Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scarves And Bigots - A Dangerous Mix

Image credit: Monsters and Critics

Like Martha Stewart before her, I've largely missed out on the whole Rachael Ray thing. She seems like just another beautiful woman who's at least moderately good at some domestic tasks like cooking or making pottery, and is thus a candidate for all sorts of endorsement opportunities. She has her own line of somethingorother, which she may or may not have had a hand in designing. I'm sure her fans could fill me in on all that should they choose.

I think the important point here is that as threats to the American way of life go, Rachael Ray is at best small potatoes. Most of us wouldn't consider her a threat at all. And yet, she's managed to make some people very nervous. How did she do it? Apparently, through an item of clothing that the fashion-conscious would probably term an "accessory":

Dunkin' Donuts said in a statement, "In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial."

Dunkin' Donuts yanks Rachael Ray 'terrorist' ad

That's the scarf in the photo at the head of this article. Note that it is, indeed paisley. It's also a bit, ummm, what's the word, frilly? I'm sure there's a better fashion term for it, but I'm a bit out of my element here. Also note that Ray is wearing it around her neck. I had to look around quite a bit to find a photo that was large enough to see what this scarf actually looked like. Here's another one, by the way. Why is that? It would appear that there are lots of people who operate based on what they fear these days, including the press:

Critics, notably conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, said the scarf looked reminiscent of the black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. To some, such garments symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism. Dunkin' Donuts said no symbolism was intended.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

Monsters and Critics quotes Malkin as saying:

Fox News right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin explained, "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Dunkin' Donuts yanks Rachael Ray 'terrorist' ad

That's it. They don't even bother to point out the obvious factual errors.

Just as an aside, fans of logic will note that Ms. Malkin has managed to insult the intelligence of people who don't believe her, engage in some guilt by association and fear-mongering, and name-call all in one paragraph. Most of us would have to work to accomplish that much in so few words, but I'm sure Malkin wasn't even breathing hard at the end of it. It's her bread and butter.

Let's do what an inquisitive journalist might do and explore the basis for Malkin's assertion, shall we? Here's what a kaffiyeh looks like, when modeled by an international terrorist, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Note that it's not paisely, nor is it frilly. It's also worn on the terrorist's head, not around his neck. He does have brown skin, though, so I suppose there's some resemblance.

In short, Ms. Ray's scarf resembles Mr. Arafat's about as much as the French flag resembles the American one.

This, believe it or not, is what's had a sadly large portion of America checking on their supplies of fresh water and MREs this week. Once again, I feel that I'm on the wrong side of an historical arc.

Why is that? It's because apparently, there is a group of people out there who are both blind and unobservant enough to confuse these two articles of clothing. What's worse, they then can make the utterly daft connection that somehow a woman who has never displayed any political leanings whatsoever is expressing sympathy for terrorism because they can't tell the difference between a frilly, paisely scarf and a non-frilly checked one. To make things really, sadly pathetic, they then felt motivated to share this fear with an advertiser who was just trying to sell some ice coffee.

What's really frightening, though, is the deference shown to these people by the American press. Here's what Market Watch has to say:

The matter is more than an embarrassment to Ray and an inconvenience to Dunkin' Donuts.

It also underscores the potential perils of employing celebrity endorsers. Dunkin' Donuts was eager to capitalize on the legitimacy of Ray, a celebrity chef, in its ads. But in a way, her fame worked against the interests of the food company.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

Yes, because as any marketer knows, allowing your spokesperson to wear clothing that some group of boneheads might mistake for a different article of clothing is just the sort of thing that will typically kill an ad campaign for a soft drink. It then continues:

Celebrities can make consumers pay closer attention to products because ordinary people want to identify with them. But when the celebrities run into criticism, the company that hired them can pay a price by getting unwanted publicity.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

I'm inclined to observe that this is probably helping Dunkin Donuts more than it's hurting. I wouldn't have even known they were serving ice coffee if it hadn't been for this incident. A few fools will be turned off, but a few others will say to themselves "Hmm. Ice coffee and donuts. Sounds like the perfect combination for a hot summer day." Where's the harm?

Denver's CBS affiliate intones:

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf looked similar to the black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves have come to symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

The emphasis is mine, of course. One would think that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of critics were rallying round Ms. Malkin on this one, instead of a particularly clueless and vocal band of wingnuts.

At least in Chicago they haven't lost their minds. The Tribune writes:

And so, Malkin's pattern-recognition sensors kick in: Palestinians!

According to her, if Ray's scarf looks like a keffiyeh, the traditional scarf worn by Palestinians, then it must be a keffiyeh.

So what if it were?

Well, she further argues that, unbeknownst to the world, keffiyehs are actually a symbol of terrorism, hence her insinuation that the ad promotes terrorism.

Malkin then proceeds to educate the world about Palestinian keffiyehs, when they are worn, by whom, and why.

Not surprisingly, she gets it all wrong: In reality, the average Palestinian is much more likely to wear a keffiyeh than a terrorist.

Think about it: would the keffiyeh really be your preferred disguise if you were a terrorist and wished to walk incognito into a Tel Aviv bus or pizza parlor?

Probably not.

The blogger, the chef and the terrorist

If you want to be frightened of something, I'd suggest examining how rare it is for news agencies in America to point out the foolishness of these fear campaigns. They'll bend over backwards to avoid honking off these people.

I suppose I should really thank Ms. Malkin for stirring up all these idiots and getting them to do something completely useless for a while. Instead of keeping us safe from a 5' 3" spokesmodel for housewares and domestic appliances, they could have spent that time and energy fucking up something important.

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