Anti-Semitic Billboard Isn't Okay Just Because It's Funny

An anti-Semitic billboard advertising Wodka vodka that went up in New York City has come down. The ad selling vodka claims, "Christmas quality, Hanukkah pricing" and reinforces the oft-cited stereotype that Jewish people are cheap and stingy. 

The ads are gone and Wodka vodka has apologized, but the damage has more or less been done. If you saw a billboard with two dogs, one of whom was wearing a yarmulke (Jewish headpiece) and the other who was wearing a Santa hat, you might think it was cute. But the message is, as the the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said, "crude and offensive."

It may be amusing, but it feeds into a stereotype, which can't be funny at certain times when the right people say it and not funny at other times with the wrong people.

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The company is known for such jokes. Their contact page includes references to “employees” named New Delhi Neil (“snake charmer by day and press wrangler by night”) and Farmer Bob, whose whole persona is one hayseed away from Deliverance. They are joking. Clearly. The ADL didn't see it that way. And Wodka responded quickly.

They announced via Twitter that they would pull the ads. The company tweeted:

Although rarely serious, we apologize to anyone we may have offended through our holiday campaign and are removing our billboard immediately.

The thing is, the billboards are funny. As a Jewish person, I can see them, cringe a little, and laugh. But not everyone would be laughing like me.

When I was in college, one of the kids I went to college with (a non-Jew) made a joke about "being a Jew" about the bill one night at dinner (meaning he was going over the numbers). I said nothing. After all, I should be able to laugh at myself, right?

Ten years later, I have some perspective on that and two kids to think of. Had he said that today, I might have pointed out why it was culturally ignorant (I rarely even glance at the bill before paying) and also why it was offensive. When everyone is in on a joke, it's funny. But when someone is made the butt of that joke, even if they're laughing, it isn't that amusing. It's playing on cultural stereotypes in a big, public way, like large scale bullying in a "come on, get a sense of humor about yourself" kind of way. If we do laugh, we are playing into it, and if we don't, we are killjoys.

Imagine if this were some other cultural stereotype, like Little Black Sambo or something equally offensive. We would all be up in arms. So how is this different?

The company did the right thing. All is well that ends well and so on. But it does show how little progress has really been made. There is politically correct silliness and then there is outright offensiveness and this crosses the line.

Do you think this is offensive?

 

Image via calamity_sal/Flickr

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