Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

Rum and date rape

Posted: July 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , | No Comments »
“In the majority of rapes on college campuses, both parties involved had been drinking—often to excess. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can often heighten the desire for sexual activity. Those who expect sex after they have been drinking may use force if they encounter resistance.” —University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Web site counselling page.
When the rum rebranding happened last year I was kind of horrified. The new tagline for the rum’s advertisements was “When it pours, you reign.” My brain exploded. Really? Show images of soaking wet, drunk-looking women, in a campaign that explicitly gives complete domination to the “you” to whom the ads appeal? What on earth were you thinking? Who thought it was a good idea to create a campaign that basically advertises date rape?
“Fifty-five per cent of the college men who acknowledged committing sexual assault on a date reported being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault,” says the above-quoted Web site. “In the same study, 53 per cent of the college women who experienced sexual aggression on a date reported that they were under the influence at the time of the assault.” Clearly, there is a link between alcohol abuse and date rape; but does the campaign exploit that link or is it just an unhappy molehill that I, as a rabid feminist, am making a mountain of?
There’s no doubt that my feminist ideology colours my interpretation of the campaign. However, anyone with a basic understanding of advertising psychology can see I have a point. It is a fact that rum (like most spirituous liquor) is pitched mostly to male consumers. This rebranding is meant to widen the consumer base for this brand (as I have read on the behance.net Web page of Sophie Charles, who seems to be one of the people involved in creating the campaign)[UPDATE: THAT PAGE HAS SINCE BEEN MADE PRIVATE]. However, the ads seem still mostly pitched at males. I can tell this because the majority of the shots in the TV commercials, and the majority of the images in the print and billboard campaigns feature scantily-clad women in various poses of ecstatic rapture—in other words, they look like they’ve been drinking and have lost their inhibitions. There are few men in the billboard and print ads; whereas the TV commercial shows a party scene, the billboards in particular tend to isolate the females and show them wet from head to toe, reminiscent of a wet T-shirt contest in which the female participants are put on show for the sexual titillation of the audience—who are mostly men.
The word “reign” has a specific connotation of dominance, ruling over, being in charge of. A monarch reigns over subjects, and although it can be a beneficent relationship, one always knows who holds the power. “Reign” is not a word that invites negotiation. Juxtapose this word with the sexually objectified, drunk-looking girls, and what do you get? In my opinion, an ad for date rape. More than half the rapes reported in T&T are date or acquaintance rapes, according to the Rape Crisis Society in a 2005 newspaper story by Suzanne Sheppard. This is hardly unusual, as most rapes reported anywhere are committed by people known to the victim. Though you might hear of “date rape drugs” that a rapist slips into the victim’s drink to knock the victim out, it is in fact far more common for the danger to lie in the drink itself, rather than any exotic chemical added to it.
When drunk people get into sexual situations, it’s not unusual for them to have sex. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, the perfect cocktail for poor choices. To quote the same University of Wisconsin Web site, “It is hard enough to communicate about sex when sober. Trying to communicate and make good decisions when drinking is impossible for most people.” I’m not a habitual rum drinker, though I’ll drink the occasional mojito faster than you can say “Cuba libre.” I have nothing against the brand, or its parent company. What I do have a problem with is irresponsible, thoughtless advertising. You may say, “Well, that’s life. Everybody knows people feel sexy when they drink. You can’t blame the liquor for date rape.” My response: Remember “Rum is smasho”? We didn’t blame rum for car crashes before that, either.
[This column appeared in the Trinidad Guardian on July 17, 2012]

Colour conscious

Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

One of Miss Thing’s friends is a willowy beauty. She’s caramel coloured, with exotically slanting eyes and neat features. She’s a natural model, if I ever saw one. It’s not that she’s prettier than any other girl, but she seems to have that fortunate coincidence of height, slender build, perfect skin and good deportment that makes a good runway or photo model.

She went to a casting call the other day and came away feeling like, for the first time since she started this nascent career, she might not have nailed the job. Why? She wasn’t dark enough.

Yup. The casting call asked for a model who was “dark”. My girl went anyway and her caramel colour was too light for what they were looking for.

This particular call drew the annoyance of at least one person, who wrote in response to the call on FB: “Perhaps you didn’t realize publicizing skin preference in a model search … would register as discrimination…it does. And now you know. It’s not like you’re casting an actress to portray Rita Marley or Heather Headley…naturally she would need to fit unique and narrow aesthetic parameters. Caribbean Beauty in 2010 is defined by a melange of aesthetics, not just ‘dark’ complexions.”

I thought about the post, the comment and my own outrage (particularly on behalf of my daughter’s friend) that the call was so restrictive. But was it racist? That’s another question. In 2010 are we doing the opposite of what our grandparents did 50 years ago? Are we turning the “brown paper bag” code on its head with reverse discrimination? Is it now, “Black, step up, brown, get down”?

I subscribe to a Yahoo group called TT Arts, which is used as a message board of sorts for all kinds of things. Publicising shows, advertising services, and yes, even casting calls. It was my friend Aaron’s misfortune to post a casting call for models for a commercial with the following requirements:


GENDER               COMPLEXION                         AGE

1)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  approximetely 8 – 10

2)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  30

3)                 MALE                    BLACK                                     55

4)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  50

5)                 MALE                    INDIAN                                   30s

6)                 MALE                    BROWN                                  30s

7)                 FEMALE               BLACK                                     25

8)                 MALE                    INDIAN                                   45

9)                 MALE                    BROWN                                  30s

10)            FEMALE               LIGHT BROWN                      28

11)            MALE                    CHINESE                                 30

12)            MALE                    LIGHT BROWN                      40

13)            MALE                    BLACK                                      36        )

14)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  35        )

15)            MALE                    BROWN                                  15        )  ALL ONE FAMILY

16)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  13        )

17)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  10        )

18)            FEMALE               LIGHT BROWN                      35

19)            MALE                    BROWN                                  50s

20)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  30s

I first wondered what the ad was for, because that is a huge cast. I next considered how far we’ve come in just 20 years; back when my ex- worked in advertising in T&T, the complexion he called “Cannings Brown” (a light, honey colour, not quite “red” but not as dark as sapodilla) was de rigueur in locally produced advertisements, whatever the product being advertised. Seeing actual dark skinned black people, not to mention dark skinned Indians, on TV in local ads was pretty rare.

I dismissed the casting call (I wasn’t interested in applying), but many others didn’t. A sudden and angry wave of emails followed:

“The true issue is that the terms such as ‘darkie’ have been used in the States and abroad to insult people with darker skin. Let us not forget the slave trade as well. People of all colours must be aware of the history of darker skinned people and understand why casting in such a light is frightening and disturbing to not only them but others who are aware of the racial ills in this world. Therefore, I suggest that next time you are casting do not make a list of different races. Simply state that you are a looking for various races to fill roles, ranging from men to women, young to old etc.”

“thanks man, every time i think i’m in the 21st century, you people are here to remind me the Caribbean is as racist as ever…what could you possibly need all those ‘brown’ ppl for…oh lemme guess, its a high class/colour commodity?”

“Only 1 ‘black’ female required for an advertisement in which several ‘brown’ or ‘light brown’ females are (with a similar ratio applying for the men). We are still heavily mired in an unhealthy colonial legacy.”

There was one voice in poor Aaron’s defense:

“If art imitates society then there has to be room for selective casting when aiming to depict life with true accuracy.

“Where is the line drawn between indiscriminate casting and casting for an accurate depiction of our society without being criticized for stereotyping and/or for contributing to racial divides?”

I don’t know if Aaron got his models. I can say for sure he got at least one response (from an actual model) from the call on TT Arts, from someone who wrote:

“I am available as a female brown 28/35.  What’s your phone no?”

I wrote a manuscript some years ago and gave it around for some friends to read. One responded that one striking thing about it was how everyone’s colour was painstakingly described. He got tired of it, he said. I hadn’t before really considered how much I think about skin colour in my characters. But I didn’t change it, and continue to write characters’ descriptions that include their skin colours. I’m not colour blind, and I don’t want to be. The rich and various colours of our people are one of the things I like about this place. We are not homogenous.

Back to the model casting call. Were they right to call for a “dark” girl? Who defined “dark”? If they were white, my daughter’s friend would be considered pretty dark—but they’re not. They’re black, just like me, just like her. I wonder what will happen in the end with all of us colour conscious folk—conscious of colour but not necessarily restricted by it—when all the world is one uniform colour as Wayne Browne predicted?