Pasta Wars: Visual politics and culture at web speed.

A couple of weeks ago there was an unlikely entrant into the visual culture and politics discussion.  Pasta.  Yep, that humble stuff that is usually found dried in boxes or GUIDO-BARILLAcellophane packets in the supermarket.  The stuff that you take home and smoother in tomato sauce, or cream, bacon, cheese, vegetables, and then twirl around forks and eat.  The stuff that is eaten the world over and as kids we used to glue onto pieces of paper to make “art” (clever visual culture reference eh?)  The very same stuff that makes carbohydrate phobic people recoil with terror and Italians scream with joy.  Yes, humble pasta became the centre of the visual culture debate.  Why?  Because of the largest pasta maker in the world, Barilla. and their Chief Executive Officer, Guido Barilla.

Guido Bariilla made a number of comments back at the end of September where he said things that angered a number of people in the LGBTQ community and a lot of straight people too.  The first was that he wouldn’t ever feature gay people in his adverts.  The second thing was that he felt that gay adoption was unfair on children.  The third was that gay people should go and eat a different brand of pasta if they didn’t like this.  This predictably caused a bit of a firestorm against Guido and Barilla.  The internet took off like lightning and before we knew where we were Facebook and Twitter were on fire with people ranting and raving about the whole situation (on both sides).  The whole thing was quickly hotter that the water needed to boil the pasta in and Guido and Barilla were in a jam.  Guido released the predictable apology the next day, which actually made things worse, due to it having not been properly vetted by his marketing folks.  This was swiftly followed up by a video thebertolli day after with a contrite Guido looking appropriately sheepish and promising to meet with homos the world over to solve world hunger, kiss babies, cure cancer, and end world wars.

So what’s the visual culture and politics link to all of this then?  The politics link is easy; LGBTQ issues of course.  It’s always a firestorm and regardless of the rights and wrongs or your beliefs on all of this, Guido Barilla should know better.  His shareholders don’t care about who is right or wrong in the debate about LGBTQ rights.  They just care about people eating bucket loads of pasta, something that his comments put in jeopardy one way or another.  The visual culture side of things though comes in the way that the other pasta companies reacted and how swiftly too.

First off the blocks was Bertolli.  They came out with this image almost immediately that flew around the web like wild-fire.  It’s a testament to their marketing department that they were off the blocks so quickly and it’s an amazing example of the power of social butonimedia.  The images spread almost as quickly as Guido’s faux pas.  They also took care to spread the story through other channels that they had featured television commercials with gay couples in before.  You can see one of them here.

Hotly in pursuit was Buitoni with their effort, also designed to show their inclusivity and to further take advantage of Barillas stumble.  I have no idea what the Butoni position actually is on same-sex equality but at that point in the game it didn’t really matter; they were just another footprint on the back of Barilla who were lying facedown in the dirt as everyone raced over them to declare themselves “Friends of Dorothy”.  The image that they created, as you can see, were direct and to the point.  They didn’t pull any punches at all and stated their position clearly with no room for misinterpretation.  Butoni took a slightly riskier approach perhaps compared to the fun approach of Bertolli but they were both powerful and tapped into the explosive issue that had been kicked off by Guido and they used it for their own ends.

The point of all of this is that the quickest way of “showing solidarity” with the LGBTQ community (and their money) while stealing market share from Barilla was with images and the web.  They recognized the impact of visual images to communicate a message and they took the shortest way to activate it; people and the web.  It took advantage of the fact that a major part of our culture is visual and that it is now also based on accessibility and speed.

Guido and his company didn’t stand a chance.  By the time they got around to doing the video two days 1380825_10151946696603033_2044411317_nlater food banks all over the place were filled  with Barilla pasta and newspapers all across the world had well and truly done a number on Guido and the gang.  It’s only now, two weeks later, that the Facebook page for Barilla in the US has started to post recipes again after a hiatus.  The speed with which it all happened and the way it played out through the visual mediums of pictures and videos was staggering.  The fact that it happened globally was equally incredible.  It’s the first time I can ever recall something like this happening.  Yes, there was an incident with Chik-Fil-A last year, but as a company they are pretty inconsequential compared to a company the size and scale of Barilla.  There was also nowhere near the scale of visual response to the affair as there was this time either.  People were even creating HRC equality signs out of pasta shapes for their Facebook icons!

PASTA_MEMEX400My favourite image that come out of it all was this one.  I saw it online a few minutes after the whole affair happened.  It’s plain, simple, and to the point.  Another example of how visuals work and it communicates its message perfectly, regardless of whether you agree with it or not.  On a more humourous note though I did think to myself that pasta is a funny thing.  Pasta is always a plate or bowl of the same thing.  So it’s “homo” not “hetero” anyway.  “Homopasta” is something we have all grown up with and is entirely natural.  So what’s the big deal?

Big love,



Sex Box: The Visual Culture of Hidden Sex.

This blog is proving to be interesting. The last post didn’t really contain an image to discuss (other than a cute one of me and my husband) but talked more about the issues around making or not making art a certain kind of art.  I was quite surprised as to how many people clicked the “like” button on the post on Facebook and who found it on WordPress.  This post also follows in a similar vein and also draws its inspiration from a news article that I found.

Here’s a link to the news article that was on Pink News, a web site in the UK that follows LGBTQ news issues in the UK. Basically we have here a show that invites people to have sex, in a box, on TV.  The people who have sex then get to talk about with others on the TV show including Mariella Frostrup from the Observer Newspaper, a panel of experts including relationship adviser Tracey Cox, sex columnist Dan Savage and the author Phillip Hodson.  Not for the faint of heart it seems.  It’s part of Channel Four in England’s “Real Sex” series and is all about reclaiming sex from pornography.  Here is a link to the Channel Four website about the show.  So why is this showing up in my visual culture and politics blog?  Well, there are a number of key points here to think about.article-2429812-1832D13100000578-567_634x417

It’s on television to start with so that makes it about images and video.  It’s about something we either do, want to do. think about doing, and is about something that shows up in other aspects of visual culture.  Sex is in adverts, in magazines, in films, books, and in music too,  So sex is very much about the visual culture of today in my mind.  One only has to think of the flap around Miley Cyrus a few weeks ago at the MTV awards to see that sex and the visual portrayal of it is something that gets people all hot and bothered, even if they dress it up as being about someone’s singing ability instead.

Returning to the TV program then. The part of the article that originally caught my eye was the fact that the show, naughtily called “Sex Box”, will feature three couples, one of which is a gay male couple.  This did surprise me,  We’ve only just got to the point where we can show same-sex couples having a kiss on TV, let alone discuss the fact that they might “do it”.  So this is quite a big step.  Not that anyone is going to see anything anyway.  When the couples enter the “Sex Box”, which is an opaque box in the studio, the TV cameras will be turned off for 20 minutes while the couples “have it off” as it were.  Then, when they exit the box, the cameras start-up again and they engage in a period of conversation with the panel and the TV audience.  Who knows what they will talk about.  For that I guess we will have to wait and see the show itself.  But the idea is that they will talk about the ins and outs of their sex lives (pardon the pun).

Now I am a liberal-minded chap and am into all sorts of telly, when I get time to watch it.  But I’m having a hard time understanding the value of having the box in the studio and then people actually having sex in the box during the recording of the show.  If the conversation was to be about the sex they JUST had, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t seem to be the case.  The mission is about reclaiming sex from pornography, something that this seems to be skating very close toward.  It’s probably the closest any TV show has come to bringing actual real sex to the audience on a mainstream, free to air channel.  You don’t get to SEE it, but you can bet the tension of it will be in the air, either real or imagined, both in the studio and in the viewers homes.  That’s an interesting new twist on sex and visual imagery, don’t you think?  The ultimate in suggestion, perhaps.  Almost hidden sex.

Wedding photos; Political speech or creative expression?

The visual culture of politics.  As I mentioned in the last blog post it seems to cover a lot of things really and I’m discovering that this can really go in a lot of different directions.  I’ve looked at using a service like Instagram to communicate a political message (Lance Bass and his recent engagement), the use of comics to reflect issues of sexuality in contemporary culture (Batwoman), and now I’m thinking of looking at the issues of how photography and image making is being used in political speech in a seemingly innocuous way.  Yep, in a nice segue from the last piece, I’m going to carry on talking about marriage but specifically about taking picture of the gays getting hitched.


James and I on our wedding day in 2010 in England

There has been a case going on in New Mexico recently about some wedding photographers who refused service to a gay couple having a commitment ceremony.  They cited that this was against their religious beliefs as they believe marriage to be between one man and one woman.  Now you may say that they are within their rights to have that belief, and, much as I disagree with their point of view, I agree that they are entitled to have whatever beliefs they want.  But there are two other important things at play here.

First, they are saying that as photographers, their work is creative expression and that is protected free speech under the first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America.  Secondly, New Mexico has a Human Rights Act that states that couples cannot be discriminated against based on whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex.  Enter the wedding/commitment ceremony image into the realm of politics (you knew I was going to be able to tie it all together didn’t you….). The case was first of all heard by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, who found that the photographers were guilty of discrimination.  Then it was heard by the New Mexico court of appeals who also found the photographers guilty of discrimination.  Then it was heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.  They too upheld the decision that the photographers discriminated against the couple.  Now the photographers have decided to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

I won’t bore you with all the legal details.  For that you can find plenty on the web here, here, and here.  I’d also like to clear up one other thing as well about the way the couple in the original case felt about things.  They probably were not suing to make the photographers do the job.  That would be crazy.  Who would want these people at their ceremony after they have refused to do the work?  They would have found someone who actually WANTED to be there.  They likely reported the discrimination to get the issue raised and fixed, that’s all.  But what it surfaces is the fact that images and their creation are now seen as personal and political expression and also political speech.  The photographers, in their brief to the State Supreme Court, were very clear that they see the images that they make as representative of their beliefs because the images are their “creative expression”.  If they are to be believed then one of their concerns is that people will perhaps consider that they are not being true to their own beliefs on marriage, which, whether they like it or not, are also political as well as religious beliefs due to the current debates on marriage equality across the globe.  Logically it follows that their images can then also be seen as political images.  By refusing to make images of a same-sex commitment ceremony they are making a religious and a political statement, again, whether they like it or not.

Do they really have a choice then as to whether they use their images to make a political statement?  Absolutely they do.  They operate a business that compels them under the law to offer services to everyone and under the current terms of the law they can choose to not offer wedding/commitment photographs to anyone at all.  Whether that is fair or not is up to the courts to decide.  But their seemingly innocuous images are political speech for now, that much is clear.  At least until the US Supreme Court settles the case by either refusing to hear it or ruling on it.

Big love,



Bats, Lesbians, and Comics.

I’m discovering that this visual culture of politics thing is both difficult and interesting.  Or interesting and difficult depending on which way you want to look at it.  As I look around at images I can see lots that have political leanings to them.  Some are overt and some less so.  Most images can be taken to have a meaning of some sort if you are hell-bent on giving them one and want to argue your point hard enough.  But that’s not really where my interest for this particular blog lies.  I’ve had a bit more of a difficult time so far finding images that fit with what I wanted to explore on this blog, mainly images that deal with the LGBTQ political sphere and visual culture.

Well, I found an interesting one today in drifting around online while not feeling 100% (Boo for summer colds).  It’s all about DC comics, marriage equality, comic book writers, and the fact that Batwoman is untitledlesbian.  Yep, you got it.  I didn’t know either.  It seems that I have been living under a comic book rock for a very long while and that Batwoman is the highest profile out female gay character in the comic book world.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.

From an LGBTQ news perspective there is a bit of a kerfuffle going on as the writers of a Batwoman have just resigned from DC comics.  You see awhile back Batwoman got engaged to her girlfriend Maggie, a policewoman in Gotham City, and DC comics were cool with that.  Of course they would be, I hear you say.  Why go to though all the hoopla and criticism of having a lesbian caped crusader if you aren’t going to let them get married, right?  Not so fast….  It now seems that DC comics are not going to let them get married after all.  So the writers say on their blog as to why they are resigning.  But I digress.  I am getting caught up in the politics and this is supposed to be about the visuals, right?

So why mention this at all?  Because comics (and their close relation, cartoons) are an almost eternal part of our SawyerBatwomanculture.  Almost all of us grew up with them in some way or another.  We either bought them as kids, got them out of the newspaper, read them at the dentist/doctors, and some people also read them and collect them as adults too.  Witness the sheer number of people involved in things like Comic-Con, the international corporation that talks about comics for proof of how many people see comics as relevant in our lives today.  They are also a pretty much entirely visual medium.  The fact that they are reflective of some of the social issues of the day shouldn’t be a surprise at all, though it caught me be off guard in this case.  If you are interested you can read the full news story about the writers at this link.

So Batwoman is a lesbian.  With a fiancée.  She has a utility belt and can kick your ass as well, just to prove that stereotypes are alive and well in comics too.  She’s visually dynamic and culturally relevant.  It’s also really political too.

Homos in comics?  Real life my friends.  Personally, my money was always on Spiderman…

Big love,


Homoworld – The Return

So, Homoworld is back up and running for a bit.  That’s a surprise right?  It was for me too….

You’ll recall that I put the blog on hiatus at the end of 2012 when I finished my yearlong project of self portrait photography and writing about LGBTQ news issues.  The photography side of things fed my MFA thesis at the University of Kentucky (book incoming shortly…) and the writing and news aspect helped to thin out my friends list on Facebook somewhat.  It also helped win me some new friends and also prompted some wonderful comments from other friends and family, some of which were quite unexpected!

So why is this blog back?  Don’t I have enough to do?  Yes, is the answer to THAT question.  I’ve just started my final year back at school, this time in my second Masters degree program.  I completed my Master of Fine Arts (Photography) program in May (Huzzah!) and now I have one year left of my Master of Arts (Art History).  One of the classes I am taking this semester is the “Visual Culture of Politics” and it so happens that there is a blog project involved in the class.  What’s the blog project about?  Well, that’s going to be evolving over the semester but it will be basically discussing imagery in visual culture with a particular leaning toward politics.  There’s a surprise, eh?  Me and politics back together again.  So rather than start a brand new blog off it seemed appropriate to dust off Homoworld once more…this time with a different slant.

This time around then Homoworld won’t be dealing with my images.  It will still be dealing with politics but it will be dealing with politics in relation to images from other people and places.  That may be traditional photographs, film, video, magazines, web, etc.  Who knows?  I guess as the class unfolds and the assignments take shape the blog will unfold too.  It will be interesting to see where it leads this time.  One thing is for sure and that is that I’ll welcome your input as the blog develops, so feel free to chime in as before in the comments section.

So with that, onto the first assignment which was to provide a definition of what politics means to me and to provide an image that relates to that definition as well.  Well, the standard dictionary definition of politics refer to all the usual things like “The science or art of political government”, “The practice or profession of conducting political affairs”, or the “methods or maneuvers” in achieving a goal, etc.  I particularly liked the “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, especially in a business or FullImageuniversity”.  Those all came from by the way.

However, I prefer to use one of the definitions that comes from my trusted source (of course) the Oxford English Dictionary, which is “The assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or activity, especially when concerned with power and status in a society: the politics of gender (or sexuality) [I added the bit about sexuality]”.  That ties in quite nicely with my main point of interest on sexuality and equality.  That also fits in with an area that I’d like to look at some more with regard to politics, imagery, and LGBTQ issues and news.  Of course the term politics can have many definitions and we can pick and choose the term that best fits the purpose that we are looking for but in this case, with regard to LGBTQ issues, I would say that this fits rather nicely, wouldn’t you?

So what of an image that I would consider to be political in this context which was the other part of this opening assignment?  I chose to include this rather cute picture of Lance Bass proposing to his fiancé that he posted on Instagram the other day.  What, I hear you cry?  This is hardly political, you say!  Oh but it is.  Sex is always politics, especially when it comes to dealing with Homos here in North America.  You certainly also don’t get much more political than being one part of a pop group aimed at a young heterosexual audience and then coming out as a big old queer and proposing to your boyfriend on Instagram.  That’s a big bold statement for power and status in a majorly politically and visual way.  So there is my definition and my first example of an image related to Visual Culture and Politics.  From NSYNC, I give you Lance Bass with no “Girlfriend” but a boyfriend via Instagram.  How modern is that?  Welcome to the culturally relevant social media world and “Bye, Bye, Bye” to the old way of doing it.  This image communicated all we needed to know and in a very political way too….



Homoworld in review and the end…for now.

Greetings all.  Well, 2012 is at an end and a new year is here.  Homoworld the blog started one year ago today.  Back on January 1st 2012 I decided that I would set myself the challenge of taking a self-portrait each day, some of which would be used in a body of work I was planning on creating, and some of which would be just a series of self-portraits possibly representative of an ordinary gay man – through high points, low points, sickness, health, happy, sad, etc. (and the picture for today is after a New Year’s Eve party so I look particularly rough…  Along with the self-portraits I decided that I would visit an LGBTQ news website each day and pull out a news article and draw attention to it with a little bit of writing._MG_3290

Here I am one year later having completed my task.  I have 365 self-portraits completed and 345 blog entries.  The gaps in the blog were when my summer consulting job took over my life, but the daily pictures continued.  But what did the whole project teach me and what did it produce other than those tangible things?  First it taught me a lot about LGBTQ politics and current affairs.  I thought that I was fairly politically savvy and well read.  I realized that I did know a lot but there was also a lot that I didn’t know too.  I learnt that a lot of people speak a lot of bollocks as well.  I found out that I had misunderstood things about LGBTQ history.  I learnt new terms.  I learnt that some parts of the world have it harder than I knew and some parts of the world have it easier than I thought.  I learnt that there are a lot of really fucked up people in this world.  There are also a lot of people who love people and do a lot of good.

There are also some people who don’t understand things no matter how many times you try and explain something to them.  But you keep on trying because it just might go in some day.  I am proud and happy to say that I have had numerous emails from people around the world who have told me they have learnt things from my writings and my posts.  That makes me really happy and has made this project worthwhile.  I have also lost a few friends on Facebook too.  But that is good and I am glad that they are gone.  This blog helped weed them out and I clearly don’t need them in my life.

The biggest thing I have learnt over the course of this year is that change happens.  I have seen amazing things happen in the LGBTQ world in just one little year.  Just one little year!  I can’t wait to see what happens in 2013.  A number of people have asked me if I will continue Homoworld in 2013 as they look forward to it and read it every day.  It won’t continue on a daily basis for now but it will be back so watch this space.  Homoworld won’t be going away for good as there is a place for it, or so it seems.

So for now, so long.  Happy New Year.  Treat each other with love, respect, and equality.  2013 will be a banner year.

Big love to you all.


Charlie Sheen and the maggots.

Today’s Link

It wouldn’t be the end of the year if Charlie Sheen didn’t pop up once more in some sort of random drunken rambling.  This time gay people seem to be the target.  He appeared on stage in Mexico and called us all faggots.  But he has now apologized and blamed it all on the fact that he has a lisp and really meant to say maggots._MG_3280

Why do I mention this?  Because for better or worse he is someone who a lot of people look up to for some reason.  As soon as people like him learn the error of their ways (if possible) then maybe things will get better for everyone.  Hopefully things will change some in 2013.

Speaking of, have a happy new year tonight.  Be safe and I’ll be back tomorrow!

Big love,