04 July 2006

Red Stripe Beer

What about it? Terrible, headache-inducing beer from Jamaica which has become popular in the UK for some years among West Indians, those who admire or want to be like West Indians, and cheapskates.

They also have a commercial on the World Cup telecasts which shows a suave (by Jamaican standards, anyway) besuited black gentlemen gently grooving, while a lummox-like white frat boy flails about in arrythmic fashion. "Red Stripe Beer," goes the tag line, "helping our white friends dance for over 75 years."

Is it funny? Reasonably so. Is it racist? Hell, yes, very much so. If you doubt that, imagine the reaction to a Domino's ad that went: "Our pizza does for our black friends what the black man can't: feeds a family!"

Okay, maybe being accused of being lousy dancers isn't nearly as serious as being charged being derelict fathers, but both jokes are based on common stereotypes, and like all stereotypes, they contain at least an element of truth. Black people are on average better dancers than white people, and less likely to support their families. But the trouble with stereotypes is that they also unfairly brand vast numbers of innocent people, and have a way of perpetuating themselves. A stereotype about black people being lazy or poor workers makes it more likely that they won't get hired in the first place and given an opportunity to dispel that prejudice.

Similarly, white kids being led to believe that there's something dorky or embarrassing or shameful about being white can lead to the wigger phenomenon: emulating, in a desperate bid to be cool, the lowest common denominator of what is being sold to us as "black culture." That being said, I don't really have a problem with the Red Stripe commercial (except, as mentioned, that the beer itself is severely subpar) or with ethnic jokes in general. As long, that is, as it's clear that they are just that, jokes, and that they're allowed to fly freely in both directions.

1 comment:

Rue St. Michel said...

Hey Larry -
I live in Chicago but was down at Toms River, NJ last week staying with some family when I saw that Red Stripe ad during some World Cup matches. It was an outrage! The audacity for them to portray white people as fumbling, fat idiots is bigoted and racist. I even sent them a letter telling them they could take their racist taglines and their skunky beer and go pound sand!