In case you missed it the internet is on fire today thanks to an inflammatory and sexist billboard that was put up in North Carolina recently which reads “Real men provide. Real women appreciate it.” Fun right?
The black-and-white sign, which many view as offensive toward women, has not only sparked online debates, but protests as well. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly where to direct their anger because the owner of the billboard, Bill Whiteheart — president of Whiteheart Outdoor Advertising — refuses to say who commissioned it.
So far all he has told media outlets is “We’re not supportive of or in opposition to the message … We’re just the messenger.”
Naturally we called Bill to get more information and were a little surprised by what he said. As it turns out this sign may only be beginning. Dun Dun Dun!
“Stay tuned” he told me over the phone Friday afternoon from North Carolina.
“What does that mean? Stay tuned,” I asked.
“The billboard went up Friday, the contract is for 30 days. There is time remaining on the clock,” he said. “This is like the first quarter of the football game. I suspect the game is not over.”
I asked Bill if his cryptic message meant there was more to come — perhaps more billboards or other public demonstrations. To which he responded, “I am not at liberty to say other than to say that your audience has not had an opportunity to hear the last of this.” And then added “Stay tuned.”
Of course, I needed more. As the man who physically owns the billboard space Bill is privy to the creators of the message. Saying “stay tuned” suggests there is a plan in place. Which also suggests the billboard was meant to be inflammatory, perhaps even designed to go viral.
So I asked Bill if he had any insight as to whether the billboard masterminds meant to be overtly sexist (which, let’s be real, is how it comes off).
“I have not been briefed in detail by the creators,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the design and intention, but that message may have some mastery of being simplistically vague. It is thought-provoking on an intellectual level.”
I am not sure the message is exactly thought-provoking on an intellectual level. But it is provocative. Which is why people have been fighting about the billboard all morning.
Some men even praised the billboard as a positive message, not a sexist one . They claim it’s not directed at women at all but instead is directed at men who need to grow up.
Of course the second half of the billboard is clearly directed at women and suggests ladies don’t appreciate all that men have to offer. It also reinforces a negative gender stereotype — the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the bread accepter — that many women (and some men) find offensive.
As for Bill, he says he sees it as a sort of Rorschach test. “Either the reader can identify positively with it, and cheer, or identify negatively with it and standup and boo.”
So far, it seems like most people do not like the billboard, but it’s hard to tell. Bill says he’s heard arguments both for and against the sign.
“I’ve had more calls from women who were opposed [to the billboard],” he told me over the phone. “As time goes on however I have had interestingly more calls from men on both sides of the issue. Men that support and men that oppose it.
He also said he has had calls from women who support the billboard and have asked him not to take it down.
On the flip side there are people who actually blame Bill for the sign, since he’s the one who allowed it to go up in the first place.
In light of that backlash I asked Bill — as the gatekeeper of billboards — if he would ever refuse to put up a sign or deem it too offensive.
He said no, as long as the billboard’s message is legal.
“I think the key here is what’s lawful and what is a violation of law,” he told ENTITY. “As long as the clients are exercising their right to free speech I am not sure our industry should take a position of refusing business as long as it’s lawful.”
I then rephrased the question to find out if a billboard should be refused if it were, say, explicitly racist and whether signs like that should even be legal.
“I’m not a lawmaker,” he said. “That’s a question for someone who has been elected by the people and our democracy. That’s not in my job description.”
He also told me many people have accused him of putting up the billboard as a sort of publicity stunt, which he says he did not since he’s not making that much money off of it anyway. “It’s one sign, in one market” he told me.
That said, it does sort of feel like a publicity stunt especially considering the fact that according to Bill there’s more where this billboard came from — but it’s unclear what.
I’m not sure if we should be excited or terrified. But I am assuming the latter.
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