Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Superior Race in Stockholm

When did Tim Tebow become a gladiator?
Words matter. A lot. Those words that I wrote above, they come with a certain connotation that attracts a certain person—usually racists and neo-Nazis. Yet, those very words have been plastered all over the Stockholm subway system for weeks now in an ad campaign for a race. A superior race. The picture says it all.

It’s an obstacle race. Obviously. Apparently, if you’re into that sort of thing, you can run a 5km, 10km, or 18km race with obstacles dotting the landscape. Those obstacles include a bunch of, if the website and ad are to be believed, muscly white dudes with vaguely appropriative “tribal” tattoos known as gladiators. Some people like private spankings. Other people like public spankings. Whatever floats your boat. It seems those gladiators are there to float someone’s boat by making you hurt so good with oversized foam paddles. I think. I haven’t watched American Gladiators in years, so I may be a bit off on the proper parlance.

Of course, at first glance, this seems to be an ad campaign thought up by the geniuses over at one of Sweden’s many racist political parties, groups, or organizations. If you reacted like that, you’re not alone. Since the ad campaign started in mid-January, several complaints have been sent to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman and the race organizers have received questions about race biology and Nazism. In response, they’ve changed the website from SuperiorRace.se to SuperiorOCR.se. They’ve changed their Twitter handle, as well as Facebook and Instagram. They’ve realized their mistake and tried to make some changes. But those ads are still traveling up and down the subway system of Stockholm.

That mistake is probably a pretty expensive one. Reprinting marketing material and rebranding an event are not cheap fixes. Someone somewhere has probably been doing a whole lot of explaining to the big boss about the big mistake. Which might explain the ridiculous explanation that came with their apology and changes. On the one hand they claim the organizers were not thinking at all about race biology and the connotations that comes with those two words, superior and race, smushed together. On the other, they claim that they were trying to suggest a positive connotation to the words. As if a bunch of obstacle race organizers can unwrite a whole lot of bad history. As if it is their duty to reclaim, to reappropriate, those two words with the help of beefy white dudes.

This is just further evidence that every single company and event and organization ever needs to hire a 13-year old. If that 13-year old reacts in any way. They smirk. They laugh. They blush. They chuckle. If you’re selling the Orgasmatron Mini Deluxe and it isn’t a vibrator, if you’re selling nose trimmers and the Shocking Gun for Easter. That 13-year old is going to laugh. Your job is to figure out why. And then your job is to change it unless that’s the reaction you’re going for. Immediately. Because superior mistakes lead to superior bills.

Welcome to Sweden. And superior races.

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