Here's the headline on an ad for French automaker Renault on Page 10 of today's Guardian: "FOR TEN DAYS, WE CAN'T USE THE 'N' WORD."
There are plenty of words that begin with the letter "n" but there's only one "n-word." I don't have to spell it out, right? It's an ugly racial epithet the utterance of which will not endear you to anyone with an ounce of sensitivity. Of course, Renault would never use that word. So what n-word do they mean? Here's the complete text of the ad:
No. There, we said itHa ha! Renault and its advertising agency, Publicis, are just having a little fun. They want you to think they're referring to that n-word. They want you to experience a wicked (a naughty) little frisson. We were thinking they meant the n-word that white-sheeted Klansmen used to shout before stringing someone up from a tree in the Deep South, the n-word that skinheads scream before kicking some poor guy's teeth in (or worse). But the joke's on us. They actually meant the word "no."
But that's the last time you'll hear it for a few days.
Between the 9th and the 18th of November,
we've instructed all our dealers not to use the 'n' word.
With unprecedented deals across the range, we're just going
to keep saying yes.
Visit renault.co.uk for details of your local Renault showroom
and for a precious few days, see if you can get us to utter
that naughty little word.
I had several questions:
Is it wise to suggest that except for 10 days in November Renault dealers have a hard time not saying that word?
Will they go back to saying it on Nov. 19th?
And what is this ad doing in the Guardian, the most self-consciously liberal and annoyingly PC newspaper in the land?
I have been told by some English friends that Britain is not as racist as the United States, not as segregated or race-obsessed. It's true that racism is America's great shame, the issue that has split the country since it was founded. Even today we don't necessarily deal with race and discrimination in the healthiest of ways. But I don't think a U.S. ad agency would bandy about race-related expressions in an effort to shift a few hatchbacks.
And the U.K. isn't exactly a color-blind society. Recently a Conservative candidate named Nigel Hastilow resigned after suggesting that Enoch Powell, Britain's great race-baiting rhetoritician, was correct on the subject of immigration.
I suppose racism is something we each confront in our own ways, but this ad just strikes me as the b-word: bad.
I have calls in to both Publicis, Renault's agency, and the Guardian. If they call back, I'll update with their points of view.
Left Holding the Bag
According to the Guardian, London may tax or ban plastic shopping bags, concerned about their environmental impact. It's already hard to get the bags in Oxford: If you ask for one at the shops, instead of using a reusable, carbon-neutral, handmade-by-Bangladeshi-lesbians burlap sack, people look at you as if you've just poured crude oil on a baby seal.
The unintended consequence of these noble efforts is the hardship a bag ban would put on dog owners such as myself. Our dog has a two-bag-a-day habit, if you know what I mean. Plastic shopping bags are the perfect poop-disposal mechanism. Please don't tell me I'm going to have start using reusable burlap bags for that.
Jesus Is Just All Right With Me...
The Oxford Mail today reports that local veterans were upset that more than half of the city's 48 councillors didn't show up for Sunday's Remembrance Day ceremonies--the British equivalent of Memorial Day. Bad form, surely, but one detail in the article clanged with me. In the story, a Col. Chris Keeble is referred to as a "devout Christian." The same language is used in an editorial elsewhere in the paper: "We could not agree more with the thoughts of Col. Chris Keeble--a devout Christian--who negotiated the surrender of Argentinian troops at the Battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War in 1982."
I'm not sure what that fact signifies or why it's worthy of mention. What makes a person cross the line from "a Christian" to "a devout Christian"? And how far do you have to go before you arrive at "a fanatical Christian"?
And while I'm piling on the Oxford Mail, I was disappointed by a detail missing from a story about a pair of local musicians auditioning for a TV talent show. Wende Blowfield said she and Brian Staton auditioned for "Britain's Got Talent" as a way of showing "her three disabled children...that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it."
A worthy sentiment, but what did Anton Chekhov say? A loaded gun seen in Act One has to go off in Act Three? Nowhere do we learn what the Blowfield children's disabilities are. I don't want to be morbid but if you're gonna mention it, explain it.