The image of a distracted boyfriend ogling another woman to the shock and disgust of his girlfriend was called the “Meme of the Year” for 2017, but now is being blasted by an advertising watchdog as antiquated and sexist.
The stock image by photographer Antonio Guillem gained popularity last year, with users taking the image of a boyfriend checking out another woman to the disgust of his girlfriend and turning it into a meme to show a sudden new interest in something or someone. But as the Guardian noted, the picture has also generated some controversy.
The stock image has come under fire from Sweden’s advertising ombudsman after being used in an advertisement for an employment recruiting agency. The ombudsman said the picture sends the wrong message about women.
“The advertisement objectifies women,” the ombudsman said. “It presents women as interchangeable items and suggests only their appearance is interesting … It also shows degrading stereotypical gender roles of both men and women and gives the impression men can change female partners as they change jobs.”
The image showed the man as an individual while the two women were interchangeable objects, and one was “a sex object … unrelated to the advertisement.” The advertisement, which ran in Swedish media, actually generated some pushback at the time from commenters who believed it was not appropriate.
The picture behind the Distracted Boyfriend meme was meant to be a light-hearted look at infidelity, the photographer explained in an interview last year.
“We decided to take a few risks, planning a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way,” Guillem told Wired. “It was quite challenging to achieve face expressions that were believable, mainly because we always have a really great work atmosphere, and almost all the time one of the models was laughing while we were trying to take the picture.”
But though the picture became one of the most popular memes of all time, Guillem explained that it didn’t translate to much money for him. He noted that the top-selling stock images can generate up to 6,000 sales a year, but the Distracted Boyfriend picture has been sold close to 700 times a year. His best-selling image is actually a solo image of one of the women from the picture smiling.
“Memes haven’t given us any kind of economic profit, because most of the images haven’t been sold on the microstock agencies,” Guillem said. “They are being used without the proper license on those agencies.”
Though the Swedish ombudsman has an issue with the Distracted Boyfriend meme being used in an advertisement, the office has no authority to impose sanctions.