Racist? eu must be joking…

March 6, 2012 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

There is a well worn truism in the world of marketing: “I know half of my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

There is no such doubt with a recent high-budget promotional video by the European Commission that was recently withdrawn, available in today’s guardian.

To start with perhaps the only positive feature, I liked the way the lady in yellow representing Europe morphed into one of the stars of the EU flag…there might be a way to rescue some similar device to make the case that we are stronger together, better with more etc…Maybe.

But that concluding trope came at the cost of a shockingly insensitive set of implicit messages. A white woman, dressed in yellow(confusingly, it looked like a reference to the American film, ‘Kill Bill‘) is threatened by three very ‘other’-looking men from China, India and Brazil…all of whom look more or less menacing. She represents Europe (White) against the threat from major world players (non-white) and she defends herself by multiplying herself (several White) such that the three non-white characters are ‘tamed’ into submission. They all sit down, but clearly on the terms of the white majority….

I accept that there are other ways of reading the messages of the video, and I am sure there was no intention to be ‘racist’. However, the most pervasive and insidious forms of racism are often subtle in that way. They are about acting on unchallenged assumptions and stereotypes, and perpetuating them as if they are innocent and unproblematic.

Our emphasis on social brain is about acknowledging that pro-social behaviour should be normal(the accepted norm) and natural(arising from our natures) rather than being viewed as a form of deviance from the utility-maximising individualistic model that is often assumed. However, such pro-social behaviour is always relative to our perception of in-groups and out-groups.

‘Social’ is not good in itself. It is not an honorific term, but a descriptive one, and we need to expand and complexify its range of reference. In this video, by contrast, the expanding European in-group to whom we supposedly belong is narrowed and simplified. The resulting implicit message is in terribly bad taste and I am glad the video has been pulled.

 

Comments

  • Jonathanrowson

    That’s a very pertinent observation- thank you. My comment was perhaps a little casual- I just didn’t want to sound too zealous or assume the worst in the people responsible for making the video.
    The relationship between intention and racism is a fascinating one. and I would guess that on most definitions the majority of  ‘racism’ is not ‘intentional’…but may be no less insidious for that.
    Thanks also for the link to the other video- even more striking in some ways!