Same Racism, Different Day: Open Letter To Powershop
I am writing this letter to express my concern about the recent video advert launched by Powershop under the title of "the General".
This video features what is unmistakably a caricature of an Arab/Middle-Eastern military leader who raves and gesticulates through the entire 81 seconds in a manner suggestive of lunacy, which is nevertheless supposed to prompt both laughter and contempt from the intended audience: the New Zealand public. Supposedly, all of this is somehow intended to convey the message of "same power different attitude".
I'm quite certain that no harm or offence was intended in the making of this video. However, unless we assume 1. that the average NZer is completely insouciant as far issues of racialisation and international politics go and 2. that the NZ public is completely devoid of ethnic constituents that might in fact be quite sensitive to the kinds of stereotypes perpetuated (even if unwittingly) in this video, then we might rightfully conclude that there is some cause for concern. This is particularly so in light of recent events in countries like Syria and Egypt, as well as not-so-recent and frequent occurrences of violence in Iraq.
What is at stake here is the fact that this is just a continuation of a long and not-so-proud tradition in NZ to portray ethnic others in an unsavoury light. Most recently, many of us were ashamed of the very crude and bigoted cartoons draping Maori and Pasifika in all the stereotypes that we've come to know and detest. What we see in this video is not the portrayal of Arabs/ME's as the cliched "terrorists" (I suppose we should all be grateful for that, then), but as unruly and uncivilised neanderthals with guns, destined to a life under a tyranny which they are nevertheless incapable of challenging/changing.
The irony in all of this, and to add insult to injury, is that it is precisely this kind of culture that produces and secures the rule of tyrants in the Middle East and other regions in the world. Historically, not only have Western voters and citizens been happy to look on and dismiss dictatorships as the inevitable symptoms of degenerate Orientals, but they have also been able to overlook their complicity. Western consumers – with their formidable sense of entitlement to cheap commodities and sources of energy, and with their acquiescence to any foreign policy that can secure these – are the accomplices in the crimes taking place in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and countless other nations. The one thing this video does convey accurately is this guilty collusion, its repression, and our inability to front up.
I say all of this while very much aware that the subject of these ad campaigns is, after all, fiction and humour. However, I don't think it is too much to point out that good comedy is often told with due consideration to the intended audience. Moreover, I'm quite uncertain as to why the punchline of these campaigns ("same power different attitude") could not have been delivered in a more subtle manner; surely we NZers can boast of a certain ingenuity that mustn't resort to obscenities of the kind we've been subjected to in this video?
I will conclude with the strongest hopes that these concerns will not go unheeded as they have sometimes been in the past, and that these racialising ad campaigns will be discontinued.
Well and truly exasperated,