll, which you can vote in below. Plus, let me know what you think in the comments, particularly if the poll is lacking a suitable choice for what you think.


mumfie said...

I'm sorry, but the halo just makes a reasonable ultra sound just look ridiculous.

Of what is it made that it shows up on an ultra sound? The idea that it's real, and formed in the uterus just makes the whole poster even more laughable than it already is.

David Waldock said...

I love that 85% of the population said that Christmas should be called Christmas because we're a Christian country, but that only 12% new the nativity story.

So, to clarify, the majority of the population have demonstrated their ignorance on the topic (88% of the people were identified as not knowing what they were talking about!) BUT are expressing an opinion anyway, AND these people used that as a basis for a campaign?

And what's the betting that the reason the 15% said, "no call it something else" was because they DID know the story?

(BTW, I've no problem calling it Christmas, but I do find it amusing that Easter is named after a Germanic fertility goddess, so presumably next Easter we'll have adverts saying that Easter begins with a sex-crazed germanic goddess will we?)

Gaffer said...

There's nothing 'subliminal' about it

Eiskrystal said...

If people "did" know about where christmas is really from, surely the last thing they would be doing would be linking christmas with the birth of Jesus. Which was only one of the many marketing ploys subverting it's original meaning.

I also find it amusing that a so called "christian nation" overwhelmingley doesn't know it's own creation story.

Clearly we are not as religious as we believe ourselves to be.

Anonymous said...

If there is anything subliminal about this ad it's that information about a foetus can affect your decision to proceed with a pregnancy ... or not.

If I had that alien life form growing inside me I'd want it out, fast!

How about a 'Mary was raped' response ad to broaden the debate?

Eiskrystal said...

-"How about a 'Mary was raped' response ad to broaden the debate?"-

Nah, that's the rather minor crime of Joseph's personal property being used without his permission... hardly important compared to the death of a some cells.

Anonymous said...

Eiskrystal: Sorry, but they claim she consented.
But if you visualise a kid going through the birth canal inhibited with a halo, it must have been a sadist who conceived this ad... :-)

szf said...

Eiskrystal: Sorry, but they claim she consented.
But if you visualise a kid going through the birth canal inhibited with a halo, it must have been a sadist who conceived this ad... :-)

Eiskrystal said...

"they claim she consented"

I can't help thinking that you really wouldn't say no to an all powerful being known for torturing people on a whim.

Anonymous said...

Just like I just noticed someone else mentioned before.. A baby with a solid halo is going to be pure hell to give birth to!

It's perfectly-sized to get the head stuck, too!

Andrew MW said...

I'd love to see that halo drawn on a zygote or blastocsyt!

Ed said...

Each time I see "Christmas begins with Christ" I just cringe. It's been one big widespread lie. I'd be happy to say Christmas if it actually came from that idea in the first place but it didn't. It's a pre-christian festival that was christianised.