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australia’s hottest asylum seeker. seriously?

I heard news today that disgusted me to the point that I was unable to finish my lunch – Zoo Weekly are running a competition called ‘Australia’s Hottest Asylum Seeker’. Yeah. Digest the below add for a moment.

I’ve read Zoo Weekly once before. My best friend and I found a discarded issue on a train after a bottle of wine at dinner and flicked through it, then started speaking (probably to the joy of our fellow passengers) about how we felt about men’s magazines.

I generally don’t have any issues with them. If a guy (or a girl) wants to look at a woman who has willingly been photographed naked and feels empowered by it, then fine. Besides, those magazines are all about the articles anyways, right?

Zoo Weekly have been in the media a few times for their dubious taste in competitions.  In 2007, they encouraged men to send in photos of their girlfriend’s cleavage in order for them to win a boob job. And in 2008, they offered a divorce package to one ‘lucky’ man, promising to cover legal fees, a divorce party (complete with a party filled with pin-up girls and a cake) and…a play station. While these two competitions were in extremely poor taste, they don’t even come close to ‘Australia’s Hottest Asylum Seeker’.

This competition has so many levels of wrong.

There’s the treatment of Green’s Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. They superimposed her head on a model’s body and invited her to pose in a ‘tasteful’ bikini or lingerie shoot, and in return promised to house asylum seekers. Because, of course, a young female politician should bring out her boobs if she wants to make a difference.

The add appeared in the July 16th issue, alongside a  two-page spread that was oh-so-cleverly titled ‘Sexiest Boat People’. Between photographs of women in bikinis on boats, they listed facts about refugees. Because the most appropriate place to hear that one in 25 boat people die before reaching Australian shores is between photos of breasts. Obviously. Now, you might tell me, it’s getting men’s attention! Letting them know about  important issues! Am I just being fantastical when I think we need to give men a little more credit and that they are capable of digesting social issues without a side of side-boob?

I’m not intending to start a debate or a discussion on policies surrounding asylum seekers. That can be another article. But I love a great infograph.

I’d like to think regardless of anyone’s political position, they’d agree that asylum seekers have been through hell. They are escaping their country because they are fearful for their lives. They have come to Australia because they want a better life. They want two basic civil liberties we’re lucky enough to take for granted: safety and freedom. And how does an Australian media outlet respond to this? By joking about them being shot. By telling women to speak about their tragic past, just as long as they take off their shirts when they do so. By saying since they are no longer being persecuted, they may as well be sexy. We’ve boundless plains to share, but only if you’re a babe.

There is also something inherently wrong and massively exploitative about pitting tragedy against tragedy under the guise of a competition which turns out to be about who’s the sexiest. It’s making a humongous, heartbreaking issue into something commercial and light-hearted. It’s not educating anyone on the issue. It’s trivialising it.

And I don’t think we can shake our heads at Zoo’s editorial team and call them silly little scamps. The article and the competition aren’t ‘misguided’ or ‘cheeky’. It displays a disturbing lack of sympathy and social conscious. And horrifyingly, part of me wonders if the editorial board proceeded with this story in the hopes it would stir up controversy in the media and increase their circulation.

I’m interested to see how this plays out over the next couple days. In my dream world, Zoo and ACP would apologise and withdraw the competition. And I know it’s not this easy, but it would be wonderful if ACP would ask one of their socially conscious titles– such as Madison – to run a collection of profiles on asylum seekers. No competition. No bikinis. Just their stories. And that way, hopefully people will start connecting the term ‘boat people’ with individual faces and plights, and we can bring humanity back into the discussion – without any references to wanking or cup-size.

(Image credit)

4 thoughts on “australia’s hottest asylum seeker. seriously?

  1. “part of me wonders if the editorial board proceeded with this story in the hopes that it would stir up controversy in the media and increase their circulation” – yep, think you nailed it.

  2. Great piece, I really wish more care went into decisions like these. I’m sure they wanted it to be controversial, but what about the damage it’s doing to people’s perceptions – not to mention new members of our society who think they’ve got to get their tits out to be accepted. I’m glad to see such a thoughtful – and not hysterical – discussion of the issue. We need more of this.

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