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Our national pastime – ‘demanding an apology’

By on Jul 9, 2009 in Food For Thought, Stop The Press | 27 comments

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Lakshmi Burger King story

Originally posted at Youthpad.

A story carried today in Hindustan Times’s HT City caught my attention today. A controversy has cropped up – or been made to crop up by the media – by over an image of Goddess Lakshmi being used by fast food chain Burger King in Spain. Guess what? Burger King has already apologized to ‘the community’ for the incident and agreed to pull the ‘offending’ ad.

Lakshmi Burger King

This isn’t the first time that Burger King has run into trouble over controversial ads. Let’s set that aside for a while; personally, that earlier ‘controversy’ was a non-controversy – a joke which should be taken as such. The very first sentence of the news report on this new story says:

…having Goddess Lakshmi endorse a meat burger is pushing it too far.

And why precisely should that be so? No logical reason is given for this of course. Soon there are Hindu organizations rabidly demanding for apologies. The closest that anyone comes to a semblance of an excuse for this something along the lines of “They wouldn’t dare to do this with Jesus Christ.” For heaven’s sake, ‘Jesus Christ’ is an expletive for them most of the time. What more do you want? Let’s take a few more examples. Here’s a list of Jesus Christ merchandise on Cafepress.com (which got into trouble over some merchandise featuring Hindu gods / goddesses) including a thong which says ‘Keep Jesus in your pants’. Here’s the ‘encyclopedic’ entry on Jesus at Uncyclopedia, a parody encyclopedia which satirizes subjects. You can also watch this clip from a South Park episode Cartoon Wars II to see “what they’ll never do to Jesus Christ”.

The examples quoted above didn’t take me too long to find – all of two minutes on Yahoo! Search. The point is not that there aren’t religious people in those countries – there are many such people, and very radical and vocal factions too. The difference lies that over there they value something called ‘freedom of speech and expression‘. That doesn’t seem to exist in Indian society. For every little thing, there are people or organizations who get their knickers in a twist and start demanding apologies. Why can’t we learn to let other people exercise their right to free speech? Why must we get offended at each silly little thing? MF Hussain has protesters issuing death threats, forcing him to apologize for drawing paintings of nude goddesses. Elsewhere in the world they act like sane human beings and call paintings a work of art.

'The Birth of Venus' by Sandro Botticelli

'The Birth of Venus' by Sandro Botticelli

I don’t think mainstream print media got the wind of this case where a Danish newspaper run an ad campaign Life is easier, if you don’t speak up. Among others, it shows Gandhi drinking beer and having a barbecue.

Gandhi Danish newspaper

Jyllands-Posten ad featuring Gandhi

Here’s what the newspaper had to say about this incident:

First of all let us say that we am deeply sorry if we have offended you and some people of your country.
In fact the quite opposite was our meaning.
Jylland-Posten took three of our biggest heroes and made a campaign about them. I think it is very important for you to read (and think about) the copy “Life is easier, if you don’t speak up”.
We wanted to honour the men that stood up and changed the world instead of just being like the rest of us…surfing, skiing, barbecuing and so on.

A perfectly sensible explanation. May I dare say that the ad idea was pretty unique and interesting? Because it is. It’s a brilliant ad campaign. Yet I’m sure that if this story hit Indian press circles there would have been approximately 23,789 organizations demanding apologies, writing angry letters, filing PILs in Mumbai High Court (despite knowing the fact that Indian courts have no jurisdiction over this matter) and in general acting like pricks.

So you are one of those people who still isn’t convinced about this fancy-schmancy thingymajig called ‘freedom of expression’. You’re on phone with your local craftsman placing an order for a Burger King effigy while simultaneously making a placard for that protest day after tomorrow against Jyllands-Posten. After all, these heathen foreigners have no regards for religious feelings, right? Before you go for those protests, just think for a second about the country where mass murderers aren’t brought to justice, tourists get raped or molested, Christian missionaries get burnt alive and ministers say OK to religious vigilantism.



27 Comments

  1. Espèra

    July 10, 2009

    Post a Reply

    I read about Singapore’s Burger King ad in ToI. I found it funny, but yes, quite sexist as well. (Another sexist ad doing the rounds these days is a baniyan ad on TV where they show men doing “women-work” wearing ordinary baniyans. Then comes their product – I forget the name – and voila, the epitome of masculinity. He can make weird moves towards women and they get intimidated. And that attitude is the selling point of the ad. Jeez man.)

    What this post made me think of (and especially “How can they use their Goddess to promote their brand?” quote) was something our 10th History book mentioned – that the very first forms of advertising in India used gods and idols, expecially baby Krishna in order to imply that their goods are fit for gods.

    Your Uncyclopedia point isn’t really valid though, because an article on Hinduism (and Islam) exist there as well. Pretty nice too (“Just like a vulture preys on anything that doesn’t move, a Hindu prays to everything that does.”).

    What they might be objecting to (though not at all apparent from the article you attach) is Lakshmi sitting on a beef burger. Or at all promoting junk food. People think dance bars are against “our culture”. I suppose hamburgers are deemed so too.

    • Ankur

      July 11, 2009

      Post a Reply

      You could say that the Singapore Burger King ad is sexist, but it’s obviously meant as a joke and should be taken as one. Are you trying to say that you never listen to and / or share non-veg jokes? I think not, and most non-veg jokes could be considered sexist I guess.

      My point in mentioning Uncyclopedia is that they’re equally ready to make fun of Jesus as they are to make fun of Hinduism. If you check the history of the page you’ll find most IP addresses / contributors are from the US. I took this up because of the oft-repeated accusation “They’ll never dare to do this with their own holy figures”.

      Haha, ‘promoting junk food’. No I don’t think that’s the case. Who decides where it’s appropriate to use a deity’s name anyway? I don’t think there would have been a furore is the ad was for agarbatti. How about this bank called ‘Lord Krishna Bank’. Who decides that it’s A-OK to use his name to sell credit cards and housing loans? This ‘outrage’ against the Burger King ad is completely arbitrary; moreover a violation of right to free speech.

      • Espèra

        July 11, 2009

        I didn’t say it’s NOT funny because it’s sexist. I said it’s both.

        Who decides what objects to promote using deities – well, I think primarily, the rage is because you would not want to associate your deities with junk food/bikinis etc. Cuz honestly, capitalist societies and religion doesn’t gel. Religion preaches anti-materialism, hard work, not a laid back lifestyle spent munching on beef burgers.

        Perhaps promoting what is considered “unreligious” is what is irking these folks.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        Hmm. So you’re trying to say that trying to sell beef got their goat.

      • Espèra

        July 12, 2009

        Perhaps. I’m just speculating. Do these people come across as rational beings to you?
        More likely than not, they have been unreligious all their lives and see this as the perfect opportunity to please them gods.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        Very friendly gods too, I see, to forgive people if they take down ads or take a dip in the Ganga to wash off a life of sin and debauchery.

  2. ash_ketcham

    July 10, 2009

    Post a Reply

    hey …agreed that the last line of the post justifies a lot …but still dude that burger king incident …come on…that’s an indian godess for promotion of a meat sandwich!!!….i mean thats like a complete disregard to indian culutre..we have some ethical responsibilties being an indian…to take action against such non-justified behavior…
    and talking about jesus on various products…hey come on i bet u cant argue about the culuture diffrences there…i quite a diffrent story over here
    yeah but i agree looking at the big picture indians do act like some cry-babies at time when they ned to broaden they point of view..but still demanding apology on this incident acc to me was justified.!;)

    • Ankur

      July 11, 2009

      Post a Reply

      If you believe in some particular deity, you are completely free to practice that religion as do I. But you have no right to force me to agree to your views. Freedom of speech allows you to express your views on other topics, so why should religion be placed on a higher pedestal? Religion should be open for free and fair debate too.

    • Ravi

      July 11, 2009

      Post a Reply

      Sorry to butt in, and please do NOT take this comment offensively. I DO NOT mean to disregard YOUR religion, even if I implicitly disregard religion as a whole.

      Firstly, that is NOT an “Indian” goddess. There is NO Indian goddess. India, in its complete essence is a secularist nation. Secularism does NOT mean incorporating ALL religions, it means IGNORING them from a judicial and legislative point of view. So, therefore, the goddess depicted in the advertisement might be a Hindu goddess, but not an Indian one.

      And talking about Indian culture, majority of us have no clue what it is. Most importantly because there is no ONE “common” culture that we must follow.

      Ethical responsibilities being an Indian: Let’s first try and not be corrupt OURSELVES, and then let’s try to find flaws in other peoples. And tell me, what DOMESTIC ethical responsibilities till now have been motivation for any “action”?

      You speak of ‘action’, but it remains vague as to what you might imply by the word. ‘Non-justified behavior’? Our law justifies their behavior through the “freedom of expression”. THEIR law, more importantly, justifies it for the same reason. So, by using the words ‘non-justified behavior’, do you intend to imply that religion/culture is to be regarded ABOVE the law? If you agree with the Freedom of Expression, how can you un-justify any action based on your religious/cultural sentiments. If you think that the advertisement was derogatory, you can voice your opinion, but please get your facts right. Even after that, you stand in no capacity to “demand” any kind of an apology, no matter how hurt you may feel.

      • ash_ketcham

        July 11, 2009

        “And talking about Indian culture, majority of us have no clue what it is. ”
        ok so what you are trying to say is that …nobody knows or cares about religion …so wtf! just use them for advertisments and destroy the lilttle whatsoever respect that few people have for “their” religion???….LMAO!!!!

        however yes you are right that corruption and stuff should be first looked onto when we say “ethical responsibilities”….but then i dont think you got ‘my’ point
        dude i am not the religious kinda person but still the point that u missed is for eg

        1)dance bars and few others like it are against our culutre but religious freedom means that its the individuals choice of what he cosiders going to them is right or wrong….and that is completely justified…no moral policing needed there
        2) but just think of some hindu goddess used for the promoton of such stuff
        it will definately “hurt” some if not many to seee their religion being bashed up like that …

        given the fact that its not the veg burger we are talking about here…its something our religion despises us to and using the diety-a symbol of that is what is …i believe not justified..it is just a matter of little negligence and many-a-times done on purpose too!

        if u get the point~!

        and action…? …….””requesting”” a simple apology for a lil negligence is fair enough to me!…its not that company’s employees are bottled up for their lives!:D!

      • Espèra

        July 11, 2009

        There is no such thing as being “against our culture”.
        It may not be a lifestyle we traditionally follow. But then again, dance bars aren’t much of a tradition in most parts of the world.

        Change is not that bad a thing.
        And dance bars are popular.
        You could be a god-loving guy and still go to dance bars.
        That doesn’t make you a hypocrite.

      • Ravi

        July 11, 2009

        Yes, I may have been ignorant to miss you “point”, but I can’t help but notice, while you were snorting your back-end off, you’re still equating religion and culture again. I also fail to notice how dance bars our against our “culture”? So, to bring some clarity:

        1. Every dance bar is not a strip joint. You can go in there, have a drink or maybe more, dance with “your friends”, and go back. If done responsibly, I think it’s a great recreation activity, which at times can increase a person’s productivity, by giving him a much-deserved break. But for the success of such a concept, what we need is not moral/cultural/religious policing, but a better law enforcement system.

        2. I concede the fact that there is a lot of under-age drinking going on at these places, but let’s just face it. The system is not corrupt, we are. These people who open these “dance bars” are from among us and our “culture”, so it’s basically blaming ourselves.

        Again, the fact that you’re offended by a petty advertisement shows how insecure you are religiously. When you know the truth, why is there a need to proclaim it to the world? Wasn’t religion supposed to be a personal choice rather than a public propaganda.

        Again, you are pitting religious sentiments above the law here by saying that “requesting” an apology for a little negligence is justified? Has the company broken any law? What ill-deed has it committed which the law so much so even frowns upon? None, and therefore an apology on its part would only be for the sake of humoring religion’s stupid ways.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        Which reminds me – we can get a driving license, get married, vote, start a company etc etc but legally can’t start drinking until age 25 in Delhi. Bullshit.

      • Ravi

        July 12, 2009

        Which also reminds me, drinking is very much part of the “Hindu” culture atleast. So, going by that logic, it should be made legal even earlier. :P

        I mean, guys legally eligible to have sex, can’t go to a bar and buy a girl a drink.. :P No wonder there are soo many rape cases.

      • Espèra

        July 11, 2009

        Here are a few things that you would consider “against our culture”. Kindly stop using/prtopagating them too.
        1. Tomato ketchup
        2. Internet
        3. Jeans/sneakers/jackets etc.
        4. Working women
        5. Divorces
        6. Praying before bathing
        7. Not touching people of lower castes
        8. Banning sati
        9. Marrying when you are legal
        Heh.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        Reductio ad absurdum. Very nice. Always amusing.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        If someone feels that you’ll get offended by the ad then you’re perfectly free not to see it – and if you have seen it then you can choose to move on. Religion should be equal to debate as with any other topic. Religion shouldn’t be placed on a higher pedestal.

      • Ankur

        July 12, 2009

        Besides, the incident happened in Spain, not here. I don’t understand why Burger King even bothered. They don’t even have a presence in India. Unless they plan to launch sometime in the future.

  3. quicksilver

    July 10, 2009

    Post a Reply

    Lol, I spotted that ad too, the English translation of the words in it goes – A snack that’s sacred.
    And FYI all you fanatics, the deity isn’t sitting on the burger, its just the superimposition of a picture of the Burger King meal with the other pic behind it.

    • Ankur

      July 11, 2009

      Post a Reply

      For all I care this Goddess Lakshmi ad could be along the lines of Padma Lakshmi’s Carl Jr ad. Would it be tasteless and obscene? Definitely. Should it be allowed? Definitely. It’s up to the public to like or reject an ad campaign – or a viewpoint – based on whether they find it tasteless or not. But the freedom to do so should be allowed in the first place.

      The creators of South Park have campaigned a lot for such things. The clip I showed from the episode Cartoon Wars II – that episode was embroiled in a major controversy because Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted to show an image of Prophet Muhammed on TV. Comedy Central (their broadcaster) chickened out. This two part show was basically about censorship. They said “Either everything is open to be made fun of, or nothing is. Once you start defining what’s OK to make fun of and what’s not OK to make fun off, you open floodgates where others can start demanding that something else shouldn’t be made fun of.”

      • Parth

        July 12, 2009

        DANCE BARS ARE NOT AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE.
        THIN APSARAS DONT MISREPRESENT MY RELIGION WHICH IS VERY LIBERAL.JEANS SKIRTS INTERNET ARE AGAINS MY RELIGION COZ WE DONT HAVE A DRESS CODE.
        I think the AD was in bad taste but u shud ignore it and move forward why burden the judiciary by filing P.I.L.

      • Parth

        July 12, 2009

        THIN APSARAS=THINK APSARAS
        CAPS is coz im shouting

  4. Arjun

    July 13, 2009

    Post a Reply

    First of all, this was a great article.

    However, I will offer you this example (real-life). You probably remember the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammad. Quite frankly, I found these caricatures to be quite crass and obtuse. For example, one caricature showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Blantant disrespect, in my opinion. It associated Islam with terrorism and the fanatics who murder others ‘in the name of God’. Such cartoons belie the ignorance of Islam that omnipresent in Western countries, particularly the USA. It’s just not right. It’s not prudent, it’s not facetious or amusing, and it’s not appropriate.

    Freedom of Speech, no doubt, is paramount and absolute. However, it should not be recklessly abused and misused. There are limits and standards of decency that should be followed.

    Somewhere, there should be a line, in my humble opinion. Naturally, it is impossible to satisfy or placate everyone. Everyday, we, inadvertently or not, do something that might be construed by others as blasphemous. However, we should try (I repeat, TRY) to respect the sentiments of others. We shouldn’t go around drawing stupid cartoons, using deities in lewd ways, etc. I don’t think you can condone such behavior. Simultaneously, we should ignore and turn and blind eye to incidents that might be construed and transgressions of decorum.

    Jus live and let live.

    • Ankur

      July 14, 2009

      Post a Reply

      My views on why religion cannot be put on a higher pedestal are summed up by this interview Douglas Adams gave to American Atheists. Do read it up. I agree with DNA’s opinion that religion should be subject to all the adulation, scrutiny etc that other fields have – also including ridicule and parody. If someone is a Muslim they are free to follow whatever rules they make up about not showing their Prophet, but they CANNOT enforce the same rules on me.

  5. Arjun

    July 14, 2009

    Post a Reply

    Uh, remove the last few ‘and’s and replace them with ‘as’. Ouch…..

  6. Arjun

    July 17, 2009

    Post a Reply

    But what about more controversial items? What about Varun Gandhi’s hate speech against Muslims? Is communalism pardonable? What about Holocaust denial? Numerous persons mock the very idea of a Holocaust, refuse to recognize the fact that over 6 million people were killed by a genocidal regime and essentially label the atrocity as a Jewish myth. Can this be condoned?

    Through the preceeding rhetorical questions, I am trying to accentuate this point: Expression IS and SHOULD be restricted. There should be little compromise on issues such as murder, genocide, communalism, racism and hatred. Commercial campaigns and art fade into the realm of frivolity when compared with such serious topics.

    If you start using abusive language in public, you should be arrested. If you propagate lewd material, you should be punished. If you support terrorism and the murder of innocent civilians, you should be condemned. Rights and freedoms are not with strictures.

    • Ankur

      July 17, 2009

      Post a Reply

      Whether it’s moral or ethical or ‘tasteful’ to say something is different from whether they should be allowed to say it. While Varun Gandhi has the right to say whatever he wants, whether it was ethical for a national political leader to alienate a section of the populace is a different issue. The BJP did learn its lesson that a hardline Hindutva stance is not working. Similarly, Holocaust deniers can say what they want – it’s for everyone else to realize it’s a retarded idea because there’s strong historical evidence to support the Holocaust.

      Do not confuse terrorism, murder, genocide and other crimes for what falls under freedom of speech. It’s a crime to kill some, it’s a crime to incite a mob towards violence, it’s a crime to discriminate racially. It is NOT a crime to show a Hindu goddess on underwear or a burger ad. This kind of arm-twisting is nothing but a sort of moral policing or vigilantism.

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