March 29, 2007

Embarrassment is behind the Trident complaints

Accusing someone of being racist is the nuclear option in any argument. It’s tough enough as an individual – if you express a view that's subsequently labelled racist, it would be very difficult to extricate your point from the cloud of doubt that surrounds you should you have the gall to stick to your guns.
It’s a done deal. Call you racist. Argument over. Get your coat. Go home.
When the accusation hits a corporate target then there is no hiding place, like Cadbury who had to back down in the face of over 500 complaints.
I’m going to put my head on the block by saying that the racial stereotyping within the Trident gum ads is not racist.
Most of the complaints seem to focus on the original ads featuring the black poet not, as some news stories suggest, the subsequent ads where white people mimic the poet’s accent.
This is puzzling, as the wave of complaints are targeting the performance of a black actor. The problem can’t be the accent itself because there are umpteen ad campaigns where West Indian intonation is very clear (quick examples: the Lilt ladies c.2001-2003, Malibu 2003 to date, even that awful white couple from last year’s Woolwich ad; plus a whole host of white people singing the Banana Boat song in West Indian accents for Kellogg’s Fruit & Fibre in 2004).
The first Trident ads are entirely cringe-worthy. They are teeth-gnashingly, toe-curlingly, poker-in-the-eyes-ingly embarrassing to watch (but everyone remembers the brand name – so job done). I believe it’s the aesthetic awfulness of the ads that have caused offence, and firing the Trident racist nuclear missile was just an easy way of blasting the ads off the screens.

In the interests of research, I dispatched a brace of scantily clad monkeygirls to find a typical ad numpty, and ask his opinion:
"OFFENSIVE! You say? Why, I say it is too. Why waste your life listening to POETRY like some weak Athenian? I don’t have time to listen to this yet I fear this will not be over quickly. What is your profession? Are you Persian? I like the manner of your dress. You ARE a Persian then. There's no reason we can't be civil.Yes, I do have some complaints. COME AND GET THEM because TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!
Madness? THIS! IS! SP-" [interview ends]


Doug said...

best. numptie. ever.

Amelia said...

Oh my god, I beg to disagree.

I saw these ads on TV and literally I say there wondering how many years, centuries, we as a culture had progressed. The happy black man singing in a funny happy voice for his white audience, who watch him in a smug, contended way. AAAGGHH.

I am so pleased that they were banned. I am sorry if you had anything to do with them, but they really are shite of the up-most degree. And racist.

FishNChimps said...

thanks for the comment amelia - I think you're the first person who has brought up the issue about the audience, but as I understand it the performance is supposed to be of reggae poetry, not comedy, and the audience is bemused (once he starts on the Trident) rather than smug.
Most of us would know racism when it's obvious - but it becomes very subjective when we touch on grey areas such as with this ad (which I or my agency had nothing to do with, incidentally).
My point is that if you compare the fellow in this ad with, say, the smiling, happy Lilt ladies or the poor but jolly Malibu natives (all very recent Caribbean / W.Indian ad characters), then I challenge anyone to define which of them is racist. I don't recall any fuss against the same racial sterotypes appearing in these ads.
Does the ad earn its racism label because it includes a much-used stereotype in an AWFUL ad?
Personally, I consider the Woolwich whiteys at the airport to be racist and no different than the Tory councillor in today's papers (the one who dressed up as Nelson Mandela)

Scamp said...

It's a lovely thought that members of the public used racism as a pretext, their real objection being that the ads were simply crap!

TNT666 said...

Unfortunately, marketing trends and policies being what they are, as a society, when we allow smidgens of PUBLIC racism to reach the airwaves, the result is that more obvious racism will also find it's way, since viewers have now been somewhat desensitized.

Trident commercials in Quebec now feature huge CGIed flapping lips (on black people) ridiculously screaming.

Easter Island anyone?

Now, we also have a cell phone company, KOODO, which uses CGI to exaggerate black lips flapping.

Give a marketing firm an inch (cm) and they'll take a mile (km)

CGIed flapping lips on nearly only black actors in multiple different commercials in 2 different companies, within months of each other.

This needs to be addressed in all countries.