There’s no question that a lot of Wicked Campers’ slogans are offensive. You’ve seen them on the road, right? The spray painted camper vans covered in slogans about sex, drugs and rock and roll.
But here’s the thing. Being offended occasionally is kind of a first world problem. It means you live in a society where free speech happens. There are a million things you see or hear every day that might offend you; from our politicians, to our news media, to camper vans. We are lucky to live in a vibrant and diverse society. The price is that you have to live with people saying things you don’t like.
Wicked Campers made news this week after a Sydney mum started a petition on change.org condemning the company’s advertising, and attracting over 119,000 signatures. Now the Senate has unanimously passed a motion put by the Greens censuring the offensive slogans. The Advertising Standards Board has also made a truckload of adverse rulings about the slogans in the past, but it’s powerless to force any action from Wicked Campers.
Government intervention should not be the answer. For the most part, it’s not illegal to be offensive (unless we’re talking racially offensive). And it shouldn’t be. Whether something is offensive is massively subjective and public opinion spans a wide range. It’s dangerous for the government to start dictating a standard. Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson made this point in response to the Senate motion.
In this case though, the government pressure has worked. Wicked Campers was initially unrepentant notwithstanding the petition, but since the Senate motion passed it has apologised and said it would change its slogans.
Kind of a disappointing outcome. This is a free market. If you don’t like a company; don’t patronise it. Protest against it if you like and start a petition. If everyone dislikes the company then it will go bust. But the government should not intervene to dictate our social standards; that’s for us to figure out for ourselves.