22 Oct. 2006

The Blatant Racism of Australian Television Advertising

Further to my post last year ,in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, in which I pointed out that after watching a couple of hours of Australian TV after arriving in this country I already understood why non-white Australians have antipathy towards white Australians, I'd like to share some observations of the utterly blatant racism of television advertising in Australia today. In general, Australian television caters disproportionately to white people, the exception being SBS, a television channel set up to cater to the needs of migrants. However, this channel caters to the needs of non-English-speaking communities serially. Essentially, due to obvious commercial imperatives, television and the advertising which undergirds it, is aimed almost exclusively at the white majority.

A particularly revolting example of this is the current advertising campaign for Kirk's soft drinks, a nakedly patriotic campaign in which Kirk's is ultimately portrayed as the only surviving remnant of traditional Australian culture left today, while claiming (an obvious lie, but one which plants the right associations in the viewer's mind to induce them to purchase Kirk's sugar-water) that Kirk's sponsors the revitalisation of traditional Australian familial pursuits. The Kirk's compound in the advertisement features parents and children connecting over all manner of twee diversions. All these parents and children are white. This is a revitalisation of the authentic Australia and, as we all know, Australia is by definition a white country.

While television advertising in Australia primarily operates according to an exclusionary logic, it occasionally stoops to including ethnic minorities by mocking them. A confident white housewife goes to a Chinese market to found a wizened Chinaman having no food for her, but then with a cheeky grin proffering McCain's frozen Chinese vegetables. It's incredible to me the extent to which Australian television still portrays Chinese people in such a stereotypical manner when are so many Chinese people in this country defying these stereotypes. But of course, this is how things work, and the fantastic construction of the Oriental supervenes on any reality.

There is also an advertisement that almost manages to portray 'wog', which is to say 'Mediterranean/Middle Eastern' Australians. This trope is so unsaleable however, that it has to be covered with layers of padding. Firstly, the wog voices are applied to cartoon characters. Secondly, the cartoon characters themselves are cockroaches. They are simultaneously small and inconsequential and somewhat disgusting, degenerate in behaviour and language. I refer, by the way, to a specific advertisement for the V energy drink.

There is a notable exception in an advertisement for some kind of cheap telephony product, in which a young Asian woman phoning an overseas relative is non-stereotyped, while a couple of Australians phoning each other long distance within Aus are absurdly stereotyped. Commercials naturally being a commercial province, we can thankfully expect more of this on the assumption that Asian-Australians will become a larger and larger market for advertising. However, the commerciality of commercials also dictates that poor and marginal groups will always be discriminated against, and that capitalism will always be reinforced.