Home > Uncategorized > “Control Tonight” Date Rape Ad Is A Sloppy Mess

“Control Tonight” Date Rape Ad Is A Sloppy Mess

Background: I wrote this for my Women’s Law Project internship, before the ad was picked up by Feministing, Jezebel, or any other major feminist blog. But the WLP blog admins can be a bit slow about posting things, so the ad became old news before we got the final edits, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board actually pulled the ad (that’s a quote from our Women’s Law Project senior staff attorney in that there link!) before the blog was posted.

However, I still thought that my original version, without the tone edits, was worth posting on my personal blog because it was a bit more in-depth than some of the other blogs I’ve seen written about this ad, and also because I worked hard on it!

So without further ado (except a TRIGGER WARNING for lurid and insensitive handling of sexual assault in an ad campaign, including a photo, after the cut. If you’re triggerable and want to read the post without seeing the photo, please email me or leave me a comment!)

[Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board “Control Tonight” ad, depicting a woman’s bare legs on the tile floor of what looks like a bathroom, her underpants around her ankles. Text says, “DATE RAPE: See What Could Happen When Your Friends Drink Too Much. ” Watermark text reads, “His Place. Wasted. Bathroom. Passed Out]

Any college freshman can tell you that when someone wants to scare you into abstaining from alcohol, one of the first things they’ll tell you is that drinking will get you date raped. But the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has taken it way over the top with this ad for their new youth education initiative, a website called ControlTonight.com.

The website, like most aimed at educating teens and young adults about the dangers of alcohol consumption, focuses on the possible undesirable consequences of drinking – hangovers, fights, trouble with the law. When you visit the site, you’ll be asked to enter your own name and that of two of your friends, and to click next to each name to indicate whether each person is male or female (needless to say, there are no other options). Depending on whether you have male or female friends, the Control Tonight drunken fiasco generator will take you through an incredibly gendered simulation of what could happen to your best friend if you don’t keep his or her drinking in check.

When I used a male friend’s name, he got into a bar fight with a member of an opposing sports team and was led away in handcuffs. But when I put in the names of female friends was when things really got ugly.

SEXUAL ASSAULT: “That’s what Sally’s attorney will call it a month from now. She said no, but he kept going. And now, your friend is on his bathroom floor, bruised and victimized.”

That text, over the same image used in the DATE RAPE ad – the image of a woman’s bare legs on a tile floor, with a pair of underwear wrapped around her ankles. Featuring only the disembodied legs of a faceless, stripped woman, the chosen photo unabashedly sexualizes date rape and date rape victims. There are lots of non-sexualized images that could effectively accompany a story about date rape: crime scene tape, a woman with her face in her hands crying, a silhouette, a photo of an unopened rape kit. For that matter, the vague, blurry police-car lights that accompany the narrative in which your male friend gets arrested for a bar fight would have done perfectly well – but rather than emphasizing the criminality and violence of rape, the ad focuses on the sexual for a maximally alienating and disturbing effect.

The story continues, “Something that seems like a good idea when you’re drunk could lead to big regret the next morning. Help your friends pace their drinking, so they stay in control of their decisions.” The focus on your simulator friend’s “bad decisions” puts the responsibility for her assault squarely on you, her, the alcohol, and basically everyone but the guy who raped her – the implication of “she should have known better than to go home with him” is deafening.

Even worse, the statement that “something that seems like a good idea when you’re drunk could lead to big regret the next morning” falls right in line with the dogma of anti-feminist date-rape deniers such as Katie Roiphe, author of the “rape-hype” book The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism On Campus, who would argue that “date rape” is just what hysterical feminists call it when slutty college coeds have consensual sex that they regret the next morning.

Perhaps aware that they were, to make a dark joke, asking for a victim-blaming controversy, Control Tonight’s drunk catastrophe simulator states on the very last page of the date-rape simulation – titled “VICTIM” in enormous letters – “This isn’t Sally’s fault. The man raping her is a pig and a criminal. But Sally was too drunk to make clear decisions and went home with him anyway. Now, half passed out, she’s being forced to have sex, and she’s powerless to stop it.”

The paragraph calls to mind the crude adage, “Everything before the ‘but’ is bullshit.” For as earnestly as Control Tonight wants you to believe that they’re not saying that rape is the victim’s fault, they put an awful lot of emphasis on her decisions and how she could have avoided the assault by making better ones. And with the disturbingly sex-focused photo, lurid and exceptionally triggering word choice, and repetition of the word “victim,” this ad campaign seems to be truly reveling in the imagery of the stripped and battered woman, rendered helpless as consequence of her reckless drinking.

Anti-drinking campaigns have always appealed to the worst fears of their target audiences, but it’s about time we demanded better, more compassionate and realistic treatment of sexual assault from these “awareness initiatives.” In its quest to grab attention, Control Tonight eschews realistic and helpful information in favor of blaming and shaming the people it aims to protect.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: