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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Thai ad reserves train seats for "white people"

As another author has already stated, this is a cringe-worthy ad for skin whitening tonic which appears on Bangkok commuter trains. The display ad on Bangkok's elevated commuter trains reads, in Thai, "These seats reserved for… white people." If you wrote this in some American states, you'd be prosecuted in a heartbeat, or beaten to a pulp by the local denizens, but not in Thailand obviously.

Everywhere you go in Thailand, skin-whitening tonic exists. It's sold in tiny bottles at most 7-11 shops, but nobody has ever proved whether it actually lightens a person's skin, so it's probably marketing at its very finest - all gloss and no substance I'd say (if you'll pardon the pun!)

As the original author says, "Through an American lens, this ad is truly ugly. U.S. kids are taught early on about the national shame of segregation: separate water fountains, separate schools and separate sections on public buses." Well, I got news for you buddy - it is a truly ugly ad to any educated, reasonably grounded individual no matter where they live.

He goes on to say, "But after careful thought, I don't think this ad, meant for a Thai audience, is mocking apartheid or racial segregation. That said, it's still pretty cringe-worthy. (By the way, the ad in the accompanying photo is advertising something different -- lower interest rates".) Well, whatever message it's trying to send, it's failing miserably in my eyes!

Having lived in Thailand for a number of years, I am all too familiar with what I can only call the Thai ignorance of other cultures. As Thais don't really travel well (actually they don't travel that much at all), it's this fact that shows why you will often see young guys walking around with swastikas emblazoned on their t-shirts like some fiendish fashion statement, or motor bike riders wearing old stlye German army helmets.

You'll see big burly black men in local commercials warning what can happen if you don't buy this whiter than white soap or cream (presumably the sly meaning is that you too will end up as black as this man!). I have often wondered what it must be like to be a black man living in Thailand and make no mistake, there are many of them who are mostly Muslim from Nigeria and other parts of west Africa.

What goes through their minds when they see such racist advertising? Something like the phrase that the American journalist Anderson Cooper often repeats - "What were they thinking?"

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