Taking offence too far


by Sunny
24th August, 2009 at 11:37 pm    

Now some people have this view that if others take offence, then it should be taken seriously. Maybe… but then you also have to draw the line somewhere. And I draw the line before this guy:

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were watching TV at home when the advert for comparethemarket.com appeared on our screen. I had seen the ad before and not thought anything of it. However on this occasion, my girlfriend, who is Ukrainian, turned to me and said: “I don’t like this advert, it is very offensive to me.” I mentioned it to a friend who said his Latvian lodger also found it offensive.

The advertisement centres on the word “market” – a word that eastern Europeans/Russians pronounce “meerkat” – using talking CGI-animated meerkats. The sole point of this African animal’s appearance is, it seems, to highlight the idea that east Europeans cannot pronounce the word market properly when they speak English. It struck me how racist it was to parody what is now a significant part of the British population in this way. It also occurred to me that were the ad to use stereotypical Indian or Caribbean accents in the same way it would never be allowed on TV.

Consider the fact that there are actually programmes and commericals that mimicked Indian and Caribbean accents. The Lilt commericial was one. Goodness Gracious Me made a whole successful series out of mimicking Asian attributes.

Also, why did the guy feel like mentioning that a Meerkat was ‘African’? I think what he’s really taking offence at is that Eastern Europeans are being mimicked by African animals. Racist!!!! Well, I’m offended dammit.

Honestly, some people. [via John Band]


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  1. pickles

    New blog post: Taking offence too far http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/5637


  2. sarcastic git

    RT @pickledpolitics: New blog post: Taking offence too far http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/5637




  1. Shatterface — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:25 am  

    Not seen the Lilt advert in ages, but there were complaints about a chewing gum advert using Jamaican accents.

    I thought Alexander Meercat looks like Putin, only cuter.

    Some words become homonyms in other languages or when pronounced with a different accent. They’re just a more elaborate form of pun.

    Anyone who thinks the German word for ‘daddy’ isn’t funny has no sense of humour.

    Some people need to get over themselves.

  2. Shatterface — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:26 am  

    Oh, and if there are any English words which are funny in another language, I’d like to hear them.

  3. Don — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:58 am  

    Too stupid to be real. The CiF thread is tending towards bad spoof or viral marketing.

  4. not likely — on 25th August, 2009 at 1:05 am  

    I worked for an Eastern European called Marketa. She did not pronounce her name Meerkata.

    This bloke is talking sh1te. Case closed.

  5. damon — on 25th August, 2009 at 1:47 am  

    I was dropping this guy from work home a few weeks ago.
    He’s a Russian from Lithuania. This add came on the radio and I asked him about it.
    He seemed to be in two minds, but didn’t elaborate in great detail. I got the feeling that he might be slightly miffed about it. As although he speaks excelent English and is esentially a Londoner, he must be aware that his pronunciation is not always 100% right.

    I don’t think you can really get too worked up about this kind of thing though. Just as there is a crude ”German” accent that can be parodied by English speakers, Germans too can take the P at an aproximation of how native English speakers strangle their language.

    And we’re teribble at French too.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YujJTqXH9wY

  6. Kulvinder — on 25th August, 2009 at 3:16 am  

    Its a stupid article and as has already been pointed out in the cif comments there are adverts out there that ‘spoof’ stereotypes even more explicitly, or even the scots accent.

    I’m curious though whether the guardian included it for comedy gold purposes or whether they thought it was seriously worth considering.

  7. Kulvinder — on 25th August, 2009 at 3:23 am  
  8. Don — on 25th August, 2009 at 3:43 am  

    damon,

    You raised the issue a few weeks ago? It seemed iffy to you then? It’s clearly an urbane Ruritarian accent.

  9. Trofim — on 25th August, 2009 at 9:13 am  

    I speak with a rich rural Worcestershire accent, the sort which is immediately associated with blokes in smocks with a straw in their mouths. I have heard it mimicked, ridiculed, pastiched throughout my life, by numerous people, Londoners in particular, and regularly on the radio and TV. I’ve been called Farmer Giles, Worzel Gummidge, Rumbling Sid Rumpl and so on ad nauseum. Am I offended? I’m not sure what the word means. There is an inverse correlation between the proclivity of people to be “offended” and free speech. The problem with societies in which freedom of expression is practised, is that they require that their citizens possess a certain modicum of emotional robustness. Thin-skinned societies are low on free expression.
    Russians, in my experience, regularly and freely imitate the accents of, and make jokes about, caucasians (I mean in the proper geographical sense of the word), Poles, ukrainians, people from the baltic nations, central asians and so on. In their turn all these peoples have favourite joke sub-nationalities.
    The best Irish jokes I’ve heard have come from Irishmen. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what hope is there for you?

  10. Cauldron — on 25th August, 2009 at 9:45 am  

    I took much greater offense at this CiF article, which seeks to explain away hate crimes on the grounds of ‘alienation’. Still, it’s always amusing to see the sub-editors at the Grauniad wriggle as they try to stop the beloved rainbow coalition from fragmenting.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/24/gay-hate-tower-hamlets

  11. Katy Newton — on 25th August, 2009 at 10:01 am  

    The silly season is well and truly upon us, isn’t it? I know a lot of Romanian, Polish and Russian people and none of them pronounce “market” “meerkat”. I just thought the ad was a play on the words “meerkat” and “market”.

  12. David T — on 25th August, 2009 at 10:06 am  

    I think Delwar Hussein is gay – if so, this isn’t an article seeking to excuse at all.

  13. Rumbold — on 25th August, 2009 at 10:11 am  
  14. Rumbold — on 25th August, 2009 at 10:45 am  

    They are picking on poor Andrei at Arsenal because of this.

  15. Raymond Terrific — on 25th August, 2009 at 11:06 am  

    Wow

    who gives a fuck?

    for anyone offended by such inoffensive stuff as this, I recommomend a Jerry Sadowitz show. That, and taking a look at the world around you and shutting the fuck up.

  16. Jai — on 25th August, 2009 at 11:55 am  

    The guy in the CiF article has completely misinterpreted the advert. It’s about people (in Britain) looking for car insurance, accidentally typing in the wrong URL address due to the similar spellings of “market” and “meerkat”, and ending up accessing Aleksandr the Meerkat’s website; it’s not about the alleged inability of Eastern European/Russian people to pronounce the word “market”.

    From what I can tell, the advertising agency responsible for the commercials have deliberately gone for the most insanely surreal approach possible — A Russian aristocratic meerkat in a red velvet smoking jacket running some kind of meerkat matchmaking website from his mansion. Of all things.

    And given the fact that meerkats are widely regarded as being cute, I think the general response would be to increase the popularity of meerkats even further, rather than increasing prejudice towards Russians because of the nutty decision to depict the protagonist as having a Russian accent. I read an article in one of Britain’s main national newspapers a week or two ago where visitors to the meerkat section in one of the UK’s major zoos keep doing impressions of Aleksandr when they see the animals (to the apparent irritation of the zoo staff responsible for looking after them).

    Having said that, I can fully understand why Aleksandr’s Borat-style way of speaking might be offensive to some Russian people, especially if they (or other Russians they know) have personally experienced ridicule or mockery due to their own accents, although in this particular case the intention is supposed to be affectionate and surreal. The website — yes, there really is a ‘comparethemeerkat.com’ site — is very funny too; the team behind it have really gone to town when it comes to creativity. Some of the fake meerkat profiles are quite lairy too — one of them states that the furry guy’s hobbies include a “fetish for shaved minx”, believe it or not…..

    Here: http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/home

    It gets even crazier. He’s even got his own Facebook profile: http://www.facebook.com/Comparethemeerkat

    And “Bloopers” from the commerical. I’m not kidding.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hfOt1qoALo

  17. Jai — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:05 pm  

    Here’s the website:

    http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/home

    It gets even crazier. Aleksandr even has his own Facebook profile, made by the same team as the one behind the website.

    http://www.facebook.com/Comparethemeerkat

    And he’s got a “Bloopers” video for the commericals too. I’m not kidding.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hfOt1qoALo

    I’m not quite sure what the people behind all this have been smoking, but they’ve obviously had a lot of fun.

  18. David T — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:09 pm  

    On another connected subject, I was in Wales last week.

    I was talking to some Welsh people of Pakistani origin, and couldn’t work out if they were doing an unconvincing Welsh or Pakistani accent.

  19. chairwoman — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:19 pm  

    Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

    Get a grip!

  20. dawood — on 25th August, 2009 at 12:59 pm  

    Ivor the Engine? Indian!

  21. Shatterface — on 25th August, 2009 at 1:24 pm  

    ‘I was dropping this guy from work home a few weeks ago.
    He’s a Russian from Lithuania.’

    Christ, that was generous of you: I’d have just dropped him off at the airport.

    Alexande’s cute. If he was shaved and covered in mafia tattoos the Russians might have reason to complain.

  22. Joel — on 25th August, 2009 at 2:09 pm  

    Good lord, it feels strange for me to be on the “look at the loony PC brigade” side of an argument.

    If– and that’s a big ‘if’– this isn’t a hilarious spoof.

  23. damon — on 25th August, 2009 at 10:23 pm  

    Don @ 8, yes I did mmention it I now remember. (Actually it was a couple of months ago). Was it iffy then? If I’m going on too much it’s OK to tell me to shut up.

    Shatterface – I don’t get that (”drop him at the airport”) – but likewise with what I said to Don.

    I live and work with people from all over the world, and have been accused of mimicking people’s accents in an annoying way a couple of times.

    For example, with an Indian national nurse who lives in my house, when I’ve suggested some DVD’s to watch (as she likes to watch films on her computor), her reaction to some of them has been ”That’s very old movie”. She doesn’t seem to like any western films that are not mainstream or current.

    After having all kinds of films rejected as being ”very old movie” I must admit to having mimicked the sing song Indian accent she has saying ”very old”.

    (She dissed my car too as being ”very old” – it’s got wind up windows – not eletric).

    But it’s obviously not just about accents. There’s the realisation of this cultural difference between older working class English, and the new thrusting materialist overseas Indian national who only looks to the modern and current in their dealings with the western society.
    The older religious customs that are still followed quite meticulously (prayer, diet, modesty, etc) are not something to talk about too much with a white person of the opposite sex.
    But I hope we’re stll friends.

  24. irrelephant — on 26th August, 2009 at 2:32 pm  

    Ukrainian chicks are well fit!

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