Black and white

July 7, 2006 by Tim

Sony has a recent history of some really off the wall and offensive advertisements going, but I don’t know if some of you have seen this one. I read about it on Joystiq thanks to a reader pointing it out:

Now at first glance, this stands to be a pretty offensive advertisement. That was my first reaction, definitely. However it’s important to keep in mind that this advertisement isn’t running in the US. It’s a campaign over in Europe (Holland, if I recall correctly?) only. Why is that? Maybe because here in America we have such a history of racial tension, a history of slavery, an issue that divided our country in two in the face of war. So maybe it seems like a pretty harsh image to us, because we’re extra sensitive to that sort of thing, perhaps out of shame, due to that part of our nation’s history. (I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist elsewhere around the world, but I’m not from elsewhere around the world, so I can’t vouch for the feelings of different cultures.)

But the advertisement wasn’t meant for us (America). It’s probably not a mistake that Sony isn’t running that particular campaign in the US. They may have felt it was more likely to be misinterpreted here. So I’m not sure I can condemn them as insensitive just because we Americans are so particularly prone to get our hackles up over things like this. It would sort of be like getting offended that a billboard in Japan is in Japanese, and I can’t understand it.

It’s just skin. Different colors, sure. And Sony has stated that their goal behind the advertisement was to focus on the contrasting colors (two other images from the campaign). So in that regard, using colors, what’s the big deal about using a person with black skin and a person with white skin? It’s just color.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where anyone looked at that billboard and all they saw was two people.

But, in America especially, you look at that billboard, and you see a white person in an assumed position of dominance over a black person, and immediately alarms go off in your head. Everything we learned in history class about the 1800’s comes flooding into our minds, along with a healthy dose of guilt, and we apply our own demons to the image. We attach 150 years of racial tension to the image, and condemn it for our history, not because of any message it’s actually delivering.

Which really is just two people representing two handheld video game consoles.

Anyway, it’s a little known fact that just a few weeks prior to this ad being released, Nintendo had a very similar ad in the very same spot. I’m lucky enough to posess a photograph of the billboard, which I’ll share with you, my faithful readers.

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