Monday, July 21, 2008

5727: Garfield Discovers Cultural Cluelessness…?

It’s no secret MultiCultClassics is not a great fan of Advertising Age critic Bob Garfield. But this week, Garfield came dangerously close to making a valid point. However, he failed to see the actual issue and ultimately even showed he’s part of the global dilemma.

An Open Letter to Omnicom President-CEO John Wren is Garfield’s protest against homophobic commercials Omnicom agencies have produced in recent years: A Dodge Caliber spot from BBDO Detroit and two Snickers spots from TBWA\Chiat\Day New York and AMV BBDO London.

Garfield rightly blasted Wren for allowing his shops to create and run the thoughtless work. The columnist went so far as to wave the Omnicom corporate responsibility statement in Wren’s face: “As a leader in the communications industry, Omnicom Group is committed to ensuring that we use our position to promote socially responsible policies and practices and that we make positive contributions to society across all of our operations.” It’s a nice extra spanking.

Then the wheels wobbled off the Garfield rant-wagon.

First, the critic drew comparisons between the Snickers spot starring Mr. T harassing a speed walker and a real-life homicide. Garfield wrote, “My guess is that the parents of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death for being too effeminate to suit his killers, would take a different view. Because your commercial is just a cartoonish recapitulation of their son’s brutal murder.” Yikes. Talk about fighting insensitivity with insensitivity.

Yet Garfield totally missed the big picture with his next ravings. He wrote, “Since you are the executive ultimately in charge of both TBWA and BBDO, I ask you: How could you be so insensitive, how could you be so shallow, and how could you be so mean?

“This letter is to you, but it is equally to your colleagues throughout the industry. Are you so bereft, of ideas and simple humanity, that you must be reduced to stereotyping and bullying? That you must identify an ‘other’ to ridicule, or worse? That you must build a brand on the backs of people who have harmed no one save for challenging a high-school locker-room standard of masculinity?”

Um, has Garfield been paying attention to the industry he’s covered for the past few decades? Surely he realizes the answer to his three questions in the preceding paragraph is a resounding yes. Then again, maybe he doesn’t. So let’s break it down for Mr. G.

Garfield appears oblivious to the cultural cluelessness that has thrived on Madison Avenue since, well, forever. The three commercials highlighted are just a tiny example of the stereotypes, bias and discrimination prevalent in our business and our creative product. Of course, no one wants to consider that a diverse workforce might reduce the awful messages. Is it a coincidence that when Madison Avenue agencies reported their diversity hiring progress to New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, Omnicom shops had the lousiest records?

Garfield doesn’t completely smell the shit he stepped on. Reprimanding Wren is a waste of time—the President-CEO is a key turd in the pile. The spots weren’t invented in a dark closet. Teams of ignorant, clueless types conspired to excrete the messiness.

The Good Old Boys will potentially receive a ruler-whack on the knuckles and be sent to bed without dessert. The worst-case scenario involves yanking the controversial spot. But solve—or just acknowledge—the root problem? Don’t bet on it. Like Garfield, the majority of adfolks won’t catch the true implications.

In the end, Garfield kinda demonstrated he’s a reflection of the overall dilemma. He concluded by writing, “Stop the dehumanizing stereotypes. Stop the jokey violence. There is no place in advertising for cruelty. Pull the campaign. Do it now. Then tell your agencies how to behave. Or else.”

There’s a certain cluelessness behind demanding the culturally clueless gain enlightenment. But more disturbing is the threat, “Or else.” Gee, Bob, it’s not as if Wren is a Comcast technician. The tactics of aggression and intimidation are so stereotypical of the White men who continue to rule the industry—and generate campaigns irrelevant and offensive to the new general market.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A well written critique. You were better than me, though. I didn't even bother to read Garfield's letter. I looked at the title, laughed out loud, thought "you've got to be kidding me," and moved on. Garfield's almost completely avoided the subject of stereotyping and discrimination in the industry throughout his time at Ad Age and now he cuts loose with this "open letter" like a kid who just had someone step on his bag of cookies. It's like someone who lives in Yellowstone National Park walking out of their front door and saying, "Oh look, trees!"

I hate to tell you, Bob, but this problems been there for a long time and you've only just now caught on.