Thursday, July 4, 2013

Y’know what’s totes LOLworthy? Blackface! -- Cape Town Fish Market

You know what is funny; someone feeling that they need to explain how air quotes work. You know what isn’t; blackface.

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.

But Cape Town Fish Market saw fit to reach out to me.

Curious, I mailed them and received the following response from Cape Town Fish Market’s Marketing Department.

Dear Mvelase
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 “ 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.


  1. LOL - Funny ad.

    I agree, its so racist that the same actor plays a german dude... So offensive :P

    Frankly, making a big deal out of this is just plain silly.

    1. I suppose the real question is "Why should anyone care that you're offended?" If you are offended and would like to organize a boycott, go for it. If you're just trying to emotionally coerce them into backing down because you're offended then you might like to pause and reflect on the notion that political correctness and freedom of speech are opposite norms.
      This doesn't mean that one can't choose speech that happens to be politically correct but if you feel that you can verbally bully people from a pulpit into acceding to your haughty sense of offense then you reveal yourself to be nothing more than a dictator with no government, a fascist is citizen's clothing.
      The most appropriate reply I can imagine CTFM giving to such a narcissistic overture is "We're sorry you didn't like our advert. We know it worked on others so go fuck yourself."

  2. You've just spent a lot of time and effort getting angry and self-righteous about an issue that isn't really there.

    You're making up issues. Why is the background to your blog black? Are you a racist? See, it can get out of control when you're looking for shit to get angry about

    Don't tell everyone else about two decades after apartheid, you're the one that doesn't get it.

  3. "[C]onceptions of Black entertainers were shaped by minstrelsy's mocking caricatures and for over one hundred years the belief that Blacks were racially and socially inferior was fostered by legions of both white and black performers in blackface."

    So, the anonymous are saying that we should take all this and put it behind us. Obviously it used to be racist, now it's not anymore. Let's all get guitars and sing Khumbaya with our little gollywogs in tow. How absolutely absurd.

    It used to be racist and it's still racist. No overreacting by anyone.

  4. They also parodied a Woman in the ad. Disgusting. And disgusting of this blogger to overlook that fact. Misogynist!

  5. And Germans! How could anyone rip the Germans?! And what about prossies? I think some people on this blog only watched 3 seconds of the whole ad! But that's how it goes with such types...

  6. Remember that horrible incident of White Face with the Wayan bros? Racism is strife my bother! Keep fighting the fight, the world needs you to...

  7. I'm amazed at the calibre of commenters on your blog, Mvelase. Whiteface, seriously? Actors in drag and those acting as other nationalities are reasons why blackface isn't racist. So, what does everyone think of Steve Hofmeyr? Apartheid?

    Also, I suspect I'm one of the "some people" who only watched three seconds of the video, mmm? Who exactly are "such types"?

  8. "Blackface is about so much more than a white person painting their skin darker. It echoes back as a tool used to enforce and maintain white supremacy, in a context where POC lived with brutal, dehumanising oppression. It served to mock the victims of institutional and physical violence and intimidation, making figures of fun out of POC at the same time as their human rights were being crushed. It’s, quite frankly, utterly horrible"

    1. There's just so much interpretation placed on something, I see so simply (as a black african who's not from SA)! Would a person without exposure to all these anthropological studies on the psychology behind blackface as a tool of oppression (in SA? I've yet to come across an example of this?) See them the same way? Perhaps a study should be done on the adoption of foreign concepts of populist reactions to past oppression from the west because I feel somewhat that this may be an adoption of ideals. A uniform reaction to different forms of oppression, based on (perhaps) what is seen as "how the black person MUST react" (memo?) regardless of their own personal experiences and how un/familiar they are with or how much/little they identify with the very unique reactions of black americans (people of colour???) (or indians, or east africans etc) have from their own oppressed historical and current experiences. I don't know what its like to have lived through apartheid. I'm not sure a person who lived through it would find blackface offensive. But perhaps I need to hear more.

  9. Wow! But when did race become the focal point of every single thing that we see hear and do? Yes they did blackface! Move on! I as a black female who did not grow up oppressed (I'm african but not from SA) found that ad hilarious! Where are MY rights? Leon Schuster's movies from back in the day STILL make me laugh! Possibly BECAUSE of his portrayal of black men! Should I be ashamed of that? Does it mean I'm somehow victim to this oppression by the white man that is expressed in makeup?? Ugh! No thank you! Do I choose to laugh at a good joke delivered well! Yes! Blackface is the symbol YOU make of it! Americans had offensive movies with blackface, I have yet to see one in SA! And I see it as a symbol of a race that has more than its race going for it! It wasn't a commentary on the back man! Laugh! Its funny!

    1. Well put. Samwise needs a councilor

  10. Anonymous(es?) I respect your opinions, but really?! Do you really mean everything you just said. I don't usually comment on articles, as they tend to be cesspools of ignorance, but this is something that should not be overlooked. I have the same issue with caricatures of gay men, coloured people, indians, blacks, as it tends to box them in as one type. This type is usually inferior and not flattering in any way. If white people were ever in a position of subservience and colonisation, then this would take on a different meaning. But until that never happens, black face will always be a slap in the face, and entirely unnecessary.

  11. Hahahahahaha! (Black S.A. male - 25)
    Calm the f*#k down guys. We're never gonna move forward if we stay sensitive to trivial issues.