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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

Viral Controversy: Rachael Ray is a Terrorist, Michelle Malkin is an Idiot

I read the news yesterday that Dunkin’ Donuts has pulled an online advertisement where day time TV personality Rachael Ray was wearing a black-and-white paisley scarf after conservative Fox host Michelle Malkin claimed that it looks like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.

I can’t believe I just typed that. But, as you may guess, the internet is buzzing with discussion. As of this writing, there are over 1,200 blog posts (in the last 24 hours) discussing the topic.

The Associated Press interviewed Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters related the Middle East, who had this to say

“I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.,” Bishara said in a phone interview. “Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East — by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm.”

Already there is a Facebook group that says:

Recently, Dunkin’ Donuts aired an ad featuring Rachael Ray in which she wore a scarf. The scarf looks pretty good; it’s black and white, symbolizing the uniting qualities of colors. And STYLISTIC ELEMENTS!!!!!!!!! The scarf did not have a voice, but now it does. Dunkin’ Donuts almost gave the scarf a voice, but then they decided to falter under the American power of neckties. They are a corporate sham.

I can’t believe Dunkin’ Donuts would take feedback from the person who authored books with titles like:

Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores (Regnery 2002)

In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery 2004)

I spoke with Dunkin’ Donuts who sent me this statement:

As of this past weekend, we are no longer using the online ad featuring Rachael Ray wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. Our decision was based solely on the fact that the possibility of misperception detracted from the intent of the ad, which was to promote iced coffee — nothing more, nothing less.

At Dunkin’ Donuts, we value all our customers and are committed to making your experiences with us memorable and pleasant.

Dunkin’ Donuts: PR Dilemma

Unfortunately for Dunkin’ Donuts they have found themselves backed into a corner. The irony is that it was the action of pulling the Ad that started this entire debate in the first place. In fact, when I originally heard Ms. Malkin’s comments, I laughed, I thought it was so ridiculous I was sure no one would pay attention. No one usually takes crazy ranting from any side that seriously, and I was happy to chalk it up to conservative idiocy, until the company pulled the Ads.

It’s preposterous to speculate about Dunkin Donut’s or Rachael Ray’s political or religious allegiances based on a stupid scarf. If that’s the measure, then anyone who uses red and white picnic cloths are probably terrorists too. In addition, they insulted a large community of Arab-Americans (and Canadians!) who are offended a company would stereotype an entire culture based on the actions of an extremist minority.

In addition, it’s not the conservative boycotts they have to worry about now, but the bad press and boycotts from other communities.

So now we wait and watch to see if there are any huge fall outs from this campaign. It has already shed some disturbing insights on the deep-seeded prejudice and fear that lies below the surface of people like Malkin.

Update: One of my favorite snark blogs, The Superficial, joined in the fun by making this hilarious comment:

The only jihad that scarf makes me want to commit is against my hangover – with sweet caffeine. And if that’s not American, shit, I don’t know what is. That said, I’ll assume for their next commercial Rachael Ray, clad in the Stars and Stripes, will fire an AK at a Boston Creme – then dump scalding hot lattes on a gay wedding. Wow, I should work in advertising. I would sell stuff’s face off.

Comments: 1

  • Adam Montandon

    June 2, 2008

    But how can you “pull” a viral ad? Surely it is in every corner of the internet by now. Once it’s out, you cant stop it. This has big implications for advertising in the future. What happens if a company changes its mind after an internet ad gets miss-interpreted?

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