The makers of Minute Maid orange juice are strongly denying suggestions that its television ad campaign featuring Popeye the sailorman promotes a homosexual agenda.

“There’s nothing hidden in our intent,” company spokesman Dan Schafer told WorldNetDaily. “There’s no hidden message to it.”

The issue gained worldwide attention after a report in the Daily Star of London featured the headline: “Oh Buoy! Popeye’s gone gay!” The report analyzed a recent juice commercial starring cartoon characters Popeye and his traditional nemesis, Bluto.

Popeye and Bluto, “buddies for life”

“Beefy Bluto squeals with joy as he pushes muscle-bound Popeye back and forth on a swing in a children’s playground,” the report said. “Then the two tough guys lark about on a see-saw before heading off to the beach. Their new-found affection for each other is sealed when they get the words ‘Buddies For Life’ tattooed on their bulging arms.”

The sudden chums also ignore a sexy pose by Olive Oyl and ride off into the sunset together on a tandem bike.

“That’s appalling to me,” says Craig Thompson, a 34-year-old father of two from Cleveland, Tenn., who objects to the ad’s content. “I don’t think it’s fair to take cartoon characters kids are familiar with and present them in a way that will make homosexuality seem normal.”

Thompson voiced his objections to Minute Maid, saying he views himself as a guardian for what his children see.

“The core issue is somebody designed this ad and wrote the storyboard – it didn’t just pop on TV; it was approved,” he told WorldNetDaily. “There is either complete ignorance about what this is endorsing, or it’s a deliberate agenda.”

But Minute Maid, which controls some 20 percent of the $3 billion U.S. orange juice market, rejects the notion the ad has anything to do with homosexuality. It’s running three commercials it calls parodies, each with the theme that drinking Minute Maid orange juice in the morning changes one’s outlook on life. The other ads besides Popeye depict:

  • A helpful husband who suddenly cooks and does laundry, leaving his wife to wonder what’s happened to him. The tagline to the ad is: “Someone had their Minute Maid today.”

  • College basketball coach Bobby Knight who, belying his austere character, acts courteously, going so far as to throw his arms around a referee to say, “You guys are doing a great job!”

Showing Popeye and Bluto as friends laughing together is “the total antithesis from being at each other’s throats,” according to Schafer, who says the commercial is not designed to appeal to any one group. “We want everybody to like our ads.”

Ironically, the marketing of oranges and orange juice has had a history of controversy, especially with the issue of homosexuality.

Anita Bryant, Florida Sunshine Tree girl

In the 1970s, former Miss America Anita Bryant was the official spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, hawking the well-known line: “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

Expounding family and Christian values, Bryant became embroiled in a battle against homosexual rights in south Florida. She helped repeal a 1977 gay-rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, but the fight took a toll on her professional career. Her status as spokeswoman for Florida Citrus ended in 1980.

In the 1990s, homosexuals put the squeeze on Florida Citrus after radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh was named as a spokesperson for orange juice. They objected to a staunch conservative as national pitchman for the beverage, leading to a “Flush Rush” campaign. Some restaurants were documented dumping orange juice down toilets in response. While Limbaugh’s on-air popularity has skyrocketed, Citrus Commission officials opted for a less controversial figure – actor Burt Reynolds.

The current ad campaign by Minute Maid began last spring, and its commercials have rotated off the broadcast schedule, though the company doesn’t believe the dispute over Popeye will have an impact on further use.

“People should be careful not to see something when there’s nothing there,” says Schafer.

Minute Maid did receive “some response” from consumers who objected, though it won’t say how much. Meanwhile, some homosexual publications are embracing the idea of Popeye and Bluto appearing “gay” in the ads, even if it was unintended.

“We’ve heard reports of ‘gay’ publications that welcome the ads,” says Schafer. “That’s life, I say. … Our product is a product that has broad appeal.”

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