So, I'm writing the article that I told myself I'd probably never write.
This week, Heineken released a new commercial, showing six people - each paired with someone who holds views that are the opposite of theirs. We see a man who flat-out denies climate change paired with another who believes that more should be done to tackle green issues. We see Ayla Holdom, a trans woman who believes that trans voices should have a bigger platform, paired with a man who believes that "men should be men, and women should be women". We see a feminist paired with a man who believes that a woman's place is at home, and their role in society extends no further than child-bearing.
Long story short; after working together to build an Ikea-style bar, each couple learns of their partner's respective opinions and are presented with the option of sitting at the bar to share an ice-cold Heineken (of course) and chat.
Admittedly, the ad paints a pretty false equivalent picture with regards to the more problematic views, but it touches on something important that I think a lot of us have forgotten about. Sometimes, it's a lot harder to hate someone when you know them. It's more difficult to actively oppress a community of people when your friend belongs to that community. The ad shows how different people, with different views, are able to connect on a human level. It highlights a truth that is not yet collectively understood as self-evident; that our belief systems are socially constructed and that we can reject them, transform them and move beyond them.
It shows that, fundamentally, acceptance can grow from an understanding of human likeness; that our differences can be recognised but not oppressed. There's a simple truth to the message that Heineken are attempting to portray: that, beneath everything, we're all human. It is, ultimately, a visual display of the words from the late Jo Cox MP: "Far more unites us than divides us".
I won't lie - I liked the ad. I thought that it was pretty timely. Yes: it's clever capitalism, it's oversimplified and, at times, it seems a bit manufactured - but the message underneath all of that is not something that we can afford to be rallying against.
That conversation is more likely to change minds than an aggressive shouting match laced with highfalutin hyperbole is surely something that we can agree on? Nope, because it's 2017, where no attempt at cohesion is ever good enough. Try to build a bridge nowadays and you won't get very far before someone burns it down.
I wanted to empathise with the criticism and I do understand the sentiment, but this has ticked me. I've finally found myself detached from the "I'm constantly pissed off at everything and you - yes you! - you've offended me and everyone like me" narrative that has slowly claimed hegemony in 'progressive' political circles.
It's a narrative that has found all honest conversation shut down due to perceived offence, a subjective concept in itself. It's a narrative that has found those who may hold questionable and regressive views over particular issues slammed as being 'fascists' or 'bigots' with whom we must not converse, dare we risk associative or collective harm - as inflicted by ideas. It's a narrative that has found student bodies across the country increasingly reliant upon bubbled-wrapped discussion and literature. It's a narrative that has resulted in opposing factions catapulting accusations of ours being a 'politically-correct' society, despite that not being true. It's a narrative that has stamped on open and honest campus debate. It's a narrative that has pushed regressive ideologues into underground terrains - forums, chatrooms and social feeds - to organise in their newfound, self-identified 'victimisation'. It's a narrative that has shoved otherwise good people into the nasty hands of the growing 'alt-right'.
It's a narrative that we need to start rejecting.
Over the last two years, I've embedded myself within activism; pushing for LGBTI issues to be taught and discussed in schools across the country, in an attempt to better tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviours among young people. Along the way, I've spoken with people who have opinions which I'd consider to be regressive. I've encountered politicians who are sympathetic to certain queer identities, but don't understand all of them. I've met school pupils who dislike gays, and use my sexuality as an insult. Should all of these people be written off? Should we wipe our hands of them, call them bigots and disengage?
Heineken's ad touches on sexism and trans-denial. While we can categorise and group these views as being indicative of 'far-right fascist thinking' - the reality is that sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia et cetera often transcend simple categories and can be more indicative of ignorance than any hard held belief system. As a disclaimer: I'm not talking about the actual neo-Nazi, the actual transphobe or homophobe who holds deeply-held views that can't be changed: I'm talking about that middle ground of people who hold these views out of lack of awareness, rather than anything more ideologically sinister.
For example, I have family members who hold questionable and (at times) repugnant views on certain things, but they're not fascists. I have friends who, once upon a time, didn't understand particular issues which led them to ignorant opinions... but they're not right-wing. That's my point. It's really easy for us, particularly those of us on the 'progressive left', to bash everyone who espouses views or opinions that we know are fundamentally nasty as being fundamentally nasty people themselves; as being fascists, or neo-Nazis, or downright arseholes. Yet, that's usually not the case.
The same family members of mine who hold pretty out-of-touch opinions regarding trans identities and Islam, which turn my stomach each time I hear them, also routinely express disgust at the ideologues of UKIP and the BNP. Irony aside, it's not as clear-cut as so many people want us to think, which takes me back to my original point: yes, the views that were highlighted in the Heineken ad have no place in an ideal society, but they're here and we can either attempt to engage with those who hold them in an attempt at transforming them, or we can write them off as being morally repugnant bigots that we should never, ever, ever speak to again.
I'd be fearful of the consequences if we are to collectively adopt the latter. Alas, I'd be interested to know how we challenge or tackle such opinions as those in the ad without discussion? What is the alternative? It's unrealistic to believe that these views and opinions will ever be eradicated unless we actually present those who hold them with our own counter-perspectives, as opposed to branding them as some form of 'phobe' or 'ist'.
When I was in my early teens, I couldn't really understand the point of modern feminism and, admittedly, held a few views which quite easily mirrored some of those from the 'anti-feminazi' clan. Looking back, I'm mortified (especially as a gay guy) but those views didn't change until I spoke to people. Until I listened, until I learned. My more 'woke' friends could have disregarded me, but they didn't, and I'm thankful for that. All that I'm asking is that we try to do the same with others.
When we're faced with an opinion that doesn't match ours, that we know is problematic and potentially hurtful, rather than cite offence... could we at least try to engage? You can't win everyone, but you might win someone - and I've seen this happen time and time again through my own campaigning activities over the last while.
Ultimately, the further we push ourselves into consistently upset and aggressive tribes, the more opposing opinions are going to grow and feel validated. Being gay, I've come to accept that there are people out there who hate me and hate what I do with the person that I love, but I've also learned to recognise that there are other people who just hold socially ingrained, ignorant opinions - and their minds can be changed.
As the dude says in Heineken's ad, there are people who have been brought up to "see the world as black and white", and we should at least attempt to show them a little bit of the rainbow.