Here's Johnny!

Black and white

Friday, July 7, 2006 | 02:24 AM | by
Sony has a recent history of some really off the wall and offensive advertisements going, but I don't know if some of you have seen this one. I read about it on Joystiq thanks to a reader pointing it out:

Now at first glance, this stands to be a pretty offensive advertisement. That was my first reaction, definitely. However it's important to keep in mind that this advertisement isn't running in the US. It's a campaign over in Europe (Holland, if I recall correctly?) only. Why is that? Maybe because here in America we have such a history of racial tension, a history of slavery, an issue that divided our country in two in the face of war. So maybe it seems like a pretty harsh image to us, because we're extra sensitive to that sort of thing, perhaps out of shame, due to that part of our nation's history. (I'm not saying racism doesn't exist elsewhere around the world, but I'm not from elsewhere around the world, so I can't vouch for the feelings of different cultures.)

But the advertisement wasn't meant for us (America). It's probably not a mistake that Sony isn't running that particular campaign in the US. They may have felt it was more likely to be misinterpreted here. So I'm not sure I can condemn them as insensitive just because we Americans are so particularly prone to get our hackles up over things like this. It would sort of be like getting offended that a billboard in Japan is in Japanese, and I can't understand it.

It's just skin. Different colors, sure. And Sony has stated that their goal behind the advertisement was to focus on the contrasting colors (two other images from the campaign). So in that regard, using colors, what's the big deal about using a person with black skin and a person with white skin? It's just color.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where anyone looked at that billboard and all they saw was two people.

But, in America especially, you look at that billboard, and you see a white person in an assumed position of dominance over a black person, and immediately alarms go off in your head. Everything we learned in history class about the 1800's comes flooding into our minds, along with a healthy dose of guilt, and we apply our own demons to the image. We attach 150 years of racial tension to the image, and condemn it for our history, not because of any message it's actually delivering.

Which really is just two people representing two handheld video game consoles.

Anyway, it's a little known fact that just a few weeks prior to this ad being released, Nintendo had a very similar ad in the very same spot. I'm lucky enough to posess a photograph of the billboard, which I'll share with you, my faithful readers.

Let me put this another way

Friday, July 7, 2006 | 09:01 AM | by
Here's a different take on my view.

No one is offended that the billboard suggests a precursor to violence. No one is offended that it's two women involved in violence. If it had been two white women, one in a white suit, one in a black suit, nobody would say a thing.

Furthermore, nobody has said word one about the version of the ad where the black woman is dominating the white woman. And I'm willing to bet that if that image had been on the billboard instead, nobody would have said a thing. At least not publicly.

So ask yourself, honestly, why it's offensive to you. Because the billboard doesn't depict slavery. Not in the slightest. If the black woman was picking cotton, and the white woman was standing over her with a whip, then hell yes it would be offensive. But it's just two people squaring off, and one of them has the upper hand. So why does it matter to you which one that is?

Because if we really want to reach the level of equality in our society that we all say we do, we need to stop dwelling on the past. Slavery is abolished. Has been for a good long time. Not a single one of us Americans owned slaves, or was a slave. It was a horrible period in time, but it's over. Being oversensitive about things like this billboard is what's keeping this racial tension alive. If you ask yourself honestly, you may find that you don't actually think the billboard is offensive, but that you've just been taught it's offensive.

Stop making race a big deal, and race stops being a big deal.

(PS, Kudos to whoever designed the ad campaign for accomplishing exactly what was intended; to spark discussion and bring attention to Sony and the product)

Thank you

Friday, July 7, 2006 | 06:15 PM | by
Emails regarding this subject, on both sides of the fence and from dozens of different points of view and backgrounds, are coming in faster than I can keep up with them. Agree with me or not, I just want to thank everyone for writing in to express your particular opinion, and though I may not be able to respond to all of these emails, I enjoy reading the different points of view and counters to my argument.

In closing, I want to reiterate that I am not suggesting that we forget slavery happened. Or that racism exists. And certainly not that abolishing racism is as simple as "not making a big deal over race". There are going to be ignorant people out there, angry people that use race as a vehicle for their hate. However I do feel that the sooner more people stop being overly sensitive to race, the sooner that mentality will dwindle generation after generation. Constantly being sensitive over race is just a constant reminder that we're different. Perhaps we should focus more on the many ways in which we're similar.