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By Kusi Okamura
The art of advertising is fascinating.
The skill of selling something to somebody, something that they didn’t even know they were missing, until caught by a catchy slogan and distracted by striking imagery. This skill to make people part with their money, and sometimes their morals, as they get reeled in like fish on a line.
There is one particular ad that I remember from my early twenties which was posted at my local bus stop. I would see it every day while I waited for the bus to go to college, and Irish buses being what they were, this would constitute a good chunk of my morning and evening.
The ad was for a vodka and in it was a man sitting holding a bottle in one hand while the other hand cupped the butt-cheek of a woman who stood in front of him with her back to the camera. The woman wore a leopardskin dress and the top of her body was cut out of the photograph. This was at the height of 90s lad culture and the guy had a “cheeky chappy” grin.
Every day as I waited for the bus I looked at this ad and it bothered me.
The obviously sexist message with its more disturbing undercurrent, wrapped up in its ‘let’s party’ sheen bothered me.
That it was in my face trying to sell me something bothered me.
It bothered me so much that I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority and a few weeks later I got a letter to say that the ad had had a number of complaints and had been removed. It felt like a little coup. I had had no expectation that my complaint would be taken seriously. Later that evening at the pub I remember telling a guy I knew and he exclaimed ‘Why do you have to ruin it for the rest of us?’
Though he was half-joking, as with most Irish wit, somewhere in there he meant what he said. He had been happily oogling the woman’s arse and agreed with the lad sentiment of lager-it-up and get-your-tits-out-for-the-lads.
And there I was opening my big mouth.
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Last week actor Brandon Victor Dixon, on behalf of the cast of the Broadway show Hamilton gave an impassioned speech to vice-president elect Mike Pence as he attended their show.
As an actor in a show that celebrates diversity, Dixon said to Pence: “We are the diverse Americans who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights…we hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
And an interesting situation then played out. There were strange admonishments from Trump from his Twitter account about the “rudeness” of the cast. There was talk about the impropriety of the timing and setting of the speech as if it were unseemly to talk politics in a theatre. So though it now seems that much of this was a kind of diversion that took the limelight away from Trump’s fraud scandals, there does seem to be a strange, maybe middle-class discomfort about directly speaking out against Trump.
In fact there seems to be a worrying trend in people trying to normalise the fascism, to excuse Trump for his statements and behaviour, to suggest that maybe he doesn’t really mean what he says. Maybe it is hope, a kind of desperate wish that Trump isn’t as bad as he comes across.
And so we find ourselves having conversations and debates with people about whether Trump’s talk is actually misogyny or just a kind of disrespect towards women. (He’s on tape talking about sexually assaulting women!) Whether he means to be racist, whether he will harm the environment, whether he will champion the working-class, all while he fills his cabinet and the White House with self-serving billionaires, climate-change deniers, and white supremacists.
Hope springs eternal but let it not blind us to the reality.
We must see Trump for who he really is and what he represents.
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We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented – Eli Wiesel
We are still reeling from the election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States. Even here in Berlin, Germany, there were tears shed on the streets. And for many Germans the echo of history is terrifying and loud.
There are the fascist hallmarks of Donald Trump: his narcissism, his dislike of dissent and those who disagree with him, his rhetoric extolling racism, misogyny, xenophobia, violence, and hate. All done with his salesman sheen, urging the American people to buy into his own personal brand.
In a recent conversation with our SECRETS Artist-in-Residence Camalo Gaskin, she pointed out to me that we now live in an era of activism whether we accept that or not. And this brought to mind the quote above by writer and activist Eli Wiesel who passed away earlier this year. A Holocaust survivor he was tireless in his campaigning to highlight injustice. He understood and believed the truth that to be silent in the face of injustice was to be complicit. He never failed to eloquently outline the reality of being a citizen of the world and the moral choices that come with it.
There may be a reluctance in facing the new Trump reality that we now live in. And a fear in what that reality means to us, to our relationships with those around us, what it means to the world as a whole.
But in the pivotal point in history that we find ourselves in there is a reason for the righteous anger that we are feeling when we hear about the swastikas now appearing on schools, about the racist attacks on the rise, about the white supremacists in the White House. For the swill-filled hate that is now being heard and seen.
Let us remember those who said ‘enough’ in the face of fascism, segregation, apartheid.
The memorable speeches of Martin Luther King are full of tremulous righteous indignation.
There are lessons and inspiration in the past. And again I think of Martin Luther King, but this time of the tears that he is said to have shed when he heard Lyndon B. Johnson utter these words in relation to a voting rights act: “We shall overcome.”
And so we must remember and draw hope for the future, in the solidarity between those of us who will not be silent.
Kusi Okamura is the founder and editor of The Wild Word magazine. She lives with her family in Berlin, Germany.