The picture is a close-up of a man’s face sneering at the camera as he shoves his tongue between two of his own outstretched fingers. It comes across as provocative, sexually suggestive, perhaps aggressive and definitely silly. The kind of thing you might see on the cover of Xtra, actually.
But it happens to be one of the posters for the new Canadian hockey comedy movie Goon, and where you won’t be seeing it is on any of Astral Media’s bus shelters. The posters for the film, which opened on Feb 24, were removed by Astral by order of the City of Toronto on Feb 22 – a mere two days before the film’s premiere – after a single complaint was filed against them.
The offending tongue and fingers belong to none other than Jay Baruchel, a Canadian actor best known for his roles in American comedies like Knocked Up and Undeclared. When quizzed about the removal of 38 posters featuring his likeness, Baruchel (who also co-wrote the film's script) called the incident “another classic example of the cultural divide between Quebec and Ontario.”
But it appears that he spoke too soon: on Feb 24, 70 posters were removed from metro stations across Montreal after the Société de Transport de Montréal declared them offensive.
Whether you consider the removal of the posters censorship or an appropriate response to an offensive image, most would agree that losing a large chunk of advertising two days before a film opens is hardly ideal from a marketing perspective. But could it actually be an unexpected boon for Goon?
“People have said it’s the worst possible time for the posters to be taken down,” says Charlie Keil, director of the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. “I would argue that it’s the opposite. Because if the posters had been taken down right after they were put up, everyone would have forgotten by now. This is exactly what you want: to be in the news cycle just as your film is opening . . . It’s extending the degree of controversy about the film, beyond the obvious hook of hockey violence.”
Even before the poster scandal broke, Goon, which tells the story of an aggressive, simple-minded man, played by Seann William Scott, who becomes a highly sought-after minor league enforcer, was making the news because of its depiction of fighting in the rink.
“I’ve read enough about the movie to know that it’s extremely violent,” Keil says. “It’s clearly aimed at a more adult audience, and so the question that arises then is, Is it okay for advertising for something that’s only directed to a specific portion of the population to be available to everyone? Because, the argument would be, the movie isn’t available to everyone. So, should advertising that is done in the spirit of the movie be available to everyone?”
Then there’s the gesture itself. Just how offensive is Baruchel’s two-finger salute? Does it rank up there with flipping the bird? Keil doesn’t think so: “It’s not as universal as that recent MIA incident where she gave the middle finger during the Super Bowl. There, you have an understanding that is widely acknowledged — and it means only one thing — and many feel that gesture cannot be shown. But I don’t know if this quite fits into that category as easily.”
The prudes who might be put off by Baruchel’s gesture also might not, you know, get it. And even if they do, is a code for oral sex absolutely taboo on a movie poster? Would the reaction be the same, say, for a poster of Megan Fox suggestively holding a Popsicle while winking at the camera?
“I think that if you had a woman doing it,” says Keil, “it would probably be construed as much more sexual than a man doing it.” And not just sexual, but sexy. Because while Baruchel’s gesture is certainly the former, it’s arguably not the latter. “It isn’t sexy,” Keil says. “And no offence to him, but I would say that he’s not, either. It’s not the same as having Brad Pitt do it on a poster.”Ironically, the posters that two major Canadian cities have deemed too risqué for public consumption appear to have been designed specifically for a Canadian audience. US and UK advertisements for Goon focus on its American stars Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber, while the Canadian campaign included images of Baruchel and Marc-André Grondin (best known for his performance in the critically acclaimed gay coming-of-age film CRAZY), presumably because they are both from Canada. So much for the hometown advantage.