What’s wrong with this ad?

April 7, 2016 • 11:10 am

Here’s an ad for a new clothing line involving a collaboration between The Gap corporation and comedian Ellen DeGeneris. Look at it, and then guess why it provoked a huge burst of outrage on social media—one so violent that The Gap is going to pull the ad.

The girls, by the way, are members of Le Petit Cirque, described (not in the ad) as “the only all-kid humanitarian cirque company in the world, comprised of eye-popping, pro-level children aged 5-14.”


Have you guessed the problem?

Now here’s an earlier ad from The Gap. Would having seen this tend to ameliorate any criticism directed at the photo above? If not, why not? The fact is that it didn’t.


Now read about the issue, and see a sample of social media outrage, at the BBC site where this was posted. (See also here.)

I’ll leave comments about the sensitivity of people, and the obsessive search for things to be outraged about, to the readers.

h/t: Barry

103 thoughts on “What’s wrong with this ad?

  1. At first glance I don’t see a problem with either.

    At second glance the white girl has her arm on top of the black girl. The black girl is shown in a subordinate position.

    RACISM 11111@@

    1. Oh, gosh. I thought the problem was that they were subordinating the value of love to the value of adventure.

      1. Yes, you might hope but I don’t see a whole lot of promise ahead. I just found this expressed at another site by a commenter named “windjammer”: “Oh, no, you can’t use red ink to correct quizzes. The color red hurts the students’ feelings, you know. You need blue, or green or some other color that won’t induce such trauma.”

        We may have surpassed the tipping point.

        1. Yes, I thought afterward that I should’ve ended that sentence with “but it won’t happen”

        2. You sure that wasn’t a poe? It’s the sort of think I might say. Sarcastically.


          1. *thing* !!

            And I can’t even blame autocorrect.

            (I do sometimes think before I say things. And sometimes I even say what I think. This is usually a mistake, though).


          2. Strangely, the autocorrect in my brain saw “thing” as I read it, and I had to go back and check when you corrected it.

    1. I’m not sure I follow this logic. The relationship between the two girls may have nothing to do with what the photographer was trying to (or accidentally did) communicate. In screen or print media, sibs can portray complete strangers, or enemies, or a slave slave-owners pair. Adult sibs can portray lovers, parent-child, pretty much anything. At best what this line of thinking argues is “if you understood some backstory that is impossible to derive from the image itself, you wouldn’t be offended.” Um…okay. That’s not much of a defense.

      I don’t really see much problem with the image to begin with, but I don’t buy “they’re sisters” as a valid defense of it, either.

    2. Obviously, the mom only adopted that girl from Africa so that she could be an armrest for her older, white sister. #Oppression

      I bet she has to do all her chores too.

  2. We need a reincarnation of Roseanne Rosannadana as a counter-rant to the nasty tongues of the hyper-offended.

    Why would it be a bad marketing moved for a corporation like GAP to say: No, it’s not racist and we’re staying with campaign? Do this but once, I think, and the greater world might well say, thank you!

  3. I’m sure the ad campaign has zillions of photos of the same girls in a bunch of different poses. Just use a different one.

    Or better yet, give some artistic control to the Le Petit Cirque members themselves. Let them choose their poses to start with, then work to make their choices photogenic.

    I don’t find the criticism of the new ad particularly out of place. I’m not offended but I can see how others could be. Its IMO a reasonable complaint. However, the comment at the link that the first ad is ‘different because here the girl being leaned-upon looks angry, while in the earlier ad the [white] girl being leaned-upon looks fierce’ to be laughably post-hoc. I’m not buying it. You want to say both are offensive, I see that. You want to say neither, I see that too. You want to tell me one is offensive and the other isn’t, you’re biased.

    1. I agree at the post hoc reasoning.

      Taking the second, older photo, I doubt if it were a black girl in the cross-armed stance it would have mitigated the uproar.
      It may also have raised the accusation of caricature “do all black people have to be posed in a hip-hop crossed arm stance???!!!”

      Or if the black girl had adopted the expressions of the Asian/white girls in the left of the old photo, the charge could have come “this just re-enforces the depiction of black females as aggressive! Racism!”

      These type of uproars imply that other races can be posed in all manner of expressions, and no racism is implied. But if a black person is posed in anything but a strong or noble stance…”racism!”

      I certainly would agree that when a race is trying to overcome racism, examples of nobility and strength, symbolic and otherwise, are helpful. But if we are to be restricted to such depictions for fear of racism, it’s interesting that it suggests a sort of reverse racism, where one community must be tip-toed around, and “can not handle” being depicted in a realistic spectrum of behaviors.

      Fortunately, IMO, despite the examples we keep seeing, I think these extreme reactions aren’t typical. After the ridiculous recent viral video of the “appropriated dreadlocks” video I checked out a number of sites where black people were discussing the issue and by far the majority of comments were on the side of “what’s the problem here?” and quite reasonable.

  4. A laughably pathetic display of bullying, special pleading, double standards, faked outrage and virtue signalling all rolled up into one nauseatingly self-righteous package.

  5. Two things:

    First, I’m a white dude so I obviously don’t see anything wrong with it. I would, however, defer to people of colour who do have a problem with it and show empathy.

    Second, it seems to me that the people that have issue with the image are adults. Are kids capable of picking up on this? If not, there should be no concerns.

    1. Re your first paragraph, it sounds as if you’ve been cowed into accepting that other people shouldn’t have to adhere to the same standards that you do, based on their skin colour. Why do you accept this double standard?

      1. I’m not sure where you are seeing a double standard. Please explain.

        What I was merely trying to express is that I am less perceptive to racism than its victims and might need a little help identifying it.

        Similarly, if I wasn’t sure if something was sexist, I’d ask a woman. Same goes for asking a Jew their feelings about anti-Semitism.

        Obviously some claims to racism/sexism/anti-Semitism are blatantly outlandish and can be ignored with hubris.

        1. The problem with that approach is the underlying assumption that all people of colour or all women, etc, agree on what does and doesn’t constitute racism or sexism, but the reality is that opinions will be split.
          There is the idea doing the rounds that if a member of a minority group tells you that something is so, then it is so, an idea so blatantly ridiculous I’m surprised anybody takes it seriously, especially when no one person can be said to speak for all, and when opinions within any group will differ enormously. And yet here we are being told that we cannot use our own reasoning but must let others think for us when minorities are involved because only they can judge what is offensive.
          I find that offensive.

          1. I do not suffer from that underlying assumption. What I’m saying is that if I want to know something about art, I ask an aficionado. For food and wine, I’ll consult a connoisseur.

            For opinions on discrimination, I’ll check it our with a minority.

            The reason I do this is because I learned a very valuable lesson living in Holland. My ancestors are Spanish and although I am white as copy paper, my looks are Southern European. Many Dutch racists (and believe me, there are countless millions) treated me like shit and said despicable things to me because they thought I was Turkish/Moroccan/Muslim. The longer my beard, the worse the attitudes.

            Before I lived in Holland I’d never had anyone be racist to me. This led to the rather lucid realisation that until you are on the receiving end of discrimination you actually know very little (or, rather, absolutely nothing) about it.

          2. A valid point. It can still get tricky though.

            In regards to cultural appropriation, a *white* SJW told me that “your opinion doesn’t count for shit, the marginalized person is always right’

            One of my friends, who is Chinese, says that she doesn’t care what white people do with Chinese food. The author of an article on cultural appropriation was pretty upset that white people would cook Chinese food and dare to sell it.

            Which one of them is right? If your opinion does *not* matter, and the minority person is ALWAYS RIGHT, then which one do you believe?

          3. But marginalised people cannot always be right. OBVIOUSLY! And as Nobody Special said, opinions will be split.

            Clearly SJWs getting upset when white people cook Chinese food is just ridiculous. This is just faux outrage.

            But witness the Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) debate in Holland. Every year on December 5 Dutch people put on blackface, paint themselves some big fat red lips and play the part of the little slave boy of the Dutch Santa Clause (Sinterklaas).

            Now, a great many blacks have no problem with this at all but the majority find it offensive to some or other degree. Most white people in Holland are getting their knickers in a knot because someone wants to take away their favourite toy.

            So, is Zwarte Piet racist? If you’re white, wouldn’t it be best to check with the other side?

          4. Yes, I think that it all comes down to what a ‘reasonable objection is’, and your example certainly fits that bill.

            SJWs take it to absurd degrees.

          5. Some racism is so overt that nobody can miss it. Some is more subtle but can usually be detected with a bit of thought. But when you have to stand on your head, squint your eyes and look at it from just the right angle to see something that could, given the most bad faith interpretation possible, just slightly resemble something that might be offensive to somebody trying really, really hard to be offended, then you’d probably be justified in rejecting the notion that it actually is offensive.

        2. p.puk, what I meant by a double standard is that you are willing to accept the legitimacy of someone else finding offence in something you would not find it rational to be offended by yourself. If someone asked you if, as a white person, you found the second photo offensive, and your first reaction was the obvious one of thinking it an absurd idea (because it’s obvious that the pose is entirely about height and nothing to do with skin colour), then you are entitled to expect a black person to respond the same way to the same question about the first picture. If they don’t, or someone doesn’t on their behalf, it’s clear that the so-called offence is completely affected and designed as an abusive — and extremely cynical — exercise of power. Actual hurt feelings are not, I suspect, involved at any point.

  6. And what about the poor kid on the left? is it right to use her as a prop just because she’s had to learn to walk on her hands because of a horrible leg condition?

    Sure, put her in a circus and make her shill for clothes with Ellen. I think it’s cruel.

    1. Yeah, look at that big frown on her face. She’s clearly unhappy to be exploited like that. C’mon kid, turn that frown upside down!

    2. As someone who is short, I’m offended that the tall girl is making the short girl subordinate.

      1. Yeah, I’ve always been the short white girl and all my black friends are considerably taller than me, so it wouldn’t occur to me that there was a problem. I did get a kick out of our wonderful substitute yoga teacher (Chinese) whom I tower over by several inches. Doesn’t happen often. Never worried about power dynamics.

        1. You shorties! Always complaining about how awful it is to be short. You have no idea what it’s like to be the person always asked to get something off the top shelf, banging your head on the hand rails on the ceilings of trains and buses, not to mention the problems of finding jeans that go down past your shins and also fit your waist, find a set in the bus where you can get your legs in too, having to fold up to sit in the back of a car. As much as the world isn’t well sized to fit short people neither is it sized to fit tall people, but short people have the advantage of taking up less space, whereas larger people need extra space which is often just not there.

          I once lived in a house for about a year before I realised I instinctively ducked to get through the kitchen doorway because it was too low for my height. And my favourite seat at a local cafe has a lamp directly over the table which I habitually bang my head on when I stand up to leave.

          Whew! Had to get that off my chest. I’ll let you get back to normal programming.

          1. Diana and Merilee should take solace in the fact that airlines, at least in Cattle Class, take hideous, prolonged and humiliating revenge on anyone with longer legs than average.


          2. I am 6ft tall and sitting at the theatre or on a plane is quite painful.

            I can’t stretch out my legs and such uncomfortable seating only causes my sciatica to flare up:(

            Woe is me:(

          3. I’m not complaining about being short; I’m complaining about short people being subordinated by the tall as in this ad. I’m okay with my height except it’s the legs that make me short, which means cars can be tricky because my arms are normal length but my legs are short so it’s hard to adjust the steering wheel & pedals properly. I actually had to pass on getting a manual transmission in my roadster because I couldn’t adequately depress the clutch.

          4. Oh dear. Or as the lady that came with me at the dealership when test driving the roadster said, “stripper shoes”.

  7. In the first image, the intent is clearly to say that “the place for a black girl is as a literal prop for a white girl”. In the second image, the intent is clearly to say “black girls aren’t capable of standing on their own”. So the two images are consistent in their message.

    They’re obviously a racist company – so racist that they’re completely forthright about it, in an attempt to indoctrinate our children into racism.

  8. The kids in both photos look stressed. I would be too if I was a kid that was labeled as ‘humanitarian pro-level’. Let them suck on lollies and romp in playgrounds instead of them focusing on saving the world.

  9. What’s wrong with this ad?


    What’s wrong with some people? Have they ever seen kids playing together?

  10. I have no idea what is wrong with this ad.

    This leads me to think that I am a type of person who can be indistinguishable from any of these types: person who is incapable of being offended, person who does not care what’s offensive, or a person who does not know what’s offensive.

    1. Sorry bro but this means that you are a white supremacist. Your casual racism is noted.

      If not white, it means that you have internalized racism.

      At any rate you are a very bad person and you should feel really sorry for all of the harm you have done with your wrong think.


  11. There’s nothing wrong with either of the ads and if Gap had simply said that, I might even buy something from them. Bob Terrace is right: kids like to play together; it’s the “grownups” who are immature.

  12. To mangle a great movie line: “I love the smell of outrage in the morning.”
    Well, I don’t, but it seems that all too many people do, and all too many “news” outlets are happy to provide them with material and a way to express their hurt fee-fees.
    Enough already!
    [That last remark is not addressed to our host or the commenters here, but to the people in paragraph 2.]

    1. As one of the commenters here, I am mortally offended, also micro-outraged, that you are, by your disclaimer, implying that we might feel your comment applies to us. This clearly suggests that we are implicated in the suspect behaviour, whatever that might be. We demand an apology (but please understand, any possible apology you might make can only make things worse for you, as it will confirm that you were guilty of deliberately setting out to hurt our fee-fees).

      You can’t win.

      (Deeply offended commenter)

      1. There are some people, typically called ‘on the left’, who are outraged over a different thing every week. So nothing gets enough time to be addressed and only strengthens the tribe’s virtual signalling.

        There are also some other people, typically called ‘on the right’, who are outraged about modern society all the time. So the outrage is too big to tackle and only strengthens the tribe’s virtual signalling.

        Have I mentioned that I’ve come to value the analysis of peoples’ motivations as tribal behaviours?

  13. I thought that it was that a couple of those poses might lead to back and joint problems later in life.

    Taken in isolation, it’s possible to find subliminal racism, sexism, etc.-ism in almost anything. It may be worthwhile to point out the potentially offensive interpretation. To raise a stink about it, and to get the ad pulled, when nothing untoward was intended, is counterproductive.

    1. Anita Sarkesian has famously said:

      “Everything is racist, everything is sexist..everything is problematic”

      So there you go, you sh*tlord!


  14. I looked at both those pictures for probably a minute before I understood what was the “problem”. I don’t know what that says about me. Is a minute too long?

    1. Probably not. I had to read the BBC article, but then I’m a whitey white tall white dude so I’ve got an excuse.

  15. I think it’s obvious.
    In the upper picture the black child is being held down by the white child – thus symbolizing the racist hegemony of modern western society.
    In the lower picture the black child is leaning on the white child, indicating that the photographer thinks the black child cannot stand without the support of their white neighbor – thus symbolizing the racist hegemony of modern western society.
    Life is so simple when you wear SJW glasses.

  16. At first I thought the kids might be spelling out an LGBT-friendly word, thus offending the religious right, but couldn’t tally the poses with letters.
    My next guess was that the only kid in pink was a girl, which possibly could be a valid criticism.
    Is it a failing on my part that the colour of the kids’ skins didn’t factor in my guesses? That what I saw was four typically cute stage school kids posing for the camera?
    Sod those always seeking reasons to be offended. Me, I prefer to follow the words of the late Ian Drury, polio victim and singer with The Blockheads, and look for Reasons To Be Cheerful.

    1. Yes, I spent ages looking for a “Village People” word. Like you I didn’t really notice the colour of the kid’s skin at all. When I looked at the second photo, I did notice what I thought was a rather self-conscious attempt to include every race (bound to fail), and wondered if the first picture had failed this test.

  17. Wait a second…
    The girl in pink. She’s clearly culturally appropriated a dreadlock hairstyle from the true legal owners of that style – identity politicking college student representatives from the University of San Francisco.

    1. No, it’s offensive to Asiatic paraplegics, who are excluded from the picture. Also trans people. Also [attach list of all ethnic groups and orientations not included in the picture]. Also the footwear industry. Also wearers of glasses. Also cabbages. I could go on…


        1. Ah, I *knew* there had to be a PC term for it!

          Except, ‘corrective-lens-enabled’ would include contacts, and we can’t be sure one of them isn’t wearing contacts…


          1. Well, I have to wear one pair of glasses for driving or viewing TV, and another for reading.

            So I am being oppressed by optics. Also gravity. The universe is oppressing me!


  18. I honestly failed the test. My guesses were:
    – Only the slim white girls are shown as the limber athletic ones.
    – Their bodies spell out some offensive Y___ word that I can’t make out.
    – It’s somehow exploiting young girls or a sexually suggestive use of minors.

    *bzzzt* nope, racism.

  19. I’m a middle-aged black woman and I have seen LOTS of racist s**t in my day. But, this? Come on people.

  20. Can we like, start a program to find jobs or something, ANYTHING, for these SJWs to do? They seem to have an AWFUL lot of spare time on their hands…

  21. Please, people – stop assuming that those young people are ‘girls’. They may be transgender individuals who identify as ‘boys’, or may be agender, otherkin, etc. ‘Girls’ is sexist language and reinforces patriarchy.

  22. A quote from the BBC link:

    “Writing in The Root, a black culture magazine, Kirsten West Savali argues that the advert compounds “the feeling that our black bodies are undervalued and positioned to serve as props upon which white bodies can be better appreciated and admired.”, For her the critical reaction on social media was most definitely “valid”.

    I just have no idea what that means. And I don’t think it’s because I’m out to lunch in terms of sensitivity. Rather, it seems so out to lunch in terms of the claims it seems to be making. It is, after all, a claim about how someone like me – a white person – sees the relationship of black people’s bodies to white people’s bodies.

    I’m white, know a lot of white people, and I can’t think of one person whose thought process that quote describes. I can’t even think of what it means to say I may think of a black body as a prop for a white body to be better appreciated. Sans any actual argument or empirical data, it just seems like a fantastical inference.

    (And, btw, there is a long standing cliche of the “superiority” of the black male body in various aspects to the white male. This cliche – however accurate or inaccurate it may be – goes against this idea of the black body propping up the appreciation of the white body…whatever the hell that still means!)

  23. You know what? I’m glad I’m almost old. If this is where we are going and the new Regressive Red Guards take the lead I don’t think I care living in such a world

  24. Try as I might, I can’t see anything wrong with it. Even includes a coloured girl so ‘all-white’ can’t be a reason. (Not that I think that would ever be a valid reason anyway, but some people do).


  25. Now read about the issue, and see a sample of social media outrage, at the BBC site where this was posted.

    Yeah, that was weird. But for sheer batshit crazy it doesn’t match the next story on that same web site, about the Indian yoga teacher who wants to behead anyone who won’t say a BJP political slogan.

  26. You are all wrong.

    As a short person, I can tell you this is pure heightism. Tall people are constantly using my head as an arm rest. If I object, they peer down and say “Oh, was that you squeaking down there?”

  27. I rotated the pictures and looked at them from various angles. Yeah, some kids are taller than others. I still don’t see the problem.

    Is the problem in the mind of the beholder?

  28. There’s plenty of true racism left in the world to be angry about without “straining at a gnat…” When my husband was a young college student tutoring hispanic boys in East Los Angeles, one time he was the only white person in the car he was driving with a bunch of hispanic boys. This caused him to be pulled over by the police on suspicion of who knows what (maybe they thought he was being kidnapped!) All were pulled out of the car, and the car was searched. If that had been a car full of white kids, that wouldn’t have happened. We lived in the LA area during the Watts riots. Read any of the books by Walter Mosley set in Watts to get a sense of what it was like to be black in L.A.(and especially in Watts) back then. More recently, a hispanic male friend of ours pulled into a rest stop in Montana or Wyoming. Police officers kept him standing beside his car in the rain for over three hours. There was no reason to have investigated him and, certainly, no reason to mistreat him. This man is an engineer with 3M.

    I continue to hope that true racism will decrease over time and disappear. Focusing
    attention and energy on such picayune issues
    as these ads does not promote the needed change or equality.

  29. The hightism is outrageous.

    But seriously, I see the concern.

    What if it were other races or groups? What if it were just after WWII and it were a German soldier and a boy with a yarmulke? Or a Native American and a Cavalryman? Or any two groups that have oppression in their recent histories.

    I feel certain that there was no intentional slight being made the The Gap, but they did the right thing to pull it. End of controversy.

    It reminds me objections to the Whitesboro, NY village seal of “a white settler choking an Indian” from last year. It’s not hard to show a little respect and empathy to those who are/were oppressed and/or less privileged.

    1. Well, yeah. I think the reactions seem to be overblown, but like you I can appreciate that some people might be genuinely hurt. As has been discussed here in the past, to make a change you probably have to fight for it because it won’t be granted as an act of spontaneous goodwill.

      I think GAP were right to apologise for inadvertently causing offence, it is an ad campaign and they don’t want to alienate potential customers.

      I hope for a time when this picture can be used without the negative reaction.

      1. But by pulling the ad and apologising, they’ve legitimised the reaction and given the perpetually offended a green light to continue manufacturing controversies where none exist.

      2. “…some people might be genuinely hurt.”

        I don’t think the word “genuinely” means what you think it means.

  30. I thought Gap sells clothing, not people. How often do you see other cultures represented? No offense, but aren’t they largely marketed to whites anyway? I think the whole world has gone too PC. I think people should be able to say what they feel and ads should be portrayed as they want to be aired. The people who take offense probably weren’t their customers anyway. Gap is so conservative that it is no wonder they would pull it and apologize. Sorry if I offend, but shouldn’t we be more concerned with REAL issues?!

  31. Brian Aldis wrote a sci-fi story a long time ago in which (as I recall it) everyone had a little light mounted on their foreheads which lit up when they were thinking about sex. The author’s bumper-sticker conclusion was that we are better off not knowing what other people are thinking, most of the time. In my opinion, twitter &c. take the place of those little indicator lights. Every fleeting thought is broadcast, & is then echoed & amplified by a cloud of tweets. I believe the subject of the OP is an illustration of this.

    1. No?! racism?! I did not even notice the racial mix in the picture… I think they are complaining about the wrong thing!

  32. There is a serious problem with both ads. Those poor girls are being infected with Bitchy Resting Face. Look at that girl on the right in the second picture!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *