Viral load of NZAF hazing video

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NZAF has produced viral video featuring sexually charged hazing of Mr Gay NZ 2015 Matt Fistonich.
Author explores explicit NZAF marketing tactics which reinforce gay men body objectification culture and promote toxic message of Mr Gay world pegeant

I was stunned to come across a video where Mr Gay New Zealand, Matt Fistonich, on a popular (over 23,000 likes) LoveYourCondom Facebook page, is subjected to a mandatory hazing to join the LYC family with a bombardment of condoms filled with water. Matt Fistonich is running for Mr Gay World this month, and LYC is sponsoring his trip to South Africa.

LYC marketing incentives are usually punchy, bold and sexy, and praised by advertising experts as effective in reaching the LGBT community. Of particular interest is the ongoing 'Gear up!' campaign which smartly connects thrill seeking activities with safety gear, thus making wearing condoms look cool and sexy. Their social marketing campaigns are more questionable, for example LYC invites readers to spice up their sex life by exploring the thrill of double penetration, cock and ball torture, fisting and group sex- risky 'adventurous' activities that are not known to be particularly safe, just stopping short of promoting the ultimate thrilling gay sex challenge – so called 'bug chasing' or bareback (without condom) sex.

The latest promotion seems to be also off the mark. Using condoms for hazing, to humiliate, degrade and make fun of a gay man does not look like the smartest marketing idea. It is also questionable if the video sets the right tone in a campaign to bring the Mr Gay World’s crown back to New Zealand, or if it really portrays Matt Fistonich as fit to represent Aotearoa as the best spokesperson, embodying the spirit of the nation' – ‘the true ambassador that his nation and local community is proud of’.

Hazing and bullying is typical in all-male environments like fraternities, sports teams, the army, prisons, and gangs. Some see it as the rite of passage into the elite group where individual experiences of humiliation bind members together. Gay teens, who realise they are different from their peers at an early age, could feel excluded and even isolated from the rest of society and naturally long for acceptance and belonging to a group, ready to compromise to fit in. They often became the first target for hazing, humiliation and bullying that all can easily turn into gay bashing.

One would expect that catering for the needs of a disadvantaged minority organization would welcome members unconditionally while promoting acceptance, tolerance and diversity, and making a safe haven for gay men that is free of humiliation and abuse. So it comes as a surprise that the LYC not only takes hazing lightly, but even considers it mandatory to join ‘the family’.

Hazing can be discounted as just a game, but by its nature it is a form of bullying and abuse, capable of inflicting life-long psychological scars. And it is certainly not funny that in the USA alone, several people die from hazing every year. Particularly disturbing is that hazing often targets sexuality, exposing underlining issues of gender inequality, discrimination, and homophobia.

LYC marketing manager Joe Rich stands behind the hazing video, accepting that it alludes to the popularity of hazing on gay porn sites, in numerous hardcore series like 'Haze him', 'Broke Straight Guys', 'Thug hunter' and 'Bound in public' featuring torture, public humiliation and gang rape. In these videos, supposedly straight guys are forced to perform explicit sex acts in a degrading context, which probably taps into internal homophobia of viewers who subconsciously despise their homosexuality and feel better about themselves by watching straight guys ‘going gay’.

Internalised homophobia could also be a reason behind the obsession with terms like 'straight looking/acting', 'no femme', 'masculine', etc., in the gay men community, as is obvious in numerous gay men profiles on dating applications. This creates a certain unrealistic idea of the straight gay man ideal, putting an enormous pressure on gay adolescents to look a certain way.

Many profile pictures are headless muscled torsos, which seems to indicate that gay men are objectifying themselves when objectification is prominent within the community. For the LoveYourCondom's 'Get it On’ campaign, larger than life billboards were erected along K-road featuring various headless torsos covered with condom tattoos. The idea behind it was to make condoms look ‘tattoo worthy’, but presenting gay men as faceless pieces of ‘meat’ and reducing them to objects made them look interchangeable and disposable like condoms.

Media objectification, complemented by perfect body images of gay male pageant winners, is spreading a dangerous message in our imperfect world. Gay men are already under immense pressure from the media and community to be slim, toned and eternally young, creating more body dissatisfaction than in heterosexual women as gay guys are expected to be both slim and buffed up at the same time. So gay men are 3 times more likely to have eating disorders, while gay teens are 6 times more likely to take steroids.

Chris Olwage, a once bullied overweight teenager who went on to lose 40kg in six weeks to get a chiseled body, and who become MR Gay World in 2013, commented to NZ Herald on narcissism and obsession with a perfect body within the gay community: “A lot of it comes from the seeking of self-acceptance, I think and some people find it through their bodies, because that's one of the easiest things to change. The body is a bit of escapism. For some people it is about finding others – the better looking you are the more chances you have.”

Critics of mainstream beauty contests have long argued that they underlie gender inequality; pressure women to conform to conventional beauty standards by spending time and money on fashion, beauty care, and even cosmetic surgery; and, also encourage dieting to the point of harming themselves. They reinforce the idea that young women should be valued primarily for their physical appearance. Gay beauty pageants just underline existing misogyny, sexism, self-objectification and stereotyping.

While the 2012 Mr Gay World winner, Andreas Derleth, claimed that he wanted to dispel the stereotype that gay men "run around with handbags," his rare in real life look in fact neatly fitted Mr Gay World’s standards. Like in a retro hetero contest world, gay beauty pageants appear to conform to set up stereotypes and body standards while on the surface battling for the ‘world’s piece’. In contrast to this, when the public in the UK fell for personality and voted for a 30 stone man to represent the country in the Mr Gay World contest, he was subsequently humiliated by the organizers and disqualified.

Mr Gay World likes to position itself as ‘a mentor in grooming gay leaders who will advance gay human rights both locally and throughout the world’, but what happens in reality contradicts it. Last year, both the New Zealand and Australian representatives pulled out of the contest complaining about poor organization and bullying from organizers, and claiming that instead of learning gay history and advancing human rights, contestants were encouraged to get intimate and grope each other.

Mr Gay World 2010 winner, Charl van den Berg from South Africa, was, in particular, known for his proud contribution to the porn industry with one of his biggest talents listed as an ‘8 inch uncut cock’. He was personally endorsed by the competition’s director who stated that the contest embraced men from the adult entertainment industry so they could ‘escape exploitation in an effort to find a better life’, thereby turning Mr Gay World into the only beauty pageant welcoming porn models. This stance may have compromised some delegates by an association with porn and, at the same time, insulted adult industry workers by implying that they are victims of exploitation.

Mr Fistonich, who was rushed in as Mr Gay NZ by an identified group in the absence of a public vote and any transparent competition, conveniently owns a gay lifestyle website that publishes on-going stories about him. He was, until recently, also the marketing manager of Gayexpress newspaper that broke the exclusive news of him winning the Mr Gay NZ title. Working for LYC increases publicity options for Matt Fistonich, and provides him with access to the most popular gay social media platform.

I wonder if supporting the personal aspiration of a media magnate and property investor to win a discredited contest that sends a dubious message to gay men, is money well spent for the ratepayer funded LYC. Is there instead a worthy homegrown project that could actually benefit the gay NZ community? Maybe it is time to abandon an outdated beauty pageant and instead, run a Gay New Zealander of the Year campaign, where inspirational gay men could be voted in not for their looks, bodies and self-marketing skills, but for their actual contribution to diversity, equality and positive change in the community?

In light of this, perhaps it is also time that NZAF reconsiders the mandatory hazing requirement to join the LYC? Does not it have some rules of conduct and standards developed within the organization to prevent new cases of sexual harassment? Would receiving millions of government’s funding NZAF be at least accountable to the government's ethic committee? Would the later at all endorse recording of sexually charged hazing of its employees at work?

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