Reaction to the latest summer lamb ad, a staple on Australia’s advertising calendar, tells us one thing: we’re tired of being put in boxes.
The ad, titled Lamb Side Story released yesterday by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), shows two warring tribes on a suburban street: the right and the left. In West Side Story musical form, the right and the left, dressed in blue on one side and red on the other, take turns singing and dancing, taunting the other tribe.
The right, which are also uniformly white, sing: “If you are right you are right. About every single issue. The left can go and cry. Throw them a tissue.”
The left, in a diverse ethnic group, sing: “If you’re a left, you stick up for the little guy. I mean, person. We’re all equal. No one left behind.”
Opinions are divided on the ad. But one thing seems clear: we’re tired of being pigeon-holed because of one belief. Just because I think abortion is wrong doesn’t mean I can’t also think that Manus Island needs to be shut down, and fast. Just because someone believes marriage should have remained between a man and a woman, doesn’t mean they don’t also think that climate change is real and needs real solutions.
When we start thinking that every person is actually just a Wiggles character who wears the same coloured t-shirt every day, we’ve lost. Some of us don’t like wearing shirts that don’t fit properly. If we continue to portray Australian society as polarised, we will continue to be like that. The centre, in this ad either depicted as fence-sitters or ignorant barbecuers, will slowly disappear because they’re forced to choose a side.
The Lamb ad is trying to comment on the politics of the year. To some extent, they’ve got it right. It did feel as though there was no room for centre-politics. It did feel as though if you didn’t choose a side and put on the blue or red t-shirt you would be categorised as a “fence sitter”, someone who hasn’t thought deeply about the issues or is too afraid to have an opinion, rather than someone who has plenty of opinions that don’t actually fit into a blue or red box.
Michael Frost, vice principal of the Baptist’s Morling College wrote last year about the two Christianities he could see emerging, not just in America, but also in Australia. “The bifurcation of contemporary Christianity into two distinct branches is leaving the church all the poorer, with each side needing to be enriched by the biblical vision of the other.” Of course, the same can be said of Australian politics. If only the church could lead the way, offering more opportunities for the right and left to learn from each other.
I love lamb. Lamb is yum. But the Lamb ad itself is not offensive so much as it is disappointing.
In West Side Story, which presents the inspiration for the ad, portrays opposing gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, fighting it out over a patch of New York City. It portrays a war-to-the-death mentality and a Romeo and Juliet romance that does little to bring warring tribes together.
Here’s what the Jets sing in their gang:
“When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day …
“We’re drawin’ the line,
So keep your noses hidden!
We’re hangin’ a sign,
Says “Visitors forbidden”
And we ain’t kiddin’!”
It would be easy, in this snippet of the original musical, to see the Jets as the right (blue) and the Sharks as the left (red). And yet, both sides are suggesting that visitors are forbidden. You’re with us or against us. There’s no room for waver. No room to change your mind. No room to speak up from the inside and say, ‘Actually, maybe the other side has it right on this issue’.
It’s a bleak backdrop. It’s not a vision for Australia that I want to see. Especially not to dress up my beloved lamb.