Lost in Translation

2008 brought us the Summer Olympics from Beijing, China. Although here in the United States it was swimmer Michael Phelps and his historic eight gold medals which garnished most of the media attention, a disturbing promotional photograph from the Spanish men's basketball team rather quietly showed up in the press. The depiction (seen above) shows the Spanish men's basketball team putting their fingers to the corner's of their eyes. This is symbolic of a racist expression in which the eyes are narrowed by putting the fingertips toward the back corner of the eye and pulling the skin of the face and eyelids gently toward the ears. This gives the look of a narrower eye, a physical characteristic prominent among several cultures on the continent of Asia. Although the team does not appear to pull back toward the ears, it is clear they are referencing the known gesture.

This promotional gaffe is inexcusable. Although the Spanish men's basketball team ended up apologizing to the host country and all was forgiven without national incident, I wonder who it was that deemed this as appropriate or as a "good idea" in the first place? If in the apology (as I believe it was) it was stated that the team was "only joking", I'm curious as to what is funny or what the punchline would be? Culturally it seems as if there has been a certain disconnect between the Spaniards and the Chinese. I guess it is not only unique to Americans to be culturally foolish and insensitive. Perhaps the "joke" was lost in translation.

On Vacation?

It must first be stated that this ad comes from Equality, a magazine published by the
Human Rights Campaign (which advocates for equal rights and is pro-LGBT issues). I guess on some level it seems almost insulting to the intelligence of someone to run an ad like this. If the ad ran in a more mainstream media outlet, it might even be glossed over, but in reality the ad works hard on differing levels for American Airlines. On one hand the two men that are most prominent in the ad are most likely a gay couple (given the greater context of where the ad was found) going on vacation. They have their “we’re-on-vacation” flowered pattern shirts on and they’re carrying bags, but the ad is purposely ambiguous. The text below the men informs you that “we are the first and only airline to score 100% on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for six years in a row”, but they are far from advocating for homosexuality, promoting equality, or discouraging discrimination in the ad. The ad (although perhaps well intentioned) seems to reach out to the gay community, but only with short alligator arms. If the intent of the ad was to appeal to a gay audience, why are the two men not holding hands (or something else that is not lewd in anyway but reflects the men’s love and/or admiration of one another)?

This advertisement is a grandiose representation of attempting to be liberal while still situating itself in the promotion of conservative social and societal values. All the messages by American Airlines to say, “hey… we’re gay friendly!” are subtlety located in the text, such as “Book now at AA.com/rainbow”. Why can’t homosexual passengers wishing to book a flight simply go to the same web address that everyone wishing to book a flight would go to. I think American Airlines attempts a weak and shameful in road at half-heartedly and laughably trying to get the gay dollar.

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

The following is a short article by Tim Wise, addressing white privilege... particularly in reference to the current Presidential race...

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay. White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug. White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action. White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”
 White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), you're a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.
 White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.
 White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.
 White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives near Russia, you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.
 White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”
 White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected. White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.
 White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks. White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.), and that's OK, and you're still cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office. White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you then go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly 20 years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you may have sold drugs at some point. White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you dangerously naive and immature.White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW, so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and noting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot. White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…
White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Although the article is obviously slanted toward the left, I believe it establishes some existing scenarios that would make for some interesting discussions between both McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden supporters alike.

What Exactly is Sex Selling?

Let us take a moment to look at a print ad outside of racism and explore sexism. It is no secret that the advertising industry has used human sexuality to sell any and every product under the sun, but this Dolce & Gabbana ad certainly takes things to another level; in particular it is difficult to ascertain what is being advertised other than the company itself. We can assume that it is jeans, shirts, and/or a dress, but the scene that the ad portrays is disturbing. When push comes to shove the ad looks like the beginnings of a gang rape. The women is completely in a position of submission and vulnerability. She is being pinned down by a muscular male, sans shirt, who seems to be lustfully leering at her through his sun glasses. Three other men stand around watching, seemingly captivated by the exercise of power and control of their supposed companion over the hapless woman. The most suggestive part of the entire advertisement is the positioning of the man’s hands over the woman’s wrist. This is a more than obvious position of power and is essentially the lynchpin that makes this ad feel so uncomfortable after you witness it.

This ad serves to deeply continue a long standing practice of objectifying women. Although rape is much more an act of power and control than sexual conquest, many people misinterpret the act as profoundly sexual in nature. This ad lucidly portrays both. The other aspect of the ad that seems like a small detail but is actually a very powerful, provocative gesture is that the women’s hips are thrust upward toward the male who lingers over her. This seems subtle, but if we look more deeply at body language and question what this is communicating it reflects a disturbing attitude. Although some might suggest that it is reflective of the women struggling to get away from the man who has pinned her down, from my vantage point it seems that the ad is attempting to communicate that the woman is a willing partner and that she is sexually stimulated by becoming subservient and dominated. I think this ad sends a deplorable message, particularly in terms of the bedroom-esque scene it portrays.

Stemming back to a decidedly puritanical views toward human sexuality, Americans are not having conversations about sex (or if they are they happening behind closed doors, only with a trusted friend or partner). In most of American culture sex is taboo. This leads to the conclusion that our thoughts and ideas about sex are learned through socialization by the mass media and that is why this seems to be such a dangerous vision of sexual behavior between men and woman.

UnINTELligent Advertising

We last took a look at print ads from decades past, but now we turn our attention to the ads of today. This Intel ad for Core 2 Duo processors is current but demonstrates a more subtle but just as disturbing presentation of racism. Although the sprinters readying in the blocks are suppose to represent the faster speed of Intel’s new Core 2 Duo Processors, a closer look reveals that they are all black sprinters and they look to be bowing down to their white master, the collared golf shirt and khaki panted, the Intel guy. This racist pitfall could have easily been avoided by simply offering a few different shades of skin in the starting blocks. Having watched the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, I saw many different colors of sprinter, which is what makes this ad so puzzling. On some conscious or subconscious level this choice was purposefully made.

Beyond the apparent slave/master comparison, the phrasing at the top of the ad is also created in a framework of cultural bias. The phrase, “and maximize the power of your employees”, in particular, creates the typical stereotype of African-Americans being in a subservient position as ‘workers’ and a Caucasian being in a position of power as the ’boss’. It furthers the point of characterizing what research suggests to already be true, that African-Americans are at a disadvantage, not because they are proportionally less intelligent or hardworking than whites, but because the system is designed to keep blacks (as well as other minorities) at a disadvantage. It is a flawed system created ultimately with the interest of a few at heart. It is a system which protects white cultural beliefs, values, morals, and wealth directly in opposition of upward mobility of minorities, poor, and undereducated.

Flavored Drink Targets North American Indians and Chinese

Often when we think of Pillsbury we think of great tasting, flaky biscuits or the unmistakable laugh of their mascot, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but as the packets for their flavored, dietary drink mix show above, Pillsbury has not always put a happy face on things.

The stereotypes are quickly apparent when analyzing the above drink packets. Curiously the ad wizards who came up with the Funny-Face line of flavored drink mixes forgot to mention to add water, but in their subtle wisdom they definitively added the racism. The name Injun Orange is decidedly more offensive than Chinese Cherry, but the funny faces on each packet quickly balance things out in terms of their offensiveness. Feathers, war paint, and crossed eyes highlight the greater exploits of the orange flavored drink, while the cherry drink plays up stereotypes like slanted slits for eyes and large, jagged teeth.

The Funny-Face line of drinks was introduced by Pillsbury in 1964. I found this to be unbelievable, but probably a greater representation of what was truly happening in that time period rather then the happy nostalgia that is usually propagated by our history texts. As the struggle for civil rights, racial equality, and any semblance of harmony between African Americans and whites is being broadcast across America with cultural icons such as John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X at the forefront, Pillsbury was introducing a terrifically racist line of fruit flavored drinks marketed to moms and children. I am reminded of (Medicine Grizzlybear) Robert Lake’s comments from an Indian Father’s Plea, in which he speaks of his son stating, “let him share his knowledge, heritage, and culture with you and his peers”. I don’t think Wind-Wolf drinking Injun Orange with his grade school pals at lunch is exactly what (Medicine Grizzlybear) Lake had in mind.

McIntosh's Band-Aid Can't Cover White Privilege

After the first meeting of our Multicultural Education class we read an article titled, White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. In that article, McIntosh eloquently acknowledges the “daily effects of white privilege”. In describing the privileges of her white skin color McIntosh states. “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in (a) ’flesh’ color that more or less matches my skin”. If beauty is only skin deep, apparently only ’white’ skin is beautiful enough to have a Band-Aid made that is the same color.

McIntosh’s commentary is perfectly represented in the 1952 Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid advertisement at right. In the ad a Caucasian woman is depicted with a Band-Aid covering a small portion of her upper arm. Just next to the Band-Aid in the print part of the ad are the words “flesh-colored”. Apparently the good people over at Johnson & Johnson forgot a significant portion of the populous which still, in 2008 almost fifty-five years later, would have a very difficult task in finding a “flesh colored” Band-Aid that matched the hue of their skin. It is an almost ridiculous thing to consider, the shade of a strip of plastic placed over a cut to absorb some of the blood from the wound, yet it subtlety speaks volumes about the prejudice that exists at every conceivable tier of our society.

Language Says It All... Again

Racism is a prevalent part of society. Sometimes deep in the bowles of the citizenry, other times out in the open, ugly and in our face. Often recognizing racism can push us beyond our comfort zone. Other times it is so blatant it is almost beyond belief.

If we look at Uncle Remus, portrayed in the ad, he looks friendly, smiling at us; but a closer examination reveals a tie cocked to the side and a vest mostly unbuttoned. He appears curiously disheveled, type cast as impoverished perhaps or simply lacking in terms of societal standards of what looks presentable. It is not immediately clear as to why Uncle Remus’ clothes look unkempt, but further reflection suggests that, despite his best efforts to the contrary and his tasty syrup, he is inferior. Inferior in his socio-economic class, inferior in his language, inferior in his appearance, and inferior in his dress. Inferior in almost every way to his unparalleled savior; the master of a language he cannot seemingly master… the white man.

Language Says It All

Saying that the language maintained in the Cream of Wheat advertisements at right reinforces stereotypes is the equivalent of saying that water is wet and the sky is blue. The broken or slang English contained within the ad is a clear attempt at building a negative image of African Americans (I can almost here the faithful readers of the Media Log crying out in unison… thank you Captain Obvious). The ads delve deep in offering the inaccurate portrayal of African Americans as less intelligent than whites and uneducated. I have heard this linguistic cultural stereotype referred to before as “lazy language”. That phrase alone is bothersome because of its proclivity to further implicate those who use “lazy language” (in this case the ’Cream of Wheat’ man) as being lazy themselves.

After getting past the initial shock of phrasings such as “if they’s bugs they ain’t none in Cream of Wheat…” we can focus in on the other less pronounced, but equally as effective racial bias’ of the advertisement. The other thing that seems out of place is the ear-to-ear smile the man has. In pop culture there is a strange sense of coincidence in that many minorities (as depicted by whites) seem to have a similar, sprawling smile. It seems as if African Americans will forever be shown as the smiling, dutiful servant or the happy, enthusiastic entertainer.

I am again reminded of Cornell West’s Race Matters excerpt in which he says, “we have created rootless, dangling people with little link to the supportive networks--family, friends, school--that sustain some sense of purpose in life”. Although West is speaking of modern day racial relations, I think this thought is closely related to the plight of African Americans in the decades after slavery. Blacks in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s did not have any support networks and as a result were most likely last centuries version of the “rootless, dangling people” West describes in his quote.

Fairy Soap Ad Far From Clean

To attempt to gain perspective and perhaps begin to understand the long existence of racism, sexism, and inequality that has been such a profound part of the fabric of so many global societies, I decided to start by looking at some early advertisements in print media. The first advertisement we will take a look at is a print advertisement for Fairy Soap from the N.K. Fairbank Company. As you can see, the ad above portrays two children, one black, one white standing face-to-face with one another. The white child is holding a bar of Fairy soap in her left hand, while the black child stands holding only her dress in her hand. A question is posed by the not-so-innocent white child. Below the children in quotes reads, “why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?” The racist elements of the question are far from vague. The intent of the producer of the ad is understood. Somewhat subtler racist views also preside in the ad. The white child is wearing shoes and socks, while the black child is barefoot. One could easily interpret this as an acknowledgement that the white child comes from a family with at least some amount of money and wealth. The black child being barefoot is a clear indicator that she is in fact poor and comes from more than humble beginnings. Another element of racism is the positioning of the children’s legs. The white child is stout, her legs slightly bent at the knee, but for the most part straight and firmly planted on the ground. The black child appears to be bowlegged, her legs angling out from her hips to her knee and angling back in from the knee to the ankle. Furthermore, the suggestion that the African American’s skin is dirty because it is darker in color than the white child’s skin is a strong indictment that although the ad attempts to sell soap, there is a more powerful, socializing message omnipresent at the advertisement’s core. These stereotypes send a simple and compelling vision to those who wish to interpret them as truth.

Although I was not able to pinpoint the exact year that the advertisement surfaced my contention, based on the years of existence of Fairy Soap and the N.K. Fairbank Company, is that the ad is from somewhere between 1865 and 1916. With slavery being abolished in 1865, the creators of this ad were far from recognizing African Americans as “created equal”. The ad offers a rare look back (for those of us born in the mid to late 1970’s) at a time of blatant, no-holds-barred racism. Although racist acts are far from rare in the 21st Century, my background in history always seemingly leads me to conclude that there is tremendous accuracy in the old adage, in order to look forward, we must look back.

Race Runs Deep in Chapelle's Comedy

Dave Chapelle is an astounding comedian, famous from his now defunct Comedy Central sketch comedy extravaganza, The Chapelle Show. A deeper investigation of much of his stand-up and sketch comedy reveals a sharp satirical wit, offering a number of comedic bits rooted in poignant investigations of race relations, racial interactions, and racism itself. Chapelle asks powerful questions through his musings and attempts to turn the status quo on its ear.

In our overly sensative, uber-polictically correct culture, it seems like comedy has become the last bastion for open discourse about race. It is in this spirit, without fear, that Dave Chapelle seemlessly intertwines comedian and sociologist, comedian and political analyst, comedian and social theorist, comedian and teacher. In his many comedic endeavors Chapelle has an uncanny ability to capture us with laughter but to offer a powerful, sometimes scathing critique of how ridiculuos racism looks when openly portrayed. He is brillant in holding a mirror up to American culture and asking it to please look at itself. I for one commend him for his courage and emplore him to continue; because at least a few people are listening. For examples of the kind of thought provoking comedy discussed, please view some of Dave Chapelle's work at: