But I get ahead of myself.
Yesterday on Twitter I came across an ad from Cape Town Fish Market, a local chain of restaurants, selling the freshness of its fish.
The ad is described as follows on YouTube.
The Cape Town Fish Market is on a big drive to educate people about how fresh its fish is compared to that of some of its competitors, which is actually frozen. Because when the Cape Town Fish Market says fresh, it means fresh from the sea, not "fresh" from the freezer. We created this tongue-firmly-in-cheek TV ad to help people tell the difference between fresh and "fresh".
Seems like a fairly harmless, right? Well, if there’s one thing you can depend on, it’s South Africans being able to take entirely innocuous ideas and make them offensive, which, isn’t at all surprising.
In a series of vignettes the white actor in the ad plays a variety of characters. In a two second, “Wait, WHAT? Did they really go there, do that, and show that” moment, one of those vignettes of an “African Dictator,” as Cape Town Fish Market describes it.
While the agency which developed the ad, Lowe Cape Town, would probably disagree, I don’t think slathering a white man in greasepaint to have him play a corrupt black man is is funny.
In fact, I think it’s pretty unfunny.
To be exact, I think it’s pretty fucking offensive.
Now I could detail why it is, but I’m not interested in that. Also, if you need that explained to you I don’t really have time for you and I prescribe a daily dosage of Google, Wikipedia, and history lessons.
People far smarter and more experienced in SA’s marketing industry than me have time and again explained how the lack of diversity in our ad industry leads to these kind of horribly offensive and stereotypical ads. I don’t know anything about Lowe Cape Town or Cape Town Fish Market’s marketing department but I’d guess that it was some replaying of that situation which led to this ad being greenlit.
When I, and at least three other accounts including the City Press’ brilliant Charl Blignaut, tweeted about this ad I wasn’t expecting any kind of response.
Know what doesn't get any fresher, Cape Town Fish Market? Blackface! http://t.co/wfYRzufBNQ via @sa_poptart @digitalafrican @AfricasaCountry
— Mvelase (@MvelaseP) July 3, 2013
But Cape Town Fish Market saw fit to reach out to me.
@MvelaseP Do you mind sending your contact details to email@example.com?
— CapeTownFishMarket (@ctfmsa) July 4, 2013
Curious, I mailed them and received the following response from Cape Town Fish Market’s Marketing Department.
Thank you so much for getting back to us!
We at Cape Town Fish Market would like to clarify the rationale behind our latest “Fresh” advertising campaign
There is considerable ambiguity in South Africa as to the precise meaning of fresh fish, so we wanted to make it clear that we believe that you cannot call something fresh if it’s been frozen beforehand
We wanted to educate customers about this in a fun and entertaining way by using the inverted commas device. This is a universal communication tool to indicate that what is being said is a distortion of the actual truth. It is left to the viewer’s imagination to determine what the distortion actually is.
We deliberately decided that our spokesman in the advert would play multiple characters – including an African dictator, a German doctor, an English plastic surgeon, a street walker and a nerd. This was done in order to amplify the humour and to make it obvious that we are parodying each scene.
We would like to apologize to anyone who may be offended by any of the characters portrayed in the advert and would like to make it clear that it is humour, rather than prejudice, that is intended.
When in these contexts I read or hear something like that pearl of a closing line “...it is humour, rather than prejudice, that is intended,” I want to scream. Literally scream “YOUR HUMOUR IS PREJUDICE!” But because I’m getting really tired of harping on and on about this same subject I now normally just ignore these moments and add the speaker to my ever-growing list of “Idiots I’ve Met.”
Though I really ought to know better by now, in this situation I was shocked that having being made aware (by a number of people judging by the number of people who received the exact same tweet as me) that their ad was offensive, this major corporate, that probably like all corporates wants my, other black people, and other sensible minded people’s money thought a statement defending blackface was an awesome idea.
Apartheid fell more than two decades ago. We’ve been a democratic nation for almost two decades, but that email from Cape Town Fish Market was an unnecessary reality slap in the face that truly, yinde lendlela.