Racism or the insularity of the offended party?

Note: The ad in question whipped up quite a storm for a while in the USA. Apparently it’s okay to humorously depict all Britishers (and, to be fair,  residents of the Appalachians) as having appalling teeth, and all Irishmen as drunken, violent husbands whose wives pop out babies between beatings, but don’t dare depict West Indian attendees at cricket matches as costume-loving, rum-drinking, dancing, steel-drumming almost fanatical supporters of the game.

I’d probably be better off keeping my nose out of this one, but sorry, I just can’t let it go. I’m referring of course to the KFC Australia commercial that has so upset the delicate psyches at NBC’s Today and their colleagues at The Grio – not to mention a representative from that well-known arbiter of correctness and good taste, the advertising industry I’ll just quote a couple of lines from The Grio here:

The KFC ad depicts a frustrated, white Australian cricket fan sitting among a crowd of black people who are happily dancing to the beat of steel drums while rooting for their team, which is apparently from a Caribbean nation. How does he get them to see things his way? He offers them a bucket of chicken and they quickly change their tune. As they grab pieces of chicken from the bucket, he looks at the camera and says, ‘Too easy’.

Well let me explain a couple of things fellers. You’re right of course in assuming that the black people are supposed to be from a Caribbean nation, the West Indies is one of our great cricket rivals, but the steel drums aren’t there to tell us that – that’s just you stereotyping.  You see, when Australia plays a Test series against the West Indies in the West Indies – that’s what we call cricket or rugby matches against other Commonwealth* countries, a Test – then steel drums can be heard pretty much continually throughout the four or five days of each match. The West Indian barrackers also like to don fancy dress and dance around the place as part of their contribution to the atmosphere. I also suspect they drink rum.  In short, a Test series in the Caribbean is one big carnival and big heaps of fun. And the feller in this commercial is in a pretty typical situation for someone at an “away” Test. Let’s say the roles are reversed, as is often the case. Should I be offended if the product being offered is Foster’s Lager? Other than to say I wouldn’t be caught drinking that blowflies’ piss Fosters if my life depended on it, I think not. cricketNow to the expression “too easy”. Perhaps a cursory examination of the Australian dialect may have helped here. Too easy has many meanings in Australia, but the literal one you have assumed is not among  them. It can mean the same as the US “You’re welcome”, or “She’ll be jake” meaning things will turn out all right in the long run or even “What’s the problem”, which itself needs explanation in this context but I ain’t gonna. They could’ve had him say “No sweat”, I suppose, but the newly arisen language police of the Australian Moral Reicht may have objected to that. Let’s say you’re stuck with a flat tire and a flat spare by the side of a lonely outback road. An Australian pulls up and spends four hours in the blazing sun patching the tire. You thank him. “Too easy,” he says. Not the work, not the sun, not ‘some people are easy pleased’. He’s shrugging his shoulders, turning aside the compliment, saying ‘it’s my duty’. Ah strewth, what’s the use. “Too easy” has connotations that even I can’t put into words – none of them bad – it’s Australian, it’s a state of mind. The Grio also claims the commercial is racist. Why? Because the writer can only think in stereotypes? You know, what I see as the real problem here is the eyes of the beholder. An ardent fan of the US and its peoples, I nevertheless am not blind to some of its shortcomings and one of them is an appalling lack of knowledge about the world beyond these shores. A lot of Americans are genuinely puzzled when they travel overseas to find that other people are different from them and some – a very small some – can’t cope. But not that many Americans travel overseas. Something less than 20 per cent of US citizens hold US passports – the figure for Senators is even lower by the way – whereas the figure for Australians is around 50 per cent and that may have something to do with it. Sorry folks. I love America and the Americans, but when you start chucking deepies over stuff like this… Now, who can I speak to about that pot-hole’s accent in the Geico ad? *To add to what I fondly hope is the patronizing tone of that aside, the British Commonwealth is an association of countries once in the British Empire. Though our Governments may spout guff about our special relationship with The Crown, what unites us ordinary ex-colonials is the love of sport and our fierce rivalry over it: netball, cricket, rugby, badminton, hockey; you name it, we’ll have a red hot go at it.

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