Monthly Archives: November 2010

Where Ignorance Meets Wimpy Idiocy

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Lost it today.

Wimpy owes me an apology. Not a burger. Not a plate of greasy fries. Not a cup of coffee. I want an apology from Wimpy and their marketing executives. Perhaps in the form of a creative ad that openly fights xenophobia. At least that. Or maybe a brand new car. We could definitely use that.

I’ve put up with this long enough. Why should I have to be subjected to another humiliating moment in the face of ignorance, prejudice, and pure idiocy?

Step back. Breathe.

Location: Super Spar (local grocery chain) Sonstraal Heights, Durbanville
Date: 04 November 2010.
Time: around 11:00
Details of Event: I walk up to the cigarette counter – no, I don’t smoke – where the lottery machine was (yes, I do know the impossibility of winning the lottery, and I also know that the people who run it have not given what they promised to hand over to needy NGOs and other organizations!) and just before I say a word one of the two women there blurts out “Two 10ers!”

I froze. Then I felt my forehead heat up. I said coldly “What did you say???”

She said nervously “I was talking to her.”

“No you weren’t. I know what you mean. You shouldn’t do that! I hate that Wimpy ad. It is racist and it is demeaning and it is wrong. You shouldn’t repeat such a thing again!” All of these and more came flowing out of me. I felt my whole body shake with pure anger.

She apologised and I took a deep breath before saying “I shouldn’t have reacted like that, but I’ve had it with people treating me like you did because of that silly ad. It is not the first time and it should never happen to anyone.”

I handed her my lottery ticket – which, as expected, was non-winning – then said sorry again with less life than before.

Now what was wrong with me losing my temper like that?

Well a month ago I had a wave of similar or worse experience which pushed me to start a short reaction to the ad. Then I thought better not make it worse by publishing it, surely such stupidity will pass. Well it definitely hasn’t. So the following was my initial reaction that I now release.

-o-
(Originally written 2 October, shelved, now unleashed)

It is always tricky when one bumps into another evidence of not-so-subtle idiocy. Shrugging shoulders then moving on is one option, hoping that will the be last time. Or maybe not. Is there any escape from the pitfalls of aggressive ignorance?

This is supposed to be funny.

A man walks up to a restaurant that sells greasy (semi-)fastfood. He asks for the special, a smaller version of a regular item on the menu, the “Two 10ers.” Behind him are two well dressed tenors (you see they are tenors by their outfit, of course, so very fitting to wear in such a restaurant, and by the way they blast some notes). But it turns out this eager customer has got it wrong. There is no way he can get the el cheapo special that his heart will forever cherish (feel those arteries popping).

The woman at the counter rolls her eyes and – showing little patience – tries to explain the special. It seems only two ten rands was all that he needed. Two 10ers (R10x2). Silly man. Not two silly tenors!

My god it sounds worse written down. This is supposed to be funny.

But this funny attempt has a context. The customer is Asian – well, in this context I think the viewer is supposed to assume he is Chinese. He speaks English which is not much better than the black woman at the counter. Surely it isn’t just the language that’s the problem here?

The woman at the counter doesn’t openly mock the man. He’s a prospective customer you see, but there is a clear sense of “Man, you’re dumb!” in her reaction.

Sometimes making fun of what you find different, what you do not know and therefore might fear, turns an uncomfortable situation in your favour. If the alien can be ridiculed then you get the upper hand. Of course the worse reaction is to chase them out of your restaurant, out of your township, out of your country. Think xenophobia. Refugees. The thin line is often crossed with just a small push in the direction of ignorance.

This ad throws open the doors to prejudice against Chinese people and those who might look Asian. It mocks the historic struggle of such people in this country. It is nothing but a call to ridicule a particular group. Frankly, I felt offended by it the first time I saw it, but then I grew furious after each incident that I have experienced.

The first time I saw this ad I just shook my head. What sort of reaction was the ad agency expecting? It depends I suppose on who they expect to go to that particular restaurant.

Well I go there sometimes (or should I say I used to?) because they have nicer toys for my kids than McDonald’s. We got mini story books once. Another time it was a set of interlocking toys that had a fully-working compass, a pack of note paper with its own compartment, and a laser light pointer among other wonders!

Almost every single time we went there for a meal we got friendly service. Wait, there was this one time I remember getting funny looks when I went on my own. I had to say things over and over before they understood me. I certainly remember the funny look. It wasn’t that much different from that waitress in the ad!

Since that ad was shown some months ago I’ve had semi-taunts thrown at me by more than a handful of people. First I thought it was just a rare thing, like this burly looking guy out to poke fun at just anybody. He came to my car and said “Were you in that Wimpy ad?” I said no, definitely not. Then he insisted “Are you sure? Are you sure? The guy there looks just like you!” I just shook my head as he smirked and chuckled. What do you say to idiots who accost you?

I had a less aggressive but no less infuriating experience at a stationery shop, pretty much a toned down repeat performance of ignorance.

It seems to be more common than I thought. Even as the last tourists were leaving the FIFA World Cup venues this year bands of idiots once again waved the terrifying flags of xenophobia. Something like “We got your money, now run!”

Or have I just lost my sense of humour?

I can only blame the ad agency for such an ad that rouses what seems to be a lurking nastiness among the more ignorant population. What can one do?

-o-

Well I decided to write this. The next move is to tell the execs to read it. Then what? We’ll see. Or we won’t. I may not be part of their demographics. I can always go to a different grease factory.

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Chagos Islanders Still in Limbo

‘What in the World?’ is an Irish series of tv documentaries presented and produced by Peadar King. (See also http://kmfproductions.net) In this episode, Peadar King travels to Mauritius to meet the original inhabitants of the Chagos Islands (Indian Ocean). The Chagos Islanders were secretly and brutally expelled from their homeland by British governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to make way for an American military base on the main island of Diego Garcia. For more information and updates on the plight of the Chagossians, please visit the website of the UK Chagos Support Association at http://www.chagossupport.org.uk.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION – GO TO http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/let-the-chagos-islanders-return-home.html

I first posted the following poem in May 2009. I hope you don’t mind a second read.

Rounding Up The Dogs of the Children Who Died of Sadness

Monsters came one day, dressed
in stiff uniforms. They were fed
largely on red meat and so had grown
like giants compared to the islanders.

They scarred the land as they drove,
engines growling like hungry beasts,
churning sand and dust into the terrified
eyes of the children. Those little

Brown arms grew powerless at the sight
of fists clutching the collars of their pets.
Never before had they seen such dark
nightmares. The monsters had come

To gather all the dogs of the island.
They were taken amid screams and cries,
hearts cracking like husked coconuts
flung against jagged rocks.

-o-


A Postscript to an Imported Tradition

Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

A still photo from Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

Horror of horrors. Being in South Africa means we get a spattering of pop culture (relentless bombardment of mostly Hollywood-processed images and thus filtered and/or watered down North American traditions or mythmaking) and other cultural oddities remixed into the local configuration (hahahahaha, I already lost myself there!).

Our kids wanted a Halloween of sorts so they started days ago with cutting up bits of paper into ghost shapes, skulls and ribcages with strings to connect the hands and legs, lots and lots of bats (out of black paper with silver ink outlines), one orange pumpkin about the size of their hand, and a few other things I can’t remember. They stuck these all over the house, often in the most unexpected places like next to a light switch.

A day before Halloween they rediscovered an interactive book we had given them when they were too young called Human Body (a DK – Dorling Kidersley action pack it says!). Well, they are still too young for such a challenging project, so my ever-patient wife who loves the fiddliest of things (I am the clumsy junkman) worked for hours putting together the book’s intricate and superbly detailed human skeleton made out of thin cardboard. Boy was it a show of technical wizardry!

Not having grown up with such a ghastly (nudge, nudge) tradition as Halloween, I was of little help, of course, in thinking of ways to make the evening more interesting. All I could do was hang dark cloths to cover windows and set up dim lighting in one of our spare rooms (my junkroom, actually). The skeleton standing next to a slowly waking lava lamp did add some… cheer?

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Now my wife had other plans. She grew up in North America and it was something huge for her, really lots of fun — or was meant to be anyway.

The kids put on their home made (more like home trashed) outfits of a witch (black silk cape and broom of the wrong design!) and an Eastern European looking Little Red Riding Hood (nope, not really, more like a gypsy actually) then knocked on our door, but then forgot to say TRICK OR TREAT and instead just giggled.

We brought them inside the house, blindfolded them, spun them around three times and then led them to the “Haunted House” (my junkroom, remember?) where cobwebs (a peacock feather!) brushed against their cheeks and foreheads. We sat them down, took off their blindfolds, then made them put their hands in a bag. Gooey stuff on their fingers, they started giggling then went “Ewwww!!” “Yukkk!” “Gross!!!!!”

My wife said it was the guts of someone we had cut up! Hideous laughter from yours truly. Well after the frantic laughter and faces of disgust (all mixed in!) they asked us what it was. “Noodles!” my wife declared. Worse facial reactions accompanied an extended and screeching “YUUUUUKKKK!!!”

The next item was a little bowl with an eye and an ear floating in blood. Grapes, my wife told me later on, would have been best for an eye, but they’re totally out of season in this country. She used, of all sad things, carved out cucumber. The blood was tomato juice. The kids laughed and laughed, but they did eat an eye! My wife managed to string up a story of sorts, nothing I can remember now. What mattered was there were loads of laughter and expressions of gleeful disgust.

So it was a weird first Halloween. Well it would have been way better anyway than my silly idea of showing them an episode of Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller” series – which they have seen a number of times already and would be nothing new or scary anymore. Still, that series and that particular episode I was thinking of, “The Soldier and Death,” remains one of the best rendered fairy tales that I have ever seen. John Hurt is always fantastic, and here plays The Storyteller’s part with perfect dramatic and comic flourishes. I miss Jim Henson’s genius matched with Anthony Minghella’s scriptwriting magic.

Ah, maybe I can watch it on my own again another day.


Nobyembre ng Kalburo


Nobyembre ng Kalburo

Sinlaki
ng aking
mga daliri
ang mga langgam
na ito:
mga bulaklak
na itim,
kay bilis
umusbong
sa uka
nitong nitso
sa tabi
ng nitso ni lolo.
Kailangang
mag-ingat
na di-saktan
kahit gahiblang dulo
man lamang ng kanilang mga antena.

Hindi ko alam
ang kanilang tunay na pinagmulan,
hindi ko dinig ang kanilang bulung-bulungan,
ang pangalan nilang tangan.
Malayong alingawngaw ng puti ang puntod,
ginapangan ng lumot. Inapak-apakan,
pinag-akyatan ng mga taong hindi
kaanu-ano, taun-taon
tuwing Nobyembre
ng mga kandila, radyo, at kalburo.
Biniyak ng ugat ng kalapit na puno
ang kanang kanto ng nitso.
Tila kinakapa ang malamig na
kaibuturan, ang malaon nang
nakaligtaang pagtirikan ng kandila.
Buong maghapong pasan-pasan
nitong mga sanga
ang makulimlim
na kalangitan. Pasan-pasan pati ang walang humpay na ragasa ng kumustahan, kuwentuhan, sayawan, tagayan, kainan, hagulgulan, bulyawan, takbuhan, at iba pang panghihimasok at karahasan ng kabayanan ngayong iisang araw lamang ng taon.

Sa wakas sumuko ang araw.
At ang mga kandila, naging hiwa-
hiwa ng liwanag sa balat
ng karimlang pumapagaspas.
Samantala, ang mga langgam,
patuloy sa paroo’t parito sa mga uka
at lihim na landas. Papalapit
ang isa
sa aking sapatos
na pagkit
sa putik
at kandilang
nalusaw.

-o-

NOTE: This poem, written a few years ago, was meant to appear in a more visual format. I saved a PDF of it here: Nobyembre ng Kalburo

A translation is forthcoming (meaning one day when the gods grant me space and time to be more selfish than usual). This poem (is it?) appears in a collection to be released by The University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan.