Tag Archives: media

Fake Some Sympathy, for PR’s Sake!

6 Mar

This past week FHM, a women’s fashion magazine in the Philippines, posted the upcoming cover of their lastest issue featuring a white model surrounded by painted black models with the caption “Stepping out of the Shadows.”

Image Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Naturally, Twitter and Facebook users were in an uproar over the implicit racism in the photo. The cover objectifies Black women and reinforces cultural stereotypes that uphold the objective goodness of white. Ruby Veridiano gives a more complete list of grievances in “An Open Letter to FHM Philippines.

Although this cover is undeniably racist, in this post I am more concerned with examining the apology released by FHM Philippines. Disclaimer: It’s not that I don’t think the racism of this post isn’t worth talking about– it absolutely is. In fact, I’m genuinely concerned that some people don’t see this as racist, considering the uncomfortable relationship the Philippines has had with colonialism.

Still, the FHM response to allegations of racism have received little media attention, and that worries me. The statements made by Bela Padillia have garnered more public criticism than FHM‘s apology, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

I’ve covered public relations scandals before– see my post on GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad and to a lesser extent, my post on the ESPN Jeremy Lin scandal; however, the apology put forth by FHM was so disingenuous that I felt the need to comment more directly.

FHM released an official apology on February 27th, a letter so transparently not sorry that it’s a wonder they released any comment at all:

On Saturday, February 25, we uploaded the March issue with Bela Padilla on the cover on our Facebook page. Just hours later, a slew of comments on the supposed “racism” of the cover image and cover line flooded the magazine page, prompting the editorial team to re-examine the cover so that we could put into context its execution and assuage the concerns of our readers and non-readers as well who’ve weighed in on the issue.

We took all the points into consideration and have decided to take the side of sensitivity.

When FHM hits the stands in March it will have a different cover. We deem this to be the most prudent move in the light of the confusion over the previous cover execution.

We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her. In our pursuit to come up with edgier covers, we will strive to be more sensitive next time.

It wasn’t enough to put racism in scare quotes, they had to place the word supposed before it. Could FHM be any less clear that they have no respect for the opinions of their readers?

FHM seems totally unconvinced that the “flood” of readers who responded to their cover could have any credible point, preferring to believe that they are merely misunderstood by the masses.

I find it especially ineffective and ridiculous that FHM felt the need to include in their apology that they had tried to explain that the cover is not racist, but no one believed them. Their attempts to “put into context” the cover have failed to convince the public that the cover was, in fact, not racist, as there is no context in which the FHM cover could be considered not racist.

So recap: In the first paragraph, FHM has insulted their readers and implied that they are wrong. They have next admitted that their first strategy has failed, which is the only reason they are apologizing now.

In the second and third paragraphs, FHM further clarifies that they have no option other than to apologize and again insults their readers by calling them confused.

So far, this apology doesn’t seemed designed to illicit any forgiveness in angered readers. Maybe it gets better?

Nope! FHM finishes their apology with a spectacular display of rhetorical maneuvers designed to deliver as few genuine remarks of contrition as possible! The magazine apologizes to Padilla for the hate mail she’s been receiving because of their editorial decision and ends by calling the readers over-sensitive, thus blatantly insulting the public no less than three times. Not to mention, FHM has failed to apologize to people of color for their offensive cover.

If FHM thinks their readers are too unintelligent to realize when they’re being condescended to, they are sorely mistaken. In this new age of instantaneous communication, companies can no longer ignore public responses where a mass of consumers share an opinion. It’s too easy to find like-minded individuals– consumers can criticize in groups and publicly, something which can tank a company’s image.

Luckily, companies have learned to adapt, and many corporations have apologized publicly for missteps that have garnered the anger of the majority. However, there is no formula for a good apology– one cannot just say sorry and expect to be forgiven. Like in any relationship, sincere corporate apologies earn consumer forgiveness. Companies need to weigh when it is appropriate to make a full and genuine apology for the sake of their public image.

The FHM apology was neither genuine nor sincere– and the public knows it.

Speaking of apologies, what do you think of the one Sandra Fluke received? Genuine– or not? Slate’s Prudence and Ron Paul don’t think so!

Lessons on Humor and Racism from Jeremy Lin’s Media Coverage

27 Feb

At first, I wasn’t going to join the discussion surrounding the Asian jokes about Jeremy Lin. I’m not into sports, and I felt that anything I said would miss important information about the context of sports culture.

It began with last name related puns– “Lin-sanity” holding the popular title– but eventually devolved into race-related jokes. See: The New York Post “Amasian” headline or the uncomfortable phrase, “Me Love You Lin Time.”

Then there was ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline, a major gaffe which cost journalist Anthony Federico his job and led to the suspension of Max Bretos.

There have been several stories in the news that associate Jeremy Lin’s heritage and Chinese food– one graphic posted by the MSG network, and one Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor.

However, days after the mess reporters made of Jeremy Lin’s amazing (so I hear) basketball related accomplishments, Facebook statuses defending the many racially charged slogans keep popping up on my newsfeed like a bad internet meme that just won’t die.

I'm referring to this meme specifically

The posts range from defending the ESPN headline writer (citing the number of times he’s used the same headline in reference to non-Asian athletes, the dictionary.com definition of “chink,” or the law on intentionality) to libeling liberals for their PC war on humor– and for those of you not familiar with the rhetoric of the right, this does not refer to people who liberally love computers.

However, what’s really interesting to me is the number of posts that defend the headlines (if you can call it defending) by agreeing that the headlines are racist, but not that racist. These posts usually include some kind of comparison to a remark that would be sufficiently racist to garner the explosion of media attention that has accompanied the ESPN remarks, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor, et cetera.

I’ve seem similar arguments made by news and humor opinion sites. About six minutes into his video, Philip DeFranco argues that the ESPN headline is okay because (among other reasons) chink isn’t as bad as the n-word.

He bases this comparison on which word is more difficult for him to say out loud.

Other than his notably subjective analysis methodology, DeFranco makes another mistake. He assumes that the n-word was always inappropriate, forgetting that it took widespread recognition of the decades of humiliation and prejudice associated with the term in order for it to be officially and universally retired from public discourse.

Huan Hsu makes a similar point in his case for retiring the phrase chink in the armor in his Slate article, “No More Chinks in the Armor,” arguing that the word chink has quietly gone the way of dyke, niggardly, and fagot– all words that used to have non-derogatory meanings, but whose deprecatory connotations have since outweighed their other uses.

I tend to agree with Hsu; however, I am interested to know where others draw the line between too racist and an acceptable amount of racist.

At first, I thought maybe it had something to do with intentionality. Clearly, the writer of the “Chink in the Armor” headline didn’t mean to be racist. He had used the exact same headline a bunch of other times, plus the phrase is a hackneyed trope of the sports industry and pretty much all sports writers use it.*

But the writer was still fired– not because he is a racist, but because of the affect his words had his readers and the readers of ESPN. So if The Line is intent to be racist, those overreacting, PC liberals are to blame for jumping up and yelling “Racism!” at poor, unsuspecting headline writers!

But that can’t be it. If we hurt or offend someone’s feelings with our words, does it matter if we intended to be hurtful or not? Our intent isn’t going to save ESPN’s reputation or recover any lost fans.

On top of that, people of color may have had certain experiences with words that would make those words especially offensive. For example, Jeremy Lin has spoken publicly about how the word chink was used to taunt him during his secondary school years. If a white writer doesn’t have those experiences, does that make it fair for him (or her) to disregard word related concerns?

Maybe the line lies with humor. My Facebook friends seem fairly convinced that jokes are sacred and should not be messed with. But what makes something like a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor with fortune cookies in it funny and a newspaper headline with an exaggerated Asian accent not? I personally don’t think that ice cream with fortune cookies in it equals tongue-in-cheek humor.

Saturday Night Live definitely touts the right to race related humor in their parody of sports commentary. I’m not going to lie– there are some moments where the jokes make me pretty uncomfortable. I’m referring specifically to that video of Jeremy Lin dubbed over by someone speaking broken English.

But the SNL jokes are making fun of racism. They’re saying it’s ridiculous that a newspaper would even consider printing “Amasian” as a headline. In fact, they think that’s so funny they don’t even bother making a parody newspaper– they just use the exact New York Post paper and expect their audience to laugh. That’s because they’re making fun of people who think the headline is okay.

In fact, the SNL parody is making fun of people who think they know where the line is. Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, and Bill Hader are contrasted with Taran Killam. Taran doesn’t know where the line is, and it becomes clear that– much like DeFranco– Jay, Kenan, and Bill think the line is located right where the jokes move from being about Asian stereotypes to being about Black stereotypes.** The audience is supposed to realize that these three are wrong– they don’t know where the line is.

So, where is the line?

For me, the line lies with humor. If you’re noting the absurdity of race related stereotypes, you’re in the clear. But I know that Jay Smooth would disagree and call me an ironic, Vice Magazine hipster! So that leaves us back where we started– where is the line?!


*Sidenote: Can we get some new headline writers? The people at Slate, The Huffington Post, and apparently ESPN are killing me! No more question titles, no more false binaries that the author doesn’t make, and no more inaccurate representations of the authors’ positions!

**It’s possible that SNL is also mocking our culture for reinforcing the Black/White binary by refusing to acknowledge racism related to other races– and I think that culturally conditioned binary is definitely related to the public’s lack of consensus in conversations about Jeremy Lin.

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