Quick Hit: The “you smelt it, you dealt it” card

2010 February 22
by Melissa

I’ve just had a conversation with an acquaintance in which he proudly showed off a PSA-style advertisement that a friend of his made. The advertisement makes play on a very real and very problematic trope to get its point across, but I’m not going to say which as it’s not entirely a feminist issue and it is the response I wish to discuss here.

The ad was trying to be cute, and since it used adorable fluffy animals doing people things, it was. In that regard, it was cute. However, despite the pets-as-people gimmick, the toxic trope got in the way. It killed what I assume would otherwise have been enjoyment of the clip. Killed it dead.

See, the advertisement didn’t just use animals as faux-people; it equated a whole socially disadvantaged-by-circumstances section of society as animals, and did so in a really negative way.

The group to which this ad clip was displayed were, I guess, supposed to squee. We were supposed to adore the cuteness that the advertisement was using. But we couldn’t. I mentioned to some of the group elsewhere that I was choking on the trope. Some of those people also noticed it also, and mentioned it outright to the guy. He wasn’t impressed.

“It’s satire! It’s on broadcast TV!” he cried, as though satire makes everything ok. Or maybe it’s because typical everyday mass-media advertising morality is like totally awesomely awesome.

Then came the best part. Out he came with “You are the one who noticed it, not I, ergo you are the who thinks of those people that way, not I!”. Yep, you can mark that one off on the bingo board.

When have you, dear readers, had this one thrown back at you? How did you respond?

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This post was written by melissa.

Melissa is a Linux and web geek who goes by the nick "elky" in IRC land and occasionally rants at geekosophical.net. She is currently in love with fountain pens. Because they are awesome. Just like her. Infatuation is subject to change. Melissa's awesomeness isn't.

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12 Responses
  1. Kim permalink
    February 22, 2010

    I tend to reply with as-patronising-as-possible mini monologue on the effects of privilege and suggest some reading for them. White middle class folk are often shocked to learn that they are part of a demographic too which is well known for it’s intolerance!

  2. April permalink
    February 22, 2010

    I’ve never come across this one in the wild. Do people really say that? Wow. You are racist/homophobic/misogynistic for noticing that my statements rely upon racism/homophobia/misogyny to convey their meaning. That is a powerful kind of mental judo.

    I wonder what would happen if this argument became more widespread. I can see news reports now: “John Haymaster, a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan filed a lawsuit against the NAACP today for slander and liable, claiming that it is not the Klan that is a racist organization, but rather the NAACP. ‘Clearly it is this Colored People group–and that’s their word, not mine!–that sees Negros as backwards and undeveloped, or they would not be so insistent upon their need for advancement! The president of the NAACP could not be reached for comment; her lawyer said that the claims were ridiculous, to which Mr. Haymaster replied ‘I know you are, but what am I?’”

    • Restructure! permalink
      February 22, 2010

      I laughed out loud at the second paragraph, because I thought it was funny satire.

      But then I remembered that white people actually say things like that, i.e., that the Black Student Union is assaulting his “civil rights” and that they need to be shown that “intolerance is so 20th century”.

      • April permalink
        February 24, 2010

        Jesus Christ, really? Fuck. These people kill the funny.

  3. Wendy permalink
    February 22, 2010

    Ok so these words might not work but it’s my thought process at the moment.

    My advice is to really within yourself have NO investment in that person changing, but you could just stop them firmly and correct them, “No, hold on, this is simple, I am offended by x-y-z and I’m telling you that fact. You can’t argue about my being offended, those are my feelings. I would hope you have some regard for the feelings of others, whether or not you understand them.

    Also, this sounds a little patronizing maybe but you can say this sort of thing next…
    “I’m letting you know I find it offensive, and if you care about offending people, perhaps you can ‘hear’ that I am offended, and then question whether you are communicating precisely what you intend to, to others. Sometimes what we say comes across differently to others than we intend for it to.

    In terms of our different views on this topic, I have a rule to only discuss our views if
    there’s a genuine desire to understand the views of the other person,
    and if we will both show great respect even when we disagree.
    I would like that mutual understanding, but those are the conditions. ( showing interest in truly understanding the views of others, showing respect even when you disagree) Any other attitude is unlikely to be productive so I won’t engage in it.

    It may sound like you have a chip on your shoulder, some of the way I put things here,
    but I’ve found that a strong voice being indignant can really get someone’s attention. Almost no one enjoys conflict THAT much ! Don’t be afraid of losing the friendship of someone who is inviting you to feel like crap about yourself.

  4. Viviane Grainger permalink
    February 23, 2010

    I’ve had this one tossed into my lap on a number of occasions. As with your experience, Melissa, it’s usually by someone who is not willing to accept that their mindset needs some adjustment. They can, they will, and they do argue endlessly for their own coolness, when one’s experience with/of them argues against that perception.
    When I’m faced with this kind of person, I get (and stay) the heck out of their presence. I’ve yet to come up with a better solution, because they refuse absolutely to learn.

    • April permalink
      February 24, 2010


  5. Mary permalink
    February 24, 2010

    It’s pretty common IME. What do you think all the “political correctness” accusations really amount to? The truth is, we’ve had probably half a generation, maybe more, in which any widespread consciousness of isms has gradually been eroding. Insofar as privileged people ever had such awareness, they’ve lost it, and guess what, they don’t want it back. Yelling, “Nuh uh, YOU!” is so much more funner.

  6. missdk permalink
    February 25, 2010

    two words: privilege and institutionalized.

  7. MarinaS permalink
    February 26, 2010

    My husband used to persistently claim that my noticing antisemitism is a sign of my own latent racism. He himself, the argument went, is entirely “colour blind”, which is why he is utterly oblivious to anything ever being racist or bigoted.

    So I left him.

  8. J Maguire permalink
    February 27, 2010

    That is a tough one! I’ve actually had this very attack thrown in my face about homosexuals, and I myself am, so it was even more dumbfounding and irrational. People who are racist/homophobic/sexist/etc. tend to become defensive when they are actually confronted about it. Many people don’t even realize that they are, until it is pointed out, but the easiest way for them to deal with the realization is to throw it off on the person who called them out. It is of course extremely juvenile, but this is often how they respond.
    The only defense against it is to remain calm when they try and pass it off to you and cite all the reasons why the ad or discussion, etc., is problematic and flawed.

    I would like to recommend and interview series of professional women in online journalism.
    It was conducted by the University of Iowa Gender and Mass Media Class this past fall and offers wonderful insight into the future of online journalism.

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