Column some time ago
Mastication for the nation. This was the slogan Trident used recently to try to persuade the gum chewing members of the public to switch over to their product. The ad was largely forgettable, consisting (if I remember correctly) of a hyperactive Rastaman running around in public shouting the slogan at unwitting - and somewhat scared looking - members of the public. The ad was forgettable because it was annoying. Oh Lord but it was annoying. The Rastaman was annoying, his mad little scampering were annoying and, above and beyond all else, the slogan was the most irritating thing on TV.
The ad has been pulled - thank God - but last week it came out that over 500 complaints had been made about it. The complaints weren’t about the obvious mediocrity of the advertising campaign but rather, viewers found that it was offensive. Many thought that the advertisement perpetuated stereotypes about black people. Trident issued a statement that this wasn’t so and that they were sorry if they’d caused any offence, blah blah blah but the ad had already run its course, blah deblah deblah once again.
Now, I found this interesting because I didn’t find the ad to be particularly offensive to anything other than my sense of good taste. Because really, I have to say it again. That ad was really annoying. But anyway, I found it noteworthy that over 500 people called to complain about a skinny Rasta rhyming his way towards his next paycheque and only a few dozen had complained when a contestant on a reality show said - on national TV - that she was afraid of black people and she was sorry slavery had been abolished. This was around the same time as the Big Brother/Shilpa Shetty debacle and since Shilpa was prettier with bigger breasts I’m guessing she made a far better media victim that millions of anonymous blacks.
Stereotyping is worse, I think, for immigrants. It’s hard being a stranger in any strange land but it’s worse if you come from the Caribbean and come to a country where a possible response to your saying you’re from Trinidad is, “Ooh! And what part of Jamaica is that?” Yes, it has happened, not just to me but other Trinis I know up here.
Thank God for the Soca Warriors and that trek they made to Germany so more people are aware of the fact that there is a country called Trinidad and Tobago. But then you have other things to contend with. A lecturer in school last week proudly spoke about the Queen’s Park Savannah and Port of Spain and then proceeded to talk about, “those Trickydadians”.
Most of my co-workers make casual allusions to smoking weed around me. They speak about the first time they did it or how much they enjoy lighting up. They tell me about feeling the need to smoke some marijuana and relax mon and watch my reaction. The assumption is that, coming from the Caribbean, I must have my own personal stash stuffed in my bra at all times. Me. Of all people. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, far less for a joint and if I ever was deluded enough to try and my father found out, he’d probably break my wrist. Both of them in fact, so that I couldn’t lift another spliff to my lips again.
I brought this up with an Australian friend of mine and he said that as far as the world is concerned as soon as you say Caribbean the image that appears in one’s mind is lying on the beach, smoking weed and doing nothing. I asked him where he got this image of us, a country how many thousands of miles removed from his own but actually not that dissimilar and he paused and thought about it for a while. “I don’t know”, he’d said. “From TV, maybe?”
I’ve had a chance to think about this and maybe the media thing is true. According to TV all Australians are burly and tough and spend all day putting shrimps on barbies, and according to TV all Americans are rich and domineering and blond. All Muslims are bad and the French walk around with bread in their hands wearing funny hats and all Indians are mystics and know the secret to self contortion. But I have to ask the question - is it the media that creates and perpetuates these stereotypes or are they stereotypes that already exist in society and are merely reflected in the media? Actually I have two questions. Did someone really think, “Mastication for the Nation” would make me want to go buy chewing gum? I mean, really.