A few days ago, my Facebook newsfeed was awash with people sharing articles about a new billboard that just went up in Los Angeles. It depicts a male American soldier embracing a woman wearing a niqab. The billboard is for a product called SnoreStop, and it also displays the hashtag #betogether.
Despite the buzz, the ad doesn’t catalyze brand recognition for me. Thus, I suppose in my case, the purpose of the ad is defeated. I can tell you that the ad has to do with snoring, but I have to keep going back to articles about the ad to find the brand name. StopSnore? SnoreAway? It just doesn’t click for me.
But the ad certainly got publicity. The Huffington Post covered it. Fox News covered it. (By the way, there are several different primers out there—like here and here—that detail some of the types of coverings that Muslim women might choose to wear, to which news writers may refer when needed. Not everything a Muslim woman wears is a “burka.” Although I realize that Fox News is likely the last media outlet to concern itself with such technicalities.) Local news stations covered it. And CAIR hailed the ad as a positive step toward integrating images of Muslims into mainstream media, calling it “a worthy image.”
As is often the case, the most interesting coverage was to be found in the responses on social media. In my own Facebook newsfeed, I observed debates about whether or not the woman in the ad was a “real Muslim.” The woman’s Muslim-ness, according to commenters, could be effectively determined by knowing whether or not she wore a “burka” in real life, or by observing that she wore nail polish in the ad.
The interrogatory nature of the response to authenticity of the figures featured in the billboard was, as far as I could observe, exclusive to the woman’s appearance in the ad. I saw no question as to whether or not the man in the ad was a “real soldier.” I find myself wondering about the implications of this. Is it because we Americans tend to see military personnel as inherently trustworthy, and Muslims, especially Muslims whose clothing obviously identifies them as such, as inherently suspicious? Is it because we tend to see men as more likely to be stalwart and trustworthy and women as more likely to be mysterious and duplicitous? Is it both? Or neither?
Although there has been the occasional piece that discusses the ad as disrespectful toward Muslim women, I haven’t been seeing much of that. But many commenters, as reports have pointed out, felt the ad disrespectfully misuses the image of military personnel. This was especially confusing to me. Why would it be disrespectful for a soldier to be portrayed as in a relationship with a Muslim woman? Isn’t that what so many people want—for Muslim women to be “rescued” by white, English-speaking, American men? Is it “disrespectful” because despite having seemingly “rescued” this Muslim woman, the military man was apparently not powerful enough to pull her away from her religion?
Or does the “disrespect” stem from the idea that by embracing a Muslim woman, the soldier has somehow crossed into enemy territory? Is there an assumption that since the woman has obviously not renounced her religion or culture in order to pursue a relationship with the soldier, he must have defected to “her side”?
In any case, most concerns that I observed about any “disrespect” shown by the ad make it abundantly clear that despite the narrative to the contrary that American presidents have been attempting to sell for years, the American military and Muslims really are, in some fundamental way, enemies…at least in the minds of many Americans.
To be honest, the connection the ad was attempting to make did not immediately click in my mind. I mean, I think I kind of get the concept. For a multitude of reasons, it could certainly be difficult for a couple such as this to be together. Snoring can also make it difficult for couples to be together. I think that’s the connection being made here, although drawing a parallel between geopolitical conflict and nocturnal nasal noise seems laughable at best, and, well…disrespectful at worst. But if I’m right, it would seem that StopSnore (SnoreAway? SnoreStop? I never can remember) is attempting to sell their product by peddling some rather troubling implications about culture, religion, gender, and pretty much everything else right along with it.