On The Buses … everywhere but Down Under

November 26, 2008 | By | 13 Replies More

…but do I give a toss?

Recently, atheist bus ads have popped up in the UK and the US to much acclaim from freethinkers and much tiresome bitching & moaning from the usual suspects. Buses are so hot right now! However, an attempt by an Aussie atheist group to have their own ads on our buses has been unsuccessful. The Atheist Foundation of Australia wanted to buy ad space, the ad company, APN Outdoor, refused to sell it to them. And it seems they didn’t explain why. I certainly don’t see the harm in slogans like “Sleep in on Sunday mornings” or “Celebrate reason”, but I guess APN have their reasons. Such as – they’re a pack of bastards with double standards higher than Israel’s separation wall. So, yes, it’s disappointing. Even annoying! And refusing to take someone’s freely-offered money is just damned un-Australian.

Not to mention that glaring double-standard: the article explains that APN had buses in Adelaide plastered with the Bible verse John 3:16 – that’s the one about God loving the world so much that he had himself (in the form of his hippy son) tortured & executed to forgive us all of our sins, especially the original sin committed by Adam & Eve, the guilt of which apparently extends several millennia onto every last one of us, from birth – conception – no less, giving us no damn choice but to accept the hippy as our saviour. Nice. World’s oldest protection racket – “Say, that’s a nice soul you got there…be a shame if anything, I dunno, happened to it…”

Now, some people might find the public assertion that we’re all destined for eternal torment at the whim of a celestial tyrant, unless we accept that he had himself (his human avatar anyway) murdered to save us all from the Hell he created and could simply choose not to send us to, somewhat offensive. But an atheist wouldn’t try to stifle someone’s freedom to say so. They’d only ask for the same freedom to say something arguably less offensive – like “sleep in” or “celebrate reason”. If one group can buy an ad saying “God exists and is awesome and will roast your soul”, another group should have an equal right to ask “how can you be sure?” or “just be good!”

Anyway & however.

Apart from the 50-foot high, floodlit double standard on display from APN, I really don’t think I care. Yes, people should have the freedom to say what they want. Equally, advertising companies, like any seedy bar with a handwritten sign, may “reserve the right to refuse service”. Commerce isn’t an equal opportunity industry – people can sell to whomever they choose and refuse the money of whomever they choose. Although, in this case, it seems the Aussie Atheists aren’t able to buy space from anyone else, because it seems APN are more or less a monopoly when it comes to bus ads. And billboards. Which is a shame. Any time when one company has more-or-less total control of a particular medium, it’s very easy for that company to exercise unfair control of the messages people want to spread. I think if TAFA have a good case to sue then they bloody well should.

But I just don’t think a public awareness of atheism campaign is necessary in Australia. Most of the time when you hear about religion in our media it’s either about some whiner from Family First having an tiresome, sky-is-falling crack about the sanctity of marriage and how the gays want to take it from us and make all our kids gay, some cardinal something-or-other droning on about other peoples’ sexual & reproductive rights (as if they have any first-hand evidence of sex with adults anyway) & reminding everyone exactly how out of touch his crew are with modern Australia and its evolving moral landscape, or some off-leash imam, comparing liberally-dressed Aussie women to uncovered meat (then failing to see what’s wrong with that). Most people in this country tend to keep their religious beliefs private, and we (because we’re such cynical bastards) tend to look on anyone who’s oh-so-earnestly preaching anything with a sideways glance – even those ostensibly on the same side as the preacher (even as a religious person I loathed doorknockers, street-preachers & Christian TV ads). That’s what I think would happen with this atheist campaign – people would see the atheist bus ads, go – derisively – “ok, righto, whatever mate, good onya” and get on with their day. Much as they do when they see a religious ad. Or an ad for oven cleaner (much as I do when I see dreadlocked greenie ferals screaming hysterically at police when they break up a protest and start arresting people.

Do yourselves, and the image of your cause, a good solid favour you stinky bastards – peaceful, non-violent resistance. Civil disobedience, not obscenity-laden tirades and throwing rocks and lighting fireworks to freak the horses out. Ghandi & MLK made enormous strides! I’m on your side and I love my planet too, but it’ll get you a lot more respect and public support if you quit the usual drum-beating chants, face painting and screams of “fascist!” You’re there to make a political point, not start a freaking roots festival on the steps of Parliament House).

Among my wide & varied circle of friends and family, religion doesn’t come up at all, even amongst my fundy cousins or the few of my friends that I know for sure are religious (there are probably more than I’m aware of). Not because we actively avoid talking about it, it’s just that it’s considered a private matter and really isn’t pertinent. My lack of religion is the same. My folks, brothers, friends & I have the odd cackle at nutters but we don’t sit around discussing the finer points of non-belief. We all have more important and more fun things to do and to talk about, especially considering we only see each other twice a year. It’s the same across the country. Put it this way: whenever a group of Aussies watch the Grammy awards, we play the “I wanna thank my lord and saviour Jesus Christ” drinking game and we’re usually blotto before they even get to the hip-hop/r&b categories.

So … back on topic: while I’m a tad miffed at APN refusing, for seemingly no good reason, to take money from the decent godless folk of TAFA, I didn’t really see the need for an atheist awareness campaign in this country to begin with. We’re not contending with a home-grown wannabe Taliban-for-Jesus like our Yank chums or with flamin’ sharia courts like our Pommy inferiors (sharia courts? WTF? The golden thread of British law not good enough?). We’re not fighting uphill against the active public bigotry & political marginalisation of the godless. We’re not battling for simple acceptance. We’re not the suffragettes or gays or blacks of our day (hell, the Aboriginals of right now are still getting screwed). We godless are already all over the place and most people wouldn’t even know who believes what in Parliament House anyway!

But hey, bugger it – get the ads up there. I’d just like to see the reactions from the usual suspects! If nothing else it’d make good blog fodder.


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Category: Censorship, Civil Rights, Communication, Culture, Current Events, Religion, transportation

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (13)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: I'm with you on the this–I must say, though, I doubt that APN would probably not be willing to publish your colorful post on the side of a bus either!

    I visited APN to check out their mission:

    "Each format can work alone or as part of an integrated strategy to give you the results you demand. No other outdoor company gives you more choice to make an impact and engage consumers with your brand."

    Really? Give the customer the results it demands? Gives the customer more choice? Except if the customer wants to communicate an idea that might offend some other customers? Where's that in all the sales literature? Makes me wonder whether APN accepts advertising from churches or those wanting to encourage belief in supernatural beings . . .

    Here in the states, a private company owes no first amendment right to its customers. But then again, if that advertising company is the agent for a public bus system, it might require them to accept the ads.

    The State of Missouri (where I live) offered a highway adoption scheme a few years ago. Businesses, boy scout troops, churches and others cleaned designated sections of the highway in return for the posting of a highway sign "This section of highway adopted by the X organization." What followed was quite predictable. The KKK stepped forward and offered to clean a section of highway. People were aghast. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the KKK won (assisted by the ACLU). Yes, the agony and irony ran deep.

    At times like these, I think of Amy Goodman's metaphor for what the media should be like. It should be like a huge dinner table where everyone has a chance to sit down and have a voice. When good-hearted people want to say something, that should be allowed, even if it is uncomfortable to the others at the table. We should all embrace this idea. If some ideas make us uncomfortable, it's probably time to look inward and ask ourselves why. Good speech beats bad speech, right?

    Dan Klarman also posted on the topic of bus advertising. I thought some of the sayings were clever–they just might trigger some meaningful discussion ("Just be good for goodness sake"). Really and truly, what is the worst thing that could happen if someone were to see a statement promoting skepticism? Would it cause pandemonium (etymology: demons everywhere)? Would people start crashing their cars and yelling at their children? Better stay safe and limit advertisements to the promotion of whiskey, beer and fatty foods.

    BTW, your post provoked me to read a bit about the Australian version of the U.S. First Amendment. To my surprise, there is none.

  2. Hank says:

    Correct. I don't think we have a Bill of Rights as such either. i get the impression a lot of our freedoms are merely implied 🙂

    But I do know what would happen if any government tried to curtail the freedoms that we've come to know and love! Certainly wouldn't be non-violent or peaceful. We're a generally quiet bunch until provoked, as our history in places like Tobruk and PNG (and at the Eureka Stockade) would testify.

    While I doubt APN would want to print anything I've ever written on one of their buses I really fail to see any logical reason to refuse to display atheist ads, especially of the very, very non-threatening sort TAFA created. We're just another bunch of people with money to spend. Of course when ideology is involved we all know, only too well, that logic, reason and logical reasons are the first casualties.

    Wow, you gotta love the KKK getting support from the ACLU – just bring that up next time some GOP talking-point paste-bot starts deriding the ACLU as a bunch of partisan lefty moonbats!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    It appears that a city intervened to dismantle an atheist billboard in Rancho Cucamonga, California. http://laist.com/2008/11/29/atheists_sue_religiou

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: What do you think about this billboard message: "Don't Believe in God? You are Not Alone." It got enough theists angry that one Colorado billboard company refused to display the message.

    Courtesy of "The Friendly Atheist." http://friendlyatheist.com/6422/questioning-god-i

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: Australia is not alone.

    Italian atheists have lost a bid to run "no God" advertisements on city buses after strong opposition from conservative political parties, a member of the group said on Saturday.

    The ads reading "The bad news is that God doesn't exist. The good news is that you don't need him" were to have been put on buses in the northern city of Genoa, home to the Catholic cardinal who is head of the Italian Bishops Conference.


  6. Erich Vieth says:

    The Seattle atheists are recruiting Thomas Jefferson for their upcoming bus campaign: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    Here's a video from the other perspective, sort of: Atheists Everywhere!

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/v8CtVhVImBM&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/v8CtVhVImBM&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1&quot; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    The atheist buses are now showing up in Indiana, the heart of the Bible Belt. Their slogan: "You Can Be Good without God."

    <object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/04yzp0v5sxM&hl=en&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/04yzp0v5sxM&hl=en&fs=1&quot; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object>

  9. Hank says:

    Excellent. It's all falling into place. Soon we shall purge the world of priests and holy books and churches and temples and hetero marriage and Republicans! Muaaahahahahahaha!

    I like the Seattle campaign using Thomas Jefferson's words. A lot of fundies like to claim he was all about God and use him as justification for the whole "Christian nation" trope without reading a damn thing he ever said on the subject. He was certainly no atheist, but his ideals & values about religion and secularism echo many of the same things as the modern godless. Democratic revolutionary aside, he was a pioneer of that dirty word – "secularism"!

    • Tony Coyle says:

      I had always thought the references to "Jefferson's Bible" were apocryphal, until I came across one in a Philadelphia bookshop. It appealed to me, because I found the hippy Jesus to have some good messages about being Human – but always thought the religious trappings were somewhat authoritarian (and didn't jibe with the actual 'jesus' doctrine as I read it)

      It's now available online at the University of Virginia Library.

      There is actually a really good version online at Beliefnet (a religious site) showing Jefferson's deletions in context, which I found helpful in trying to understand Jefferson's reasoning.

      Shock! Horror! An atheist promoting a religious site! It must be the End Times! [/snark]

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    A new billboard in Phoenix reads: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” Some passers-by are offended, of course.


  11. Erich Vieth says:

    On buses in Finland, you may not post a banner suggesting that there is no God, but you may post sexually suggestive ads. http://heresygenerator.blogspot.com/2009/06/athei

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