How not to advertise a philosophy conference?

Rebecca Kukla comments on Facebook: “Um. Some one(s) thought this was funny but it seems super offensive to me. Philosophy conference as mostly naked mostly male combat sport with lots of chaotic fighting? Ugggghh.”and “I’m super annoyed at this.the whole keynote speaker as macho he-man warrior is also too much to bear. Can you imagine if the genders were reversed and they had the two female keynotes’ heads superimposed on the bodies of nearly naked hypersexualized models?”

And it’s a bioethics conference, a sub-field in Philosophy not exactly known for its shortage of women.

Better imagery please. I worry that this one perpetuates the worst stereotypes of philosophers, all combative and male.

23 thoughts on “How not to advertise a philosophy conference?

  1. Hi, there’s a fine line between funny and stupid, between edgy and obscene. I’d prefer the white cow in snow motif to this sham.

  2. It’s a joke. Pro-wrestling is a joke and not hyper-sexualized. Two other women and I are in the poster and it was made by a woman. Lighten up.

  3. It’s a joke. Pro-wrestling is a joke and not hypersexualized. I’m in the poster with 2 other women, one who created it. Lighten up.

  4. I think that everyone understands it’s a joke, but the humor seems a bit adolescent, like something for a high school gathering from a not particulary sensitive group of teenagers, not what one would expect from a discipline which in theory is “love of wisdom”.

  5. Only if you see it as hypersexualized. It’s not serious but it’s not adolescent. The point was that it was between two “heavyweights” in this field. This was the best poster we could find that had all of the combatants whose faces we could fill in with our own.

  6. Pro-wrestling is a joke and not hyper-sexualized.

    I’m happy to agree with the first part, but the second part is, sadly enough, not true. It’s in fact hard to think of any areas of pop culture that are _more_ hyper-sexualized than pro-wresting. For quite a few years, it’s been as bad, or worse, than the most vulgar video games. If your memories of it are of 1980’s Hulk-Hogan and Cindy Lauper type stuff (goofy, not completely innocent, but mostly for fun) you don’t know how awful it’s been for some time. I’m not 100% sure I want to take a stand on any other aspect of this particular issue one way or another, but it’s just not true (anymore, if ever) that pro-wresting isn’t “hypersexualized”.

  7. Basically taking the p*ss out of philosophy as combat. But I’m also into wrestling.

  8. I might think this was funny if it was the only conference that *felt* like this (i.e., if there hadn’t been a post a day ago on the tumblr with all male panels). But it wouldn’t surprise me to see this poster for almost literally any other conference in philosophy.

  9. I made the poster, so I may be biased in thinking that it was hilarious. For what it’s worth, this conference has a tradition of advertising with posters where our faces are edited onto another picture. We picked an adversarial theme this year because the conference is structured as something of a debate between our two excellent keynote speakers.

    Last year, we chose “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer” by van Mierevelt; the year before, it was Raphael’s “School of Athens.” We’ve always been careful to explain to presenters that the poster will be rather goofy and make sure they have plenty of opportunities to veto their photo appearing there. No one ever has; most people request specific bodies for their heads.

    Ultimately, this wasn’t meant to glorify violence in philosophy, but to draw out the contrast between our rather tame abstract disagreements and actual physical brawls. (And to poke fun at ourselves.)

  10. I’m surprised to see this level of criticism directed at a graduate student who simply helped out with conference organization and thought that pro-wrestling was funny. If my own experience with poster design is any guide, she was not in any way compensated, and judging by the quality of the poster, she probably poured hours of work into it. I can’t imagine how I would feel if, after working long and hard on something, for free, as a service to the profession, I was personally targeted in a professional forum such as this for my choice of theme. I would hope that we could have conversations about important issues like the underrepresentation of women in philosophy/bioethics and the combative nature of philosophical engagement without targeting individual female graduate students for public censure.

  11. Look at the scorecard for heaven’s sake. I think the op and some of the comments here have missed the satire.

  12. There something about humour, that when criticized, (1) it’s always taken as a personal attack, or at least about one’s intention, and you see people hitting the roof, and (2) the rebuff almost always includes something of the form of “lighten up, it’s just humour” (rather than address critics).

    If you insult someone without meaning it (e.g. because you don’t know her language very well), you’ll apologise. Why is it so hard to apologise for unintentional offense when it takes the form of humour?

    Something along the lines of “I thought it was funny, I see your point, we’ll come up with something else next time”, or even “I’m not convinced about hypersexualization, but if you feel the agonistic, male-fantasy-centered imagery could alienate prospective participants, we’ll take it into account” would do fine. (I feel.)

  13. I think it’s funny and can totally see you making this. If people knew you, they would know the last thing you were doing was trying to insult someone. People need to take time to relax and laugh a little. Life has become way too serious.

  14. I think I see where the humor in this poster was supposed to be, but given controversies in the profession in the past few years (at least) about adversariality and the maleness of philosophy, this poster seems tone-deaf. When I first saw it (before I’d read the post or any of the replies), I thought it represented some kind of reactionary response to critiques of the adversariality and maleness of philosophy.

    Dmitri, people who make posters for philosophy conferences (something a lot of us have to do from time to time) should be made aware of these concerns, whether or not they are graduate students, whether or not they are doing it for free.

  15. I don’t think anyone thinks the maker of the poster was trying to insult anyone or intentionally cause offence. The criticisms I’ve seen – at least – have just been along the lines that the poster was ill-judged, for the reasons given.

    I’m going to reiterate though, that I don’t find these criticisms at all compelling. I thought (and still think) that the poster is hilarious. I’m puzzled by claims that it helps perpetuate stereotypes of philosophy as male, adversarial, etc., and that it’s ‘tone-deaf’, because my immediate reaction to the poster was that it does exactly the opposite – it immediately appeared to me as a send-up of all these things. Partly because pro-wrestling is itself a hilarious, overblown parody of a certain idea of masculinity (is this roughly what people meant by hypersexualized??) I also took the poster to be poking fun at the seriousness with which philosophers sometimes take their topics. (The scorecard lists, amongst other things, ‘disciples’.) Frankly, if I saw a conference advertised like this, I’d like to go to it.

    I’m not quite sure what my point is. I guess I thought the person who made the poster might like to know that not everyone here finds it offensive/ill-judged.

    I also rather wonder, given the tendency of the internet to blow things out of proportion by broadcasting conversations far and wide, whether it might now be better to talk about something else.

  16. Don’t like it either, but combative is not generally a stereotype I have of philosophers or even of male philosophers. Socrates and midwifery, old men sitting at desks, strong glasses etc. But not combat. I’d be surprised if that was the stereotype anyone has of philosophers.

  17. I have to admit I’m getting worried. This is twice now, first Matisse’s Dance, and now Wrestling, where people have jumped to the accusation of ‘hyper-sexuality’. What is going on here?

  18. I’ve closed comments on this post because we seem to have run out of productive, helpful things to say.

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