Racist Humour in Australian Advertising: Reflections from the Sociology of Whiteness

Below is a great post by sunili on “casual racism” in a recent advertising campaign that has thankfully been banned by tv networks. To situate it for non-Australian readers, here’s the background. There is an electronics entrepreneur in Australia called Dick Smith. His company is Australian-owned and his advertising campaigns often rest on notions of patriotism. His latest ad was an attempt to cash in on Australia Day, coming up on the 26th of January. It has caused tremendous controversy because it is based upon sexist and racist “jokes.” The ad features cringe-worthy dick jokes as well as asylum seekers literally arriving on Australian shores. A stereotypical Afghan/Islamic man is handed a Dick Smith’s food product, as Smith says “And the taste is a beauty, why else would thousands be trying to get here?” The “asylum seeker” looks to the camera and says “I love Mr Dickssss.”

Dick Smith has defended the sexism and racism in his ads to the Sydney Morning Herald, saying:

one of the reasons that asylum seekers come here [to Australia] is because we have good food. So I can’t see what’s really wrong with that.

Guess what? Asylum seekers come to Australia for asylum, to escape prosecution and political turmoil, not to eat Australian food specifically and certainly not to help Dick Smith reduce their plight into a racist skit.

The entire ad campaign is offensive and ridiculous, but the asylum seeker angle is socially irresponsible, given that Australia has an ongoing debate about asylum seekers, which are based on fear and racism. Negative stereotypes, including those perpetuated by “jokes,” have a real consequence on the lives of refugees in Australia, including on their employment prospects. Media that replicates race and gender-based “jokes” actually rest on racist and sexist notions, as the humour is a direct interaction with cultural stereotypes.

Sunili has written to the ad director, who defended the Dick Smith ad saying it was not meant to be racist. As Sunili points out, racism, whether intended or not, whether as a joke or as malice, is still racism:

There are two huge problems with casual racism and racist jokes:

jokes that are based on racist stereotypes and the normalisation of casual racism trivialises the huge problem of what you describe “malicious” racism and the harm that that racism causes because people go “oh c’mon it’s just a joke love, get over it!” when the basis of that joke is something that is deeply not funny and terribly hurtful; and

making jokes and then defending jokes that are based on racist stereotypes normalise a harmful practice that has and continues to effect a lot of your fellow Australians, and it gives the really vocal, nasty, malicious element of the community the ammunition it wants to make racist jokes in a nasty, malicious way.

I have discussed the sociology of “unintentional racism” with respect to history and music on my other blog. I noted that the reason why non-white people, particularly those in positions of privilege, are able to claim that they fail to see racism in their words or actions is because racism is institutionalised. It is so firmly entrenched in society, that people claim not to be aware of it, even when they participate in it. This is why whiteness studies are so important: people who belong to a dominant white group have trouble owning up to racist discourses. As Dick Smith says, “I can’t see what’s really wrong” with his unintentional racism. 

Check out Ruth Frankenberg’s work on white American women and Margaret Wetherell and Jonathan Potter’s work on racist discourses in New Zealand. These studies show that ordinary folk who see themselves as highly tolerant and forward- thinking citizens actually use racist language and they replicate racist ideologies without being able to discuss this as racism.

You should also read Sunili’s post in full.


Dick Smith is a bit of a tool but he made this ad for his food products for Straya Day and it’s awful and racist and you can google it if you want but I sure as hell will not be linking to it.

I contacted the director of the ad via Twitter and engaged in a bit of discussion about how problematic it was. He responded, firstly by calling me “Sunil”, EPIC AWKWARD TURTLE, but then saying that the ad wasn’t racist because there was no malicious intent to be racist.

This was my response to him.

Read More

HT @26pgt for the link to sunili’s post.

Sociology of Gender and Toy Advertising

Sociology PhD student Elizabeth Sweet writes for the New York Times that gendered toys were “remarkably absent” from toy advertising at the beginning in the 20th Century, but appears around WWII. It declined by the early 1970s only to rise again in the 1990s. Today it’s almost impossible to find gender neutral toys (I can attest to this when I tried to buy science toys for my niece over Christmas. I will share my photos soon.) Why did gendered toys take hold? Sweet writes:

There are several reasons gender-based marketing has become so prevalent. On a practical level, toy makers know that by segmenting the market into narrow demographic groups, they can sell more versions of the same toy. And nostalgia often drives parents and grandparents to give toys they remember from their own childhood.

Such marketing taps into the deeply held beliefs about gender that still operate in our culture; many parents argue that their daughters and sons like different things. This is particularly true for boys: parents tend to stick with gender-typed toys for boys, either because they understand that the social costs for boys who transgress into the “pink” zone are especially high in a homophobic culture or because of their own desire for gender conformity.

This becomes a self-reinforcing cycle: as toys have become more and more gender segregated, the social costs of boundary crossing and the peer pressure to stay within the lines are huge, for kids and parents alike.

Read the article.

Marketing Menstrual Disgust

So, TV just told me that apparently now there’s a panty liner for when you DON’T have your period, because even average day-to-day ‘dampness’ (their word, not mine) is gross when it comes to your vagina. Oh boy, and here I was all these years thinking ‘wet’ was an enjoyable and desirable adjective that went with ‘pussy’. Feminine ‘hygiene’ advertising, you’re fucked. And you can take your insecurity-inspiring propaganda to hell with you.

Alyx Gorman quotes her friend in a good deconstruction of the latest Australian advertising beauty campaign to condescend to women (aimed at women, but just as insulting to other people who have periods). The ad pretends to “get real” about women’s bodies by using the word “vagina”, feeling pleased with itself, thank-you-very-much, for being so honest. The ad features a thin, white, naked and conventionally attractive woman talking about “that bit of discharge” in the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The ad then usefully offers women a solution to our dampness/wetness problems: we should wear panty liners every day! Hooray and thank you!

Gorman does a great job of showing that this ad is part of a long line of advertising that pushes a product most people do not need and manufactures it as a solution to our (non-existent) problem. This is a stock premise of advertising: it creates problems and solutions for consumers to guilt or shame us into spending money. The issue here is that the message is twisted: vagina is not a dirty word, says the ad – it’s just women’s bodies that are gross.

Read Gorman’s article on The Vine.