Photo by lrargerich

Photo by lrargerich

When does an advert cross the line from poking gentle fun at people to outright racism? According to Guardianista Peter Jones, it’s when you get Meerkats involved.

 

In Mr Jones’ article, he paints an image of a blissful domestic scene shattered by a diminutive, jackbooted advertising mascot for comparethemarket.com.

The inexplicably popular “compare the meerkat” advert appeared on his screen, prompting Peter’s Ukranian partner to turn to him and wail “I don’t like this advert. It is very offensive to me.”

Forgetting for a moment that the future Mrs Jones talks in the clipped tones of a Soviet agent circa With Russia From Love, let’s take a look at what exactly constitutes racism in this advert.

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.

The first part that leaps out at me is the grouping used. Eastern European/Russian. So that’s painting Romanians, Poles, Ukranians, Latvians, Belorussians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Khazaks, etc as a homogenous group similar to “Russians”. That’s very Cold War of Peter. He should just have said “Warsaw Pact” and had done with it.

The second is that he thinks this entire grouping of people from a dozen countries pronounce the word “market” as “meerkat”. He doesn’t say that the Ad plays on an assumption, a stereotype or a joke – just paints it as fact that whether you’re from Tblisi or Vladivostok, you’ll pronounce “market” as “meerkat”.

Just how likely is that?

I’m from Salford. I pronounce market as “mar-ki’.” My significant other is from Hale Barns and pronounces market as “marr-kit“. That’s about 15 miles. Now I’m no expert on Eastern European pronunciation, but I think that pronunciation will be as markedly different in Talin and Astana as it is in Brussels and Lisbon.

The kicker for the piece is this sentence, which shows that Mr. Jones doesn’t watch much TV.

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.

Lilt. Reggae Reggae Sauce. Malibu. Need I go on?

Come on Guardian. I’m sick of having to defend you to my Tory friends and colleagues – and you’re really not making it easy for me.

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