Thursday, August 27, 2009

The trouble with phony multiculturalism.

I happened upon an item on that illustrates what I shall call phony multiculturalism. I shall define phony multiculturalism as the cynical and superficial brand of multiculturalism that is promoted by the corporate/political oligarchy for purposes of marketing/propaganda.

The item concerns a Photoshop mishap in a Microsoft advertising campaign. Take a look at the two photographs in question. The first comes from an advertisement tailored to an American market. The second is an altered version of the same photograph, intended for a Polish market (apparently Polish people haven't yet caught on to the superiority of the Macintosh):

A black man in an online Microsoft ad was replaced with a white man, bottom, on the company's Polish Web site.

Kinda disturbing, no? I mean, it's bad enough that they replaced the head of a creepily smiling black man with the head of a creepily smiling white man. But to add insult to -- as it were -- injury, the white guy's head is the wrong size and is contorted such that it looks like he doesn't have a neck.

I realize that this is for the damn Poles, but still....

Here's an excerpt from the article, titled Microsoft apologizes for gaffe in online ad:
SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Software giant Microsoft apologized Wednesday for the apparent bad judgment that led to the head of a black model being swapped for that of a white model in an online advertisement.
The ad -- which showed three business people, one Asian, one white and one black -- was altered on Microsoft's Web site for Poland to place the head of a white man on a black man's body.
"We apologized, fixed the error and we are looking into how it happened," said Lou Gellos, a Microsoft spokesman.
He said that because the company was still reviewing how the swap occurred he could not comment further.
Okay. So, this is typical a PR/damage control cant. But just consider for a moment how completely dishonest this claim is: They are "looking into" how it happened?

How it happened is, of course, obvious:
The business Web site, which first published reports of the swap, wrote that the change in models may have been made with the "racially homogeneous" Polish market in mind.
So, Microsoft created an alternative version of the image in its efforts to "target" the Polish market, such as it is... This wasn't an "error." Nor was it really a "gaffe." The only mistake that Microsoft made was getting caught. The "gaffe" is that, embarrassingly, some graphic designer did a sloppy enough job that people noticed.

What's actually unsettling to people about this might be a more fundamental problem: There's a level at which such portrayals of diversity function to perpetuate the illusion that actual diversity is far more common than it really is.

To the extent to which this illusion is perpetuated, this species of multiculturalism creates a decline in the impetus or perceived necessity for measures bringing into effect actual multiculturalism.

I think that witnessing the shenanigans of Microsoft's marketing department somehow spotlights this problem. In other words, it reminds us that, in the hands of publicly traded corporations, such warm-and-fuzzy phenomena as multiculturalism, environmentalism and healthcare always function first and foremost as tools to be used in the service of making money.

And making money will always be, by definition, a conservative enterprise.


yo said...

A similar thing happened 9 years ago, I believe involving a former classmate of yours:

cft said...

That's hilarious! Thanks for sharing, yo.

(By the way, who are you, yo?)

GSR said...

GS & R