No Extinguisher, Big Problem

imagesThose German men in that inflammatory Saturn ad should have had a fire extinguisher in their tiny kitchen.  Even if the Jamaican flag did ‘catch a fire’ like the Bob Marley and the Wailers album, there would have been no need to take it to the streets. The fire could have been extinguished immediately, and an international incident would have been averted.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t have had to issue a statement on the improper use of the Jamaican flag, including an appeal to the appliance manufacturer to “repair this most unfortunate breach”.  Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, JLP spokesperson on culture, wouldn’t have needed to call on Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to take up the matter at the highest diplomatic levels.

http://adpressive.com/saturn-electronics-commercial-banned-burning-jamaican-flag-030613/

All of the fuss over the ad is a classic example of life imitating art, or, more accurately, artifice.  The real-life protest mirrors the outrage of the masses of ‘Germaican’ fans in the fictitious drama who invest cultural capital in our flag and what it represents:  a nation of people who excel in all sorts of fields.

jamaican-bobsledder-1And beyond all reasonable expectations!  How could Jamaicans really think we could compete internationally at winter sports? Quite easily!  Bobsledding is no big deal.  We have a history of go-kart racing.  Freestyle skiing?  ‘A no nutten dat!’  Errol Kerr certainly carried our flag with grand style at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The high visibility of the Jamaican flag on the world stage, particularly at the Olympics, both summer and winter, is the very reason it was selected for ‘desecration’ in the Saturn ad.  Which other nation’s flag would have excited that extreme response?  Cynics will argue that our flag was abused in order to cut Jamaicans down to size.   They’ve missed the point.

Hate crimes

     images-3 The protestors in the ad can be forgiven for their righteous anger.  They don’t know the whole story.  Viewers of the ad have no excuse.  They know that the real culprit is a defective coffee machine.  That’s what caused the fire.   It forced the endangered men to turn a private matter into a most public affair.  Their cramped living quarters could not contain the fire so they end up trampling the Jamaican flag in a full view of surveillance cameras.

images-1The burning flag becomes national news.  A female news anchor announces, “Our top story today: rioting on streets, as burning Jamaican flag leads to country-wide protests.”  A diplomat in an international setting declares, “We all love Jamaica. These people are burning the Jamaican flag!” A baffled journalist at the scene of the ‘crime’ asks, “The question is:  why all this hatred?”  Of course, it’s not hatred at all.  It’s admiration.

Though I’m quite willing to concede that the Saturn ad was well intentioned, I must admit that I do find it troubling.  The burning flag is the least of the issues. The average Jamaican is not going to go out on any demonstration because the national flag got burnt accidentally.  I suspect that most of us watching that Saturn ad would just kiss our teeth and ask how come ‘di eedyat man dem never throw lickle water pon di flag an out di fire inna di kitchen, an no tek it outa road’.

What struck me most forcibly was the way in which the Jamaican flag got caught up in a specifically European culture of political violence. ‘How we get mix up into dat?’  When a black man is interviewed on the street, his immediate response to the crime is retaliation:  “If they burn our flag, I’m going to burn theirs”.  It’s now a racialised hate crime.

images-2Despite the apparent affirmation of the power of Jamaican identity as represented by the flag, the Saturn ad seems to be feeding on fears of foreign culture.

Burning Questions

2dabcbe173      Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly, co-editors of Riddim, Germany’s upscale reggae/dancehall magazine with a bimonthly circulation of 45,000, ask a penetrating question in their chapter of the Global Reggae book: “How did it come about that youths from European countries without significant Caribbean communities are able and motivated to recreate something that is genuinely Jamaican in origin but can, to a certain extent, even compete with what’s happening in Jamaica today?”

Ellen and Pete argue that German folk music had been taken over by the Nazis and so was discredited.  This music could not, therefore, be embraced as the source of modern pop songs.  So German youth tuned into the music of Britain and the United States to find a language to express their ‘post-Holocaust’ identity.

images-5Then they discovered Bob Marley who embodied the spirit of rebellion against ‘ism and schism’. So the Jamaican flag and the reggae sound track of the Saturn ad are both signs of German identification with a ‘cool’ culture.  But why “Murderer”?  I much prefer the ‘get in and get happy’ vibe of the VW Super Bowl ad.

Both ads celebrate German technology.  But the scenes of social chaos in the Saturn ad are problematic. The image of Jamaica is tainted by association with street violence. When the new coffee machine goes on and the only flames are in the street, the voice of authority declares, “The world needs better technology.  Saturn:  that’s what technology should be all about”.  But the ad is not all about that.

Bowing to the demands of literal-minded fanatics, protocol experts, humourless viewers, incompetent readers of signs etc. etc., the electronics company has done the decent thing. It has pulled the ad.  But the flames of dissent have not been entirely doused.  If Saturn doesn’t already do so, it needs to start manufacturing extinguishers.  For all sorts of fire!

 

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One thought on “No Extinguisher, Big Problem

  1. The burning of our national flag is an intrusion of our space we deem irresponsible and unfortunate I don’t care what the pundits and plaudits might say in regards to such an infringement on our national symbols. I am personally uncomfortable when I saw the national flag been burnt by another people. It is plain wrong! This has provoked our ire and wrath and we are truly not comfortable with this travesty of justice. Who actually gave Saturn the idea that they are to do such and unforgivable act when the Jamaican people were always in sync with the German people from all I know from been from the tourist region. What moral authority have they got to devise such a less than low blow to a proud people?
    It is true that the average Jamaican would have dismissed this series of insensitive mechanisms to realize their selfish goals as trivial. But why step on the pride of a proud people without prior notice. No one was saying any form of hostility between the nations involved? In fact we have a very good diplomatic relationship plus warm and friendly, healthy bilateral agreements on a continuous basis… Persons must be more savvy when they try to attack the pride of any nation if it was the USA if would cause a great deal of heat-in-the-place. It would ignite a lot of firery talks and might would have caused tenseness between both nation. Is it becaause we are so small and seems insignificant that they are behaving like that to us. The German Embassy dismissed it as a misunderstood act but I considers it as an act of cowardice with a savage depiction. This type of behavior is unacceptable and very distasteful and immoral from any standing.
    It cannot be brushed aside as been naïve by Saturn even a little child knows from early the importance of national symbols and with the history of Germany and the past leaders going back to Adolf Hitler we know, they know, that it is wrong. They should be more to forgive us for such indiscretions because most of those persons feel that we as Third World country are dark and foolish. They have done an abominable wrong to our people and there should be a mechanism we could use to sue them for the violent attack on our people and symbol.
    This was a deliberate act infringing on the firm belief we have in ourselves that we are a little dot but a brand and we are little but we tallawah.

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