The Atheist Billboard Campaign

The Atheist Billboard Campaign launched today. It’s the second phase of the Atheist Bus Campaign, and sees large billboards in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. Here’s the London one:

Atheist Billboard Campaign - Old Street, London

Isn’t it cool? The message will be familiar to anyone familiar with Richard Dawkins’ writings: it’s wrong to label children with concepts beyond their understanding. The labels shown in the background – ‘Catholic child’, ‘Muslim child’, ‘Atheist child’, ‘Post-modernist child’ etc. – should all stick in the throat, as there are no such things (the BHA’s campaign page goes into more detail on the divisive and coercive nature of labelling children in this way). Like the original bus campaign, it’s about consciousness-raising – as Ariane Sherine says in her Comment is Free launch article:

We hope the advert’s message will encourage the government, media and general public to see children as individuals, free to make their own choices as soon as they are old enough to fully understand what these choices mean, and that they will think twice before describing children in terms of their parents’ religion in the future.

I played a very small role in the planning of this campaign, and I’m proud to be associated.

There have been many negative comments, of course. So far the complaints seem to be:

  • “It won’t do any good.” – The aim is consciousness-raising – to get this idea more into the public domain. Anecdotal evidence suggests the bus campaign was tremendously successful at affecting public discourse around the world, and I don’t see why this shouldn’t be similarly capable.
  • “Who are you to tell me how to raise my children?” – Firstly, if you don’t want to listen, don’t listen – nobody’s forcing you to do anything. Secondly, what’s wrong with expressing an opinion on how to raise children? Thirdly, they’re not ‘your’ children in the sense of ownership – you’re their guardians, not their owners, and they have rights as people that trump your rights as parents.
  • “You’re smug and arrogant.” – Ad hominem attacks are pretty desperate.

Given the quality of the complaints so far, I think it’s going well.

Natural tobacco

I am reading Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. It is an excellent book, with proper research-backed psychological examinations and explanations attempting to answer one question: “Why are the safest and healthiest people in history living in a culture of fear?”. I was planning to review it here once I’m done, but I just started its 10th chapter and it contains the craziest thing I have heard in a long time. In a book of double-takes, this, from a discussion on the words ‘chemical’ and ‘natural’, made my brain pull a muscle:

It is this cultural re-definition of ‘chemical’ that has transformed organic produce from a niche market into a booming, multi-billion-dollar industry, and why the word natural has become the preferred adjective of corporate marketers, no matter what they’re selling. ‘The tobacco in most cigarettes contains additives drawn from a list of 409 chemicals commonly used in tobacco products’ reads an ad that appeared in American magazines in 2006. ‘Natural American Spirit is the only brand that features both cigarettes made with 100 percent organic tobacco as well as cigarettes made with 100 percent additive-free natural tobacco.’

Yes, heaven forbid you ingest any chemicals from your cigarettes. That would be really bad for you. And tobacco commonly contains additives commonly used in tobacco? What? And how could something be less than 100% additive-free? And does this advert imply that organic tobacco is not additive-free? And PEOPLE WANT TO BUY CIGARETTES WITHOUT CHEMICALS?! Ok I have to stop now in case I break.

The Olympus OM1 gets the important shots

While leafing through copies of the Sunday Telegraph Magazine – 1975 – I came across this advert for the Olympus OM1:

Olympus OM1 advert from 1975

It’s a very fast camera, apparently. It can take shots other cameras would find impossible. It’s true! Here’s a close-up as proof:

why fast cameras are better

In my experience most camera adverts emphasise durability, quality, or ease of use. I’ve never seen one concentrate on ability-to-photograph-naked-women before1. That’s one of ‘ten everyday photographic problems’ I’ve yet to encounter.

Do you think ‘one is obviously saleable. The other is not’ is tongue-in-cheek? I really can’t tell.

  1. I suspect you don’t need to be a photographer to figure out the difference between these photos is less the speed of the camera and more pointing it the wrong way. They’re also panning with the subject in the first one, which makes it a completely different type of shot. []

Christian comebacks to the Atheist Bus Campaign

The Atheist Bus Campaign adverts are coming down in the next few days, after an amazingly successful month. They’ve been a remarkable talking-point1, similar adverts are going up all around the world, and they annoyed, then embarrassed, Christian Voice. All great results, but they’re also apparently the vanguard for a wave of god-related banners:

A trinity of Christian groups have created their own series of advertisements to run across London buses

Fair enough, let’s see what they’ve got. Here’s the first, from the Christian Party:

There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.

Quite the non-sequitur. A double helping, in fact. Why would the existence of god mean I should join the Christian party? And are the last two clauses linked? Will joining the Christian Party2 help me enjoy my life? How? It’s easy to see why ‘stop worrying and enjoy your life’ would make sense, but this? It’s a little cultish. And pretty tacky: using ‘god exists’ to advertise your political party is just cheap. Next?

There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life.

Reports differ on the wording and formatting: the Telegraph says it’s “There is God, believe! Don’t Worry. Enjoy your life!”. Whatever. As a comeback, it’s (ahem) godawful.

Really, that’s the best you could do? No kind of logical rebuttal? Admittedly this is only a bus poster, but the atheist campaign said a lot in the word ‘probably’ – that was really something to get your teeth into, as it led into the philosophical arguments and the nature of reasonable belief. This banner just says ‘no no no. we win’. And if the Guardian is to be believed, resorts to shouting like a street-corner evangelist. Weak. And the last one?

The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.

My irony meter. You has broken it.

Seriously? After all that complaining over the horrendously insulting “now stop worrying and enjoy your life” you’re calling atheists ‘fools’? And with a quote from your magical book, no less? That’s certainly authoritative. Well done. Maybe your follow-up campaign can be ‘I AM A REAL BOY’.  That’ll do it.

Overall, not impressive. And these are all marketing criticisms – don’t even start me on the philosophical objections. Elsewhere, the BHA’s response has a lovely air of amused we-have-better-things-to-do, and ponders whether the new banners will – hide your irony meters – break advertising rules. I think the best response is to point and laugh.

  1. sometimes a bit disappointing: did anyone see Adrian Childs on The One Show saying they promote amorality? wtf? []
  2. incidentally, their website weirdly says: “Christianity is not a religion as such, it is a dynamic relationship with God in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.” Right then. []

Fight the offensive buses. Fight them.

So yesterday a bus driver turned up to work, saw a heathen message on the side of a bus, and had a strop. With arms folded, stamping his foot and scowling1 he threw all of his toys out of the pram and refused to work any more. His employers have been very understanding, probably because they’re scared witless of getting sued. As has been pointed out, I’m sure they’d have been just as accommodating towards a Labour supporter who refused to drive under Tory adverts. Obviously, this dude is an easy target: who the hell thinks bus drivers endorse adverts on their bus? He’s clearly not thinking straight / taking the mickey. It’s pretty funny, but even more entertaining are yesterday’s Early Day Motions.

EDMs are – as far as I can tell – pointless ranty things that MPs sign to placate crazy constituents. I don’t know how many are serious, but I only seem to hear about dumb ones – a couple of years ago there was one condemning Channel 4 for changing the time of Countdown. I think they can do something if you get more than x number of MP signatures, but this never happens for the bonkers stuff.

Obviously, there’s an EDM relating to the atheist buses. Two, in fact. Here’s the second, as reported by mediawatchwatch:

Offensive advertisements on public transport
That this House notes that posters with the slogan `There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life’, appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground; notes that this causes concern to Christian and Muslim people, many of whom feel embarrassed and uncomfortable travelling on public transport displaying such advertisements and would not wish to endorse the advertisements by using that public transport; regrets that the British Humanist Association backs the campaign; and calls on Ministers responsible for public transport and advertising media to investigate this matter and to seek to remove these religiously offensive and morally unhelpful advertisements.

I like the implication that only Christian and Muslim people are clever enough to feel “embarrassed and uncomfortable”. Hindus? Buddhists? Scientologists? Who gives a crap. Christians and Muslims are obviously the persecuted minority.

It’s particularly amusing that this provides no hint of any justification. The adverts generate the aforementioned uncomfortableness and embarrasment, and also cause ‘concern’. By the end they’re ‘religiously offensive’, which I assume means the same as ‘offensive’, and ‘morally unhelpful’, which is just weird. There’s no hint of a reason for any of this – the concern-causing-nature of the adverts is in itself enough to warrant the complaint. Which is odd, because you don’t Just Get Concerned – there’s usually some cause. It’s almost like they’re too embarrassed to say what it is.

It’s also great that some MPs think using public transport constitutes an endorsement of its advertising. I assume they don’t watch ITV. And never buy newspapers.

So that’s all a bit embarrassing, given that it comes from the people in charge of the country. But here’s the first EDM, which imho is even better:

No God Advertising
That this House notes the recent advertising campaign based on London buses, There’s Probably No God, the brainchild of the British Humanist Association; also notes the fact that the rationale behind it is that people can be less careful about their lifestyle choices and general approach to life’s consequences by discounting the likelihood of a Creator and an afterlife; and recommends to Christian groups considering alternative advertising approaches to There’s Probably No God to counter it with the simple addition of But What If There Is.

I love that somebody somewhere has a brain so utterly devoid of reason that they see ‘now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ and interpret it as ‘care less about consequences’. Anyway, I’ve fully taken into account the likelihood of a Creator and an afterlife. It’s pretty small. It’s down there with the homeopaths, dallying with the psychics and the spoon-benders. Done. Sorted.

But What If There Is? Yes, what if there is? Equally, what if a space pretzel with a wand of bees breaks into your house tonight? How will you defend yourself against its mighty juice? Don’t tell me there are no space pretzels. YOU DON’T KNOW. I’m gonna put up a sign.

  1. I imagine []

Atheist Buses launched

Atheist Bus in the wildI am extremely pleased to hear that the Atheist Bus Campaign has been a massive success. It raised over £135,000, from an original target of £5,500. Excellent. 800 buses were launched today: 200 in London, with the remaining ones spread out over England, Scotland and Wales.

There are also 1000 Tube cards, with quotations from Douglas Adams, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Katharine Hepburn. Lovely.

There’s been a bit of infighting over the slogan, what with us atheists being contrary by nature. I still like it. There’s also been some deeply entertaining commentary on us arrogant humanists pushing our agenda and being – wait for it – just as bad as those we’re complaining about and (you knew this was coming) isn’t it ironic. To which I think the best reply was served up on BoingBoing:

lets convert this to muffins. because its nicer to talk about muffins than gods.

Say there was a prevailing belief that there was a supreme muffin that would punish you for not believing in it despite the fact that around the world there were other religions with supreme croissants supreme cupcakes, etc.

The muffinites put up billboards and television advertising, and little pamplets, and had people on the street telling you that there really was eternal punishment in a magical oven if you didn’t accept the muffin as the one true path to salvation.

Not only that but they try to legislate certain beliefs to try to ensure the safety of the souls of the people who don’t believe what they do (only out of concern mind you, when you get to heaven through their efforts, you’ll be with the muffin)

one day someone puts up a sign that says “there probably isn’t a muffin.”

Lets criticize this arrogant and obnoxious sign.

The buses are all a-twitter, and photos are coming in from around the country. Similar buses are also doing the rounds in Barcelona and Washington D.C., and there’ll be some in Italy next month. Australia’s outdoor advertising company sadly rejected them, which is pretty miserable. Hopefully they’ll relent.

I like it. I like it a lot. I must ride one.

The Atheist Bus

This morning a Comment is Free post (of all things) launched a campaign to counter religious advertising on London buses. Quite brilliantly, it’s already raised enough to buy space for an advert on 30 buses, which will say:

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Love it. It’s in response to adverts for the Alpha Course, which linked to a website telling of the tremendous suffering that will come to unbelievers. That kind of thing really pisses me off. The Alpha Course isn’t on the fringes of UK Christianity – it’s everywhere. If it were all flowers and bunnies, it might be polite to let it go by. But it’s not, and I’d say it’s rude not to counter it. 

I’m looking forward to the whinings over this one. Not from the religious lobby – though that could be entertaining – but there’ll be claims of militancy and why are you being so aggressive and this isn’t the best way to do things and blah superior blah. Fun times.

Quite frankly it’s the only way to pray

It’s difficult to be offended by hair straighteners. Maybe if they set fire to your head, but otherwise, what’s to mind? Well, 23 Christians apparently don’t like their adverts, and somehow convinced the generally-sensible Advertising Standards Authority to uphold their complaint.

Here’s the advert (I don’t think it’s quite the banned one, but is close enough). Try to guess what the problem is:

What’s the main issue? They used a cross in place of the letter t. A cross. This makes the baby Jesus cry. He didn’t die / not die / zombify on a cross so people could just use it for…shudder…consumerism, you know. The very existence of the letter t is bad enough – it’s a little known fact that every time you write ‘turtle’ Jesus sends you to hell for another ten minutes – but making it look even more like a cross is offensive to people obsessed with medieval torture instruments. The ASA had no choice.

But Ben spotted the best bit, which has to be my favourite complaint ever. Not only did they use a cross without a note from the Pope, and not only was the Lord’s Prayer quoted without a safety cracker, but the women were ‘praying while being erotic’. Dolly Parton is so going to burn.