A Gap in public tolerance

A Gap in public tolerance

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The Gap poster in New York that was defaced led to a campaign by the company to express love and understanding.
The Gap poster in New York that was defaced led to a campaign by the company to express love and understanding.
Photo: @TheMuslimGuy

Gap, the clothing and accessories shop, has been known to create a buzz with its holiday advertisements. They choose a theme and produce a series of photos to go with it. This year's series was no different, except that featuring the Sikh actor and jewellery designer Waris Ahluwalia seemed to touch a raw nerve.

A Twitter post showed the original "Make Love" slogan crossed out and replaced with "Make Bombs". Vandals had also scrawled across the bottom: "Please stop driving taxis." Gap responded, asking for the location of the ad in the New York subway and replacing it. It then changed its previously blank cover photo on Twitter to the same spoiled picture in the ad campaign.

The response to these series of events was overwhelming. A Facebook group thanking Gap generated more than 5,000 supporters, each praising Gap's actions against the defacement of its advert. Gap came out and made a strong public statement on what its holiday campaign stood for, saying: "Gap is a brand that celebrates inclusion and diversity. Our customers and employees are of many different ethnicities, faiths and lifestyles, and we support them all."

In a series of photos, Gap's campaign for the holiday season had depicted the love within families and between different ethnicities and sexual orientations. At a time when legislation and public opinion have increasingly stressed acceptance, the defacement came as a stark reminder that prejudices and misconceptions still exist.

Yet after reading a series of reports on this, I wondered whether what Gap did was the best thing to do. While the defacement did warrant a strong rebuke and Gap was perhaps obliged to defend its campaign and the chosen slogan, the precedent it sets could be a problem. A similar incident took place in Chicago with an advert showing musician Malcolm Ford and artist Max Snow posing together. It was defaced with anti-gay slurs.

Perhaps through these adverts and public responses, the "Make Love" campaign can achieve something greater than Gap had originally set out to do. By directly involving the company itself in the discussion of racial, sexual and social divides, it hopes to achieve an environment where such issues are freely voiced. Perhaps this is what's needed for us to allow the public to challenge their preconceptions and understand these individuals for who they are.

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