Being offended doesn’t mean going on the offensive.
In the same breath, publishing a controversial cartoon is not an offense.
The devastating, bloody massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris is offensive to those who cherish freedom of expression.
Staffers were killed in what seemed retaliation for their mocking of Islam
Their only weapon was biting humor.
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy; indeed no person or institution no matter how revered was safe from being targeted by the magazine’s blistering satire.
It has a history of drawing outrage across the Muslim world with cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, believing that humor was the best weapon against extremism.
In a less enlightened time, ads featuring racial and ethnic portrayals in questionable taste, caused nary a stir.
The Risk Of Offending
During the post-war years when it seemed the only risk of offending others was if we suffered the unforgivable shame of halitosis, a series of ads ran that would not only raise a politically correct eyebrow today, its offensive nature could very well spark angry, violent protestations….or worse.
Victorious after WWII America saw itself as the model for the world, and American dreams were to become global ones.
With our sparkling minty fresh smiles and anti bacterial clean handshakes we would help underdeveloped countries improve their lives and know the real joy of good living by exporting American consumer goods.
With the conviction of a car salesmen selling a wouldn’t you really rather have a Cadillac we were convinced that America was the standard by which the worlds other countries were to be judged.
Naturally we would never risk offending others needlessly with unpleasant breath, since every American knew halitosis was the one unpardonable social fault.
But offending others through racial and ethnic stereotypes…no problem.
White Rock carbonated beverages, innocently ran a series of ads that were of questionable taste. In one ad, we are offered a portrayal of an Arab named Prince Ali who is being tempted by the American way.
The Arab Sheik, who is being interviewed by the American press, turns his head as his eyes bulge out leeringly at the sight of shapely scantily clad Psyche, White Rocks trademark.
“By the beard of the Prophet,” he asks, “who’s SHE?”
The dialogue continues”
“Prince Ali: Ah, a wonderful country! Never did I imagine the American girls like this!”
The snappy newsman retorts:
“Reporter: Keep your nightshirt on, Prince-I’ll introduce you to Psyche! But first I want a statement on the international situation…..
Ali: Not now, brother of a donkey! This lovely lady, this Psyche who is she?”
As the reporter explains how this luscious creature is the symbol of White Rock sparkling water, Psyche provides the headline for the newsman’s story “Prince Ali discovers White Rock Americas finest mixer.”
The next morning ( wink, wink ) we catch the Prince and Psyche sharing a ride on a double decker bus going down Fifth Avenue
“Ali( the next morning) You spoke truly! We are how you say “riding high” after our gala evening, yes? Tell me, moon of delight will you share my throne?”
Psyche demurely declines this generous offer “You are too kind, Prince Ali! But until every American discovers White Rock , my place is on the White Rock label!”
With Friends Like These…
Another ad entitled How to tell if you’re Among Friends, seems to offend every third world country from the Middle East to Africa with its simplistic, stereotypic caricatures.
Loss Of Innocence
In today’s politically charged climate when a novel, or a 14 minute offensive video, “The Innocence of Muslims”, a film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad posted on You Tube, sparked angry protests in the Muslim world and a cartoon caused the killing of 12 individuals, these vintage ads were clearly not on the radar of innocent mid-century Americans except to provide a good chuckle.
Sensitivity training would be decades to come…so would sadly, the violence.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.