Saturday, January 9, 2010

Climbing Sacred Rocks and Running From American Cultural Imperalism

I won't bash any Australian Kentucky Fried Chicken ads, but I shall bitch about THIS news. Apparently the government has decided not to ban people from climbing Uluru, despite the fact that the Anangu people do not want climbers.

This website has some information about the issue, and a variety of viewpoints. My feeling is that it's a sacred site, and cultures have various rules about their sacred site. I think it's incredibly disrespectful to disregard those rules.

The Australian government says they won't ban the climbing until it becomes less popular. I think they shall be waiting until hell freezes over them. If people are allowed to climb, they shall continue to climb. Would it be such a tragedy if they couldn't climb? Someone is quoted on the website as saying that without the climb, it wouldn't be worth all that traveling to get there. Why would you go all the way to Uluru just to climb it? If someone want to exercise, they could just climb the stairs in their hotel. Really. The world is FULL of climbing opportunities. I personally thought the whole purpose of going to Uluru was to learn about Anangu culture, and appreciate this huge sandstone thing.

The government fears that if they take away the climbing, the Northern Territory will lose their tourists. I doubt that will happen. My feeling is most people come to Uluru for other reasons besides the climbing. They come because they want to see and learn. Or they come because they want to take a photo of themselves next to something that is famous. They climb because no one has forbidden them from doing so. Some people don't know how to show respect without being given explicit and strict direction.

As for the KFC ad.....

First of all, I don't see food stereotypes as offensive. Asian people eat rice. Jewish people eat bagels and Gefilte fish. Australians eat Vegemite. African-Americans eat fried chicken. Greek people eat Feta cheese. Italians eat pasta. Who cares? I don't get it. For the most part, we all eat a variety of everything. But yeah. Certain foods are associated with certain ethnic groups.

The idea in the controversy is that Americans are assuming (because we're so ethnocentric) that all countries have our same issue about black people and fried chicken. We see ads inferring that black people like Fried Chicken and we scream racism. Basically it's a cultural misunderstanding. What's ironic is that someone (I won't mention names, but you know who you are) complained about the issue. Then he went ahead and made the assumption that Americans use the word holiday in the same way that Australians do.

Americans and Australians are very much alike. We have much more similarities than differences. But every so often you get a difference, and sometimes that difference will cause a misunderstanding.

The word cultural imperialism is frequently being thrown around regarding the American reaction to the commercial. The ironic thing to me is the commercial in question is for an AMERICAN CORPORATION!!! Kentucky Fried Chicken is American. Their headquarters are in Kentucky. I think Australians who fear this so-called American cultural Imperialism should worry less about Americans with an opinion, and worry more about the fact that so much of what they watch, eat, and buy comes from America.

I'm shocked by the amount of American TV that's on in Australia. It's crazy to me that iconic Australian foods are owned by American companies. If there are Australians who hate this American influence, I'd say they should boycott all of it! Stop eating Tim Tams and Iced Vo Vo's. Stop eating Vegemite. Encourage some rich Australian to buy out those companies! Stop watching The Simpsons and reruns of Seinfeld. Stop watching Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Stop reading Twilight and pick up a Catherine Jinks novel.

But really. You don't need to freak out about Americans worrying that a television ad may or may not be racist. I think in some ways it makes things more balanced. Australians spend MUCH more time paying attention to America than Americans spend time thinking about Australia. I see Australian opinions left and right about American politics and culture. So is it really so crazy that some Americans bitched about a commercial?

Anyway, I hope all the people furious at Americans, and worrying about cultural imperialism, will NOT be eating Vegemite on their toast for breakfast this morning. For those folks, I leave this helpful link. Aussiemite. It's like Vegemite, but it's not owned by an American corporation. In fact, I may buy me a few shipments. That way if I ever suddenly find myself in the awkward situation of being surrounded by too many Australians, I can hand out some jars of the stuff. Maybe I'll buy some Vegemite too....for those Australians who don't mind America so much. Those lovely folks might be kind enough to pass me some Matzot balls in return.

33 comments:

Andrew said...

That so many Australian companies are foreign owned troubles many Australians. But like everywhere, what can the average person on the street do about it? We can't boycott everything.

Perhaps cultural imperialism are incorrect words as they make it sound like America is actively imposing, rather than what I really mean, and that is Australia meekly accepting.

Dina said...

Andrew,

Maybe there's not a need to boycott EVERYTHING.

Tim often says that instead of being anti-something, it's better to be pro-something.

Instead of saying "I'm anti-American, and I'm going to try and buy less American products, Australians can be pro-Australian. They can buy more Aussie products, watch more Aussie TV, read more Aussie books, listen to more Aussie music, etc."

I think most Australians I know are Pro-Australian without being anti-American. They love Australia, but feel no problems watching Lost or having an occasional lunch at McDonald's.

For the rare Australians I know who are hateful towards Americans and America, I think this is a reflection of their own insecurities and self-esteem. When we direct so much hatred and blame towards an outside entity, we have much less time to reflect on our own weaknesses and needs for improvement.

I DO find it disturbing that Vegemite and Tim Tams are owned by American companies. I hope that can change someday. It just doesn't feel right to me. I wish some Australians would find a way to change that.

Alex said...

Hey Dina,

I’ve just read your blog, now I’ve only been awake 10mins, so I hope I make sense lol. I didn’t know if I should laugh or scream :o) You write SO well!!!

Climbing Uluru will never be banned.... It is all about tourism..... I have been to the Northern Territory and I did not climb the rock, instead I went to the hot water springs and swam with the tropical fish and turtles, I visited places like Fanny Bay Gaol and I went to the top end and watched the sun set and rise. There is so much to do if you look for it, however the government has always promoted ‘the rock’ as ‘the destination’ if you visit this country. I know that when I go to the shops today and I walk past a travel agent, there will be a poster in the window of Uluru.....

Perhaps, I am living under a rock :o) I am yet to see the KFC ad.... lol I have heard about though.

I think I commented once before that I grew up on American television. I am 34 years old and for those 34 years I have mostly watched American free to air television shows..... For a couple of reasons, 1) There is so much of it, and 2) some Australian productions are really quite bad and put together poorly. Yes, a lot of Australians whinge about the amount of American content on our televisions, but they do keep watching it. Personally, I like it. Call me a traitor, but I grew up on the stuff. As a kid I would watch the American cartoons while eating my Vegemite on toast.

One other point I would like to make about Australian media..... Now this is purely a personal reaction.... I cringe a lot of the time, not all the time, but a lot of the time when I see a movie that was made in Australia that made it to the overseas cinemas...... Some of these movies are so Aushtralien (insert twang) and do not portray the way in which mainstream Australians speak. The pronunciation of words is appalling and the accents used are dismal. Most of us do not walk around calling people cobber etc. Perhaps I have been watching too many American shows...... Again, this comment was made from a personal point of view, it wasn’t written to upset any fellow Australians.

Australians have been disturbed about our products being sold to international companies forever. If we did jack up and start boycotting this, we’d have no vegemite on our toast, and no cartoons to watch. ;o)

Andrew is correct in saying that we meekly accept. Companies get sold all the time, the Australian public run around telling their friends how terrible it is that yet another Australian product has gone overseas.... They forget about it a week later, because there is a KFC ad that needs to be dealt with and discussed with friends. :o)

Sorry, I know that this wasn’t meant to be funny, but I have only been out of bed a short while and I get silly when I’m tired. :o) Anyway, I must be off. I have shopping to do, I’ll travel there in my American car (Ford), listening to an American Cd, I’ll probably buy a coffee from an American coffee outlet, buy some clothes made in China that I’ll carry in a bag that was most likely made in Taiwan, then I’ll come home and write about it on my blog, which mostly Americans read on my American computer that is powered by windows. lol

But seriously, your blog is great!!!! I love it!

Dina said...

Alex,

I loved your comment. It totally made me laugh.

And to be fair...while Australians have their favorite foods being owned by American companies. We Americans often find out that are favorite American TV characters are played by Australian or British actors!!

I could probably agree about American TV being better than Australian (of course that's all VERY subjective). I do love our American TV shows. It might be the thing about America that I like the most.

But really. It seems like SO many TV characters are played by nonAmericans. My favorite show right now is probably TrueBlood. It's so funny because most of the characters are Southerners, but they're played by a Kiwi, a British guy, an Australian, a Sweden, etc. I think there's very few Americans in the cast.

And many movies made by Hollywood are directed by non-American directors.

As for the stereotypical Aussie we see in Australian movies, I think that's more a reflection of what America is willing to accept and watch. I think we're more willing to watch the characters that fit our stereotypes. We seem to have a thing for men who wrestle crocodiles and use adorable Aussie phrases.

If an Australian TV character has a subtle accent and lives in the city, they'll probably be ignored by American TV viewers ; )

I can kind of relate to the whole cringe-thing though. I have that with homeschooling characters. They're rare in fictional media. But the majority of times I've seen them, they're not just embarrassing portrayals, they're downright negative. I can think of one instance where a movie showed a positive homeschooling family. I wanted to jump and shout in joy.

Anyway, I think there's no problem with you liking American TV. Hey, how can I complain when I have this love for Australia!

I really think we have enough capacity in our hearts to love stuff from our own country AND other countries. I love Australia, but I also appreciate a lot of stuff that comes from America.

matt said...

Hi Dina,

I dont know if you understand the KFC ad but i thought i would explain it.
It was shown when Australia were playing the West Indies in Test Cricket (the majority of people in the West Indies countries are black). So the ad shows an Australian supporter seated amongst West Indian supporters, who if you have ever seen them at the cricket play calypso drums and dance and are generally having a good time like at a party. So he wants to keep the opposition crowd quiet and to do this he offers them KFC. There is another ad that was shown at the same time where he is watching the cricket on tv at home with some friends who wont stop talking so he offers them some KFC to keep them quiet.
To me the ones that are racist are the ones complaining about the ad, as they look at the ad and see a white guy giving black people fried chicken to keep them quiet and immediately think of the racial stereotype, where as i look at the ad and saw an Australian cricket fan giving West Indian cricket supporters some fried chicken to keep them quiet.
The question i would now ask is does this now mean that KFC can no longer use 'black' people in its ads without someone complaining? If this is indeed the case would that not be racist?

HappyOrganist said...

The world is FULL of climbing opportunities.

i love it. you're so cute. I LOVE that you write every day. (yes, I'm in a very weird mood right now).

I can't contribute anything else to the conversation. (weird mood)

=D

Dina said...

Matt,

So I guess you're asking...is it more racist to show an ethnic group in a stereotyped/controversial way, or to exclude them all together?

I am pretty sure that African-Americans are not excluded from KFC commercials. I can vaguely remember seeing some with images of happy black families sharing a bucket of chicken together. I could be wrong.

I think it may be more about the NATURE of the commercial in question.

My question is whether it's really about the African-American-fried chicken stereotype, or is it more about the fact that the white person took control of a perceived threat by placating them with food.

In some ways, it reminds me of scenes where a man is about to be attacked by dogs. He offers them a piece of meat from his pocket, and suddenly they're wagging their tails and giving the guy doggy kisses.

African-Americans have a history of being treated like animals (well nonhuman animals) by white people. And you know, white folks don't treat their animals very well. I think the commercial might have brought up those negative/disturbing feelings.

I'm wondering who complained more about the commercial...black Americans, or white Americans (out of a guilty kind of discomfort).

I think maybe the fried chicken stereotype ADDED to the problem. But I have feeling the commercial would have been deemed offensive even if another food had been offered.

HOWEVER, if Americans had seen the previous commercial (guy placating his friends with fried chicken, I think the whole thing would have been better understood. Maybe. Unless his friends were also of a different ethnic group. Then I'd think this whole series is about white people feeling threatened by other ethnic groups, and fried chicken is suddenly their answer.

All I know is this. This whole thing gave me a huge taste for fried chicken last night. And that's not good because I'm a vegetarian!!!!!

Dina said...

Happy Organist,

Hi!!! I dreamed about you last night. In this one part, you licked me. I think you licked my arm. I thought it was peculiar, but I kind of had that attitude. "Well, that's different, but it's just her thing. It's kind of sweet."

You were planning to go to some synagogue thing...I guess for a cultural experience. You were talking to this woman about it. I think she was a teacher to both of us. It's like we both took a class together. Anyway, instead of saying the word "pray" you'd say "Sing."

Then one point we were walking and I asked you what instrument you played...because you brought that up. You told me, and I was amused because I realized I already knew. I knew it from your blog. But I had somewhat forgotten that the you I knew in real life was the same you I once knew from the Internet.

HappyOrganist said...

holy crap!

I'm trying to remember what I dreamt the last 3 nights. One (last night) is totally not something to tell anyone (it was interesting enough - but you just don't tell people about dreams where you're wearing a diaper)
(i'm totally cracking up here)

um..
oh, then I dreamt another night that I was a student of acupuncture (very cool).

And I can't remember what the other one was..

Dina said...

Matt,

I just reread your comment. I TOTALLY disagree with you about the people complaining about the ad as being more racist. At worst, I'd say they were misguided, and they ran their mouth without enough information.

We can sit there and say "I'm color-blind. I don't notice ethnicity and racism. The racist people are the ones who think about the stereotypes, and bring up issues of racism."

If a gay person is beat up and murdered, am I homophobic for assuming it might be a hate crime? I MAY be wrong. The person might have been killed for another reason. But I don't think I'd be homophobic. I'd simply be recognizing that there is horrible prejudice in the world, and that often people are murdered, ridiculed, and discriminated against because of the group they belong to.

Personally, I think EVERYONE is a little racist. But no. I definitely don't think the people who complained about the commercial were the more racist one.

Michael said...

I eat Vegemite on toast most mornings during the week. It tastes good and it's rich in vitamin B, which I often need to replenish after a weekend tipple.

It doesn't bother me that Vegemite is owned by an American company. It's produced here, that's what matters.

Kraft has a Philadelphia cheese factory in Mount Gambier employing dozens of people. That's great, I reckon.

Dina said...

HappyOrganist: Well, now you've told me about the diaper thing! I shall try not to let that plant an image in my head.

Michael: That's one way to look at it. And it is nice that it's produced in Australia, and all that. I'd still prefer it to be owned by Australia. Maybe I'm being foolish and ridiculous. I don't know.

Michael said...

Definitely not foolish and ridiculous.

I did some consulting work for Pauls a few years ago. They're a subsidiary of troubled Italian company Parmalat (they weren't troubled back then).

Competitors used the marketing tactic against them about being foreign owned, despite the fact they source Australian milk and employ Australians to process the milk and distribute it.

I have the view it doesn't matter whether profits go to rich people in Milan, New York or Sydney, as long as Australia has the investment and employment benefits.

Dina said...

Michael,

That makes sense. It's a good way to look at it...more tolerant than my viewpoint. I'm fairly ignorant about the economic aspects of it. If Australia is benefiting from the company, then there probably isn't a problem with it being owned by America. I think it would also depend on whether quality was diminished when America bought the product. I haven't heard this being the case, so.....

Ariane said...

I always preference Australian over anything else (except probably Kiwi - they are closer than WA anyway) for both economic and environmental reasons. However, having half my music collection being Australian doesn't make much difference to the world around me.

I have commented on the KFC thing elsewhere. The fried chicken meme has no existence in Australia and is therefore irrelevant to the story. The "white guy looking uncomfortable surrounded by black folks" scene at the beginning of the ad is problematic if the ad is viewed in isolation. I am completely convinced there was no racist intent, but I think they could have afforded to step back and say, "Is it possible there is something in this we never meant to say?".

The reason most Australians have said "what the?" over this is that the ad wasn't viewed in isolation by most of us. We saw it as part of a series of ads, all with the same theme, and with a previous one in which the Aussie was surrounded by England supporters (mostly, possibly entirely, white guys) with exactly the same expression on his face.

This is why saying "You can't show West Indians like that" looks kinda racist to us. They weren't shown in a derogatory or grossly stereotypical way - they were shown the way they usually support cricket. Must they be left out of the ad series? Most fans, and certainly the commentators of cricket, love the enthusiasm and sheer joy of West Indian fans. It's infectious. The stereotype shown (of fans, not West Indians in general) is a positive, not a negative one.

Incidentally, I've yet to see a single opinion expressed by a West Indian living, or even brought up in the West Indies. I think Australians can speak to the racist intent of the ad, but surely only West Indians can actually speak to racist effect.

Dina said...

Ariane,

Tim watched the commercial tonight, and then we talked about it. One conclusion we agreed upon is that the Australian ad company definitely meant no offense in making the commercial. I mean first of all...why would a corporation purposely make an offensive ad? But I think you're right. Maybe they should have stepped back and considered whether anyone would find it offensive.

The thing is though...almost everything is offensive to somebody. Almost every time I put a joke on my blog, I get a little nervous. I fear someone is going to get really pissed off at me. But if I let that get to me, and edit everything because of that....my blog posts would be incredibly short.

Well, I guess to some people that would be seen as a good thing ; )

I'm really not offended by the ad, although I can see how it could be misinterpreted. As a white American, it's really not my place to say if the ad is offensive or not. I think it's really up to people from the West Indies. I'd really like to know what their opinion is.

As for people saying "You can't show West Indies people that way", I would agree. That IS racist. I didn't realize people were saying stuff like that. I heard only the fried chicken bit. Maybe that's what Matt had been referring to when he said people who complain about the ad are the racist ones.

Now that I think of it...maybe that's what bewildered me by the commercial. The white guy is bothered by the black people and gives them chicken to make everything better. But WHY was he bothered by them? They didn't seem at all bothersome to me. They looked like fun happy people.

What the hell was the white guy trying to do. The West Indies folks are having fun. Then this guy comes along and tries to stuff their veins with high cholesterol.

I think as a vegetarian, I SHOULD be offended. What is KFC trying to say? You need a dead chicken to make you happy? What about the vegetarian West Indies Cricket Fan? Why was no soy chicken offered to them?

Belle said...

I just wanted to add more context on the KFC ads for the benefit of non-Australians. It actually seems ironic to me that this one of the series was pulled while others have generally been uncommented upon.

The Australian view on the pulled ad is well represented here (Ariane puts it best, IMO) so I won't comment on it much further but another ad has the same "hero" pretending to be an official to get a better seat and then bribing a real official with a KFC product when he is 'found out'. Another ad has this same idiot pretending to be a police officer in order to steal tickets from a scalper for his mates. I was personally mildly annoyed by the off-colour nature of both of THOSE ads but never saw the pulled ad until after it had been pulled.

This all suggests to me that KFC decided on an advertising campaign that would deliberately sail close to the wind and got called on it in the case of this ad (for all that Australians and West Indians generally seem to think the pulled ad was harmless and relatively inoffensive). I think the pulled ad was actually the least off-colour of the three ads (in an Australian context) hence my feeling of irony.

As for Uluru, climbing it has become traditional as has forbidding its climbing on cultural (read political/religious) grounds. I don't personally find any merit in either tradition but I generally prefer freedom (within reason) to (unreasonable) restriction.

Dina said...

Martin,

My goodness. I just realized how incredibly stupid I've been. Are you saying KFC purposely made the ads offensive? And I just said to Ariane...why would a company purposely do that?

But it would make PERFECT sense. What better way to get people to pay attention to your product? Make a questionable commercial, and everyone will be talking about it.

They even managed to get a vegetarian to crave chicken.

I was telling Jack about the situation last night...trying to explain it all to him. Then suddenly, I'm totally craving a drumstick.

Who knows. KFC might have not done it all on purpose. They might be totally innocent...not realizing they might accidentally offend Americans watching commercials on YouTube. Either way though....I bet they got more people eating their chicken.

I'm not though. I'm being very good. Actually, the craving is totally gone. I ate fried okra for dinner. I am hoping not to see anymore fried food for a long time. That stuff was kind of gross.

Belle said...

Actually I enjoy stuffing my veins with chicken cholesterol so I'm not offended by an ad encouraging that personally (pace vegetarians) but I am beginning to see how the ads had two offensive themes both of which the ads should be called on: one should get away with what one can (reminding us that we are convicts is passe) and one should appease 'scary' non-Australians (it IS racist and also a bit cultural cringy). That said though, ads do encourage use of products and that's OK. If people choose to believe (based on an ad) that dead chicken will make them happy that's their look-out, IMO.

Dina said...

Martin,

I think many ads have subtle offensive themes. I guess it all depends on how you look at stuff, and what your sensitivities are.

I might find a diamond add offensive because it perpetuates the idea that all women like jewelry, and that women can be bought with expensive gifts. I usually find stuff like that to be simply annoying, but really not worth the fuss.

We fast forward most commercials though. In today's society, probably the only true way to get people to notice your commercial is to make something controversial. Then people will talk about it, put it up on YouTube, and it will be watched.

We may think it was a huge sacrifice for KFC to pull the ad from TV. But how many people watch ads on TV anyway? The ad may be gone from TV, but it's up on the Internet. That commercial may become one of the most frequently seen commercials of 2010.

I'd also be curious to see how this all effects KFC sales.

Belle said...

Sorry to go on and risk reminding you more of chicken but I don't know they would have anticipated the international offence. As I said in my last comment, though, I now see ALL of the ads as offensive because they probably are ALL deeply manipulative and stereotyped. KFC have effectively been found out by Americans but not really for the reasons that Americans assume, for Australian reasons.

I never rain, I pour. I have to go and nurse my carpal tunnel now. Ciaou!

MyAlterEgo said...

what a long conversation. I just want to say I LOVE those Diamond Commercials! I LOVE Diamonds! I own tons and tons of them and that's why I love my husband.
!!

=D

HappyOrganist said...

i hate it when that happens - used wrong account ;/

Dina said...

HappyOrganist,

LOL. I thought you were trying to trick me. I was thinking, "Did she forget I have Statcounter???"

Hey now I might think you're truly Jamie Lee Curtis trying to stalk me.

You're too funny.

Dina said...

Martin,

I hope your carpal tunnel feels better...although I was very happy to get comment from you. I like your comments. They're thought-provoking.

HappyOrganist said...

no - my dearest love happens to sort of resemble JLC

it's funny - b/c my initials are also JLC. how cool is that

Dina said...

HappyOrganist,

You know what's weird... I think once Zhen told me I reminded her of Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. I don't think it's how I look, but my crazy personality.

Also, JLC has the same birthday as me.

HappyOrganist said...

Awesome.
I'd write more, but I'm listening to a song over and over and over and over - it's taking all of my brain cells.
very cool about JLC. We must be fated, I guess.
maybe.

oh - I was going to ask you your sign but I guess I can look it up now!

and if I'm really bored I can email Zhen for horoscope advice.. if I'm bored.

i'm not really into astrology, though..

=D

Dina said...

HappyOrganist,

So did you look up my sign?

What's your sign? I feel like I'm trying to pick you up at a bar.

HappyOrganist said...

I looked up your birthday but not your sign. I'm a Libra (Oct. 16th if you must know). and I can't be picked up - I have to take care of a screaming baby upstairs at the moment =D !
;)

HappyOrganist said...

ok - according to my research we are totally incompatible. Not b/c of our respective zodiac signs but b/c the horoscope stuff is all wrong. ;)
Really. I tried a few different pages and they were all wrong (read about my husband and I - sign-wise and then Sag/Lib). Anyway, it's all wrong.

So.

oh - and that made me wonder (since I'm married to Pisces - and the other guy I dated and had a crush on for 4 years was also Pisces.. makes me wonder about someone else's sign) I'll call her and ask.

Dina said...

HappyOrganist,

You have me totally confused. I don't know if that's my fault or your fault...or a combination of both. Maybe the astrology can explain it all.

So what are you saying is wrong? Our compatibility, or the astrology info. I looked at that website you were looking at a few weeks ago. Some stuff totally matched me, and other stuff wasn't like me at all.

Interesting about the Pisces. My sister and her daughter are that. I don't think it fits my sister at all...maybe my niece.

Jack's a Leo...fits him pretty well.

My sister is a Libra. That fits her pretty well.

I think it's all interesting, but I don't put too much faith in it. Well, except when it tells me exactly what I want to hear ; )

HappyOrganist said...

I was just saying the horoscope stuff is all wrong. I didn't really pay attention to what it actually said - except that it was wrong.

I was Reading Sag/Lib and (b/c i have only two brain cells) I thought "oh yeah - this IS like me and my husband" only to realize 2 seconds later that I wasn't reading Pisces.
see?