After a decade of Sam Kekovich complaining about “unAustralianism”, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) decided to try something a little different to promote spring lamb last month.
The result was a star-studded 90-second YouTube slot featuring Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman, NRL player Greg Inglis and model Samantha Harris. There was even a Greek transgender comic, Jordan Raskopoulos, in a major plug for diversity and “the ultimate cross-cultural protein”, lamb.
The ad is meant to be funny, yet still carry the politically pointed edge that’s been a theme dating back to the Kekovich days. It begins with X Factor host Luke Jacobz, a white Australian male, saying he is “here to address concerns that too many perky white males are contributing to a lack of diversity on our screens”.
Bengali-Australian actor Arka Das (Farid in ABC TV’s “The Code”) suddenly takes over saying “We couldn’t agree more”, going on to discuss people of colour, including “white-whites, translucent whites, beige whites, red whites, and our dark whites, who are darker than the light dark guys”.
There are 150 people from numerous racial and religious backgrounds in the ad, meant to be a light-hearted pitch that no other meat unites Australia like lamb.
But that’s not how several viewers saw it, complaining to the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) that the ad was racist and offensive.
Here’s a sample of the points raised in several complaints received by the ASB:
“Racism. I’m anti-racist no matter what race is being vilified including white people. This advertisement clearly states ‘too many WHITE people’ in its commercial which is highly offensive.”
“It was a great opportunity for a person of aboriginal decent to respond but throughout the advert I saw no presentation of our original landowners. I think that’s wrong or at the least it’s disappointing.”
“It’s easy to associate the Australian aboriginal with only eating kangaroo but with this current social need for ‘integration’ in Australia, this advert falls horribly short.
“I found this advertisement offensive in the racist manner it portrays a young white male and those of Caucasian descent generally.”
“Surely there is a more appropriate way to make lamb appeal to all racial groups without resorting to an attempt to appease those of non-white European descent by mocking the white population of Australia.”
“He was racist in his comments about to many white people on TV and it was racist and offended me.”
“I object to the slander that infers that white men contribute towards a ‘lack of diversity’ which was completely offensive to my family, particularly my father, brother, husband and son! Is it ‘diverse’ to completely remove one in favour of another? The Ad then goes on to slander Caucasians by lining up several Caucasians who are wearing obvious makeup and labelling them as ‘white-whites, translucent whites, beige whites, red whites, and our dark whites, who are darker than the light dark guys’. Describing skin colour in this way is a complete disgrace especially when if it were done in the reverse the advertiser would be labelled as a national disgrace and made to publicly apologise for such a racist statement!”
“The very first thing the person says is both sexist and racist. The person points out that they are white and male saying that this adds to a lack of diversity. Pointing out someone’s race and gender in an advertisement and then denigrating such race or gender is both racist and sexist.”
The complaint that “throughout the advert I saw no presentation of our original landowners” is even more astonishing because the ad concludes with Das heading to the barbecue, tongs in hand and asking “So who was here first?”
Two of Australia’s most famous Aboriginal sportspeople, Inglis and Freeman, pipe up: “Umm, that would be us.”
The ASB considered the complaints in two separate cases of potential racial discrimination or vilification earlier this month – one for TV, the other for internet – and dismissed both cases.
“The Board considered that the advertisement did not portray or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race,” it says in its ruling, noting that the comments made in the ad were “tongue-in-cheek” and that humour “is employed equally across all the races/ethnicities”.
In a submission to the ABS to defend the ad, MLA said:
“Any reasonable viewer would recognise that the Advertisements use humour to promote a social message of inclusion and do not vilify anyone including white Australian males. In fact, the advertisements have received global praise for its message, including from TIME magazine who noted that the ‘Aussies just celebrated diversity in an ad about lamb and it’s absolutely perfect’.”
Here’s the ad that caused so much offence:
In its submission over the complaints the MLA argued the:
“Advertisements celebrate diversity and do not promote any act of discrimination, prejudice or vilification”.
It adds on Jacobz’s statement:
“The tongue-in-cheek comment by no means treats white males unfavourably or seeks to ridicule such members of society. We submit that the reasonable viewer would not perceive this statement or the Advertisements as a whole to be racist or sexist. The Advertisements promote acceptance and tolerance – not bigotry or the incitement of hatred towards white Australian males.”
The Ad Standards Board agreed the comments were delivered in a manner, and concluded “that overall the advertisement is inclusive and portrayed in the advertisement”.
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