‘Obscene’ beer label causes row in Russia


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A beer bottle label has caused a row in Russia over its use of sado-masochistic imagery, exacerbated by the decision of a state agency to run an online poll for or against it.

The Kopytov Brewery in Barnaul, a city in the Altai region of Siberia, launched its new Pryanik Imperial Stout with a stylised close-up of a woman with a ball-gag in her mouth, designed to look like a traditional Russian pryanik honey cake, Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reports.

The brewery’s Instagram account lauds the craft beer as an “aromatic tsunami of cinnamon, clove, anise, black pepper and juniper, just like a real pryanik – but damned alcoholic”.

But Yuliya Shlyakhova, a fashion designer formerly of Barnaul but now living in St Petersburg, complained to the Anti-Monopoly Service that the image “displays violence towards women, and is obscene and offensive”.

The brewery, meanwhile, insists that it meant no offence, has great respect for women, and favours “humour, art, and what is appropriate”.

The Altai branch of the Anti-Monopoly Service then took the step of setting up an online vote to see whether or not the public found the advert offensive, on the grounds that “a comprehensive review requires a study of social opinion”.

The Altai branch has tried this method before over complaints of “fat-shaming” in two adverts by fitness clubs, according to the local Bankfax news site, but it was not prepared for the scale or tenor of the response on this occasion.

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The idea of letting a poll play a role in a quasi-legal process has caused almost as much as a stir as the label itself, and it has all played out on the Service’s VK social media account, where it opened a forum for the public to post their views.

“I’m amazed that enforcing the law has become a matter of online voting,” Yuliya Shlyakhova told the Altai edition of the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily. “So whoever has the most friends on VK decides what’s right and wrong?”

The VK forum provoked little constructive debate, and the level of personal abuse made the Service close comments within a matter of hours.

Some participants asked whether defenders of the advert would find it funny if a man, or they themselves, were shown similarly gagged.

Others pointed out the social-media backlash against a Russian Reebok advert with a female empowerment theme last month, not to mention the Gillette campaign about “toxic masculinity”.

Feminists nationwide “rushed to vote” once they saw the poll leaning 62% in favour of the advert, according to the Altai Bankfax news agency, especially after the influential Kuny ne Nuzhny (Blokes not Needed) site highlighted the issue.

‘Right to decide’

In the end the opponents prevailed, as the Anti-Monopoly Service said 58% of the 28,135 votes cast on its official website gave the advert the thumbs-down – although the figures on its social media platforms leaned towards support for the ad. The Service is now considering how to respond, and the brewery could face a hefty fine.

As for Yuliya Shlyakhova, she hopes the debate about the advert will lead to a “discussion about tolerance of violence, women’s safety, and their rights to decide on what is permissible“.

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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