Friday, 16 November 2007

Renault-ver and Out

Renault has decided to pull the "N-word" advertisement I wrote about in Tuesday's blog posting. This is the statement the company's U.K. office sent me today:

"The latest press and radio ad campaign from Renault UK has been created with a simple game of Yes/No as its theme. The aim of the campaign is to promote Renault UK's unbelievable offers over the next 10 days, which are so good it will be very difficult for customers to get a dealer to say 'No'. The 'N' word headline is one of three print advertisements that are complemented by three radio commercials explaining the game and Renault's offers. Any misunderstanding of the 'N' word is totally unintentional. However, this specific print advertisement will be removed with immediate effect, so as not to cause any offence. The other advertisements in the series do not include an 'N' word reference."

So, the ad in question was pulled. Two other print ads will continue, headlined: "We Don't Have a Swear Box, We Have a 'No' Box" and "For 10 Days, the Word 'No' Does Not Exist."

When I asked Renault UK press officer Mike Gale what exactly the N-word in question was in the ad that caught my eye--"For 10 Days, We Can't Use the 'N' Word"--he said it was "no....That's obviously what it means." When I asked whether most people in Britain would think that "the 'N'-word" means "no," he said, "I wouldn't know, to be perfectly honest."

There is a great deal of debate about the N-word (and by that I mean the six-letter one, not the two-letter one). Originally a racist epithet, it's now often bandied about by hip-hop artists and others who see it almost as a term of endearment or fraternity. Activist Dick Gregory used it as the title of his autobiography. Its usage has become a subject of serious scholarly attention (as in this book by my former Washington Post colleague Jabari Asim, and this one by Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy). There's also a movement to abolish the N-word.

That gets too close for censorship for me. "Huckleberry Finn" wouldn't be as moving or illuminating without it. My objection to the Renault ad is that the advertising copywriters were playing with something too charged and dangerous for a flip newspaper ad. I hope I'm not sounding overly politically-correct, starting us on a slippery slope where soon not only shouldn't we say the real N-word but we shouldn't even say "the N-word."

Do I believe they really had no idea that using the expression "the N-word" might cause some readers to think they were referring to what Kennedy calls the "paradigmatic" racial slur in the English language? What do you think? But even giving them the benefit of the doubt, they should have known. They have led sheltered lives indeed if the thought never occurred to them.

I mean, give me an F-wording break. And by that I mean...well, you know what I mean, don't you?


mark from alexandria said...

Well, that is an interesting
"denouement," if you will excuse my use of the "D" word. You do bring up a good point about usages where "n word" is still, how shall I say, appropriate. Obviously, Tom Sawyer is one. Another is the famous Richard Pryor album. Calling it "That N Word is Crazy" just misses the entire point, as well as the zeitgeist. I remember when I was in college a number of essays being written with the title "The (add your vocation) as 'N Word.'" Now obviously, this was meant to show a certain understanding and solidarity with African-Americans as an underclass. At that time, in that political era, it seemed appropriate, but looking back it seems both pompous and somewhat insulting. Still, there was no outcry about it then. So how do we walk the line between sensitivity and inappropriately being PC.

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of a recent kerfuffle here in the D.C. area. It involved a gay man in Virginia whose license (licence) plate -- or rather, number plate -- reads "POOFTER."

The Virginia DMV wants to confiscate the plate. Apparently someone complained.

Meera said...

Until last year, you could buy cream filled chocolate bsscuits called Negerzoenen, or negro kisses, in The Netherlands. I'm sure there is a point there somewhere.

Sarah Laurence Blog said...

The mighty pen of the blogger. Well done!