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.
(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?
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.