By Shazwan Zulkiffli
When things go upside down, it’s always easy to blame one person, or a party. Like how the education ministries around the world always conveniently, and inefficiently ‘solve’ bully cases by either prosecuting only the bullies, or blame the victim instead (especially in Malaysia). Time and time again, you don’t actually see a decrease in the problem – and for some reason you see nasty headlines related to this issue more than ever before. Not sure if the amount of cases are increasing, or suddenly people have decided to give a damn but whatever it is, someone needs to take care of it.
Similar to what happened, or should I say, what is happening since Watsons seems clueless on how to mitigate the damage caused by their disastrous attempt at a Raya advertisement. The health-care giant released a star-studded Aidilfitri-themed skit video featuring the likes of Kamal Adli, Ruhainies, Uqasha Senrose and Amber Chia among other names – only to dramatically backfire across all platforms.
Watsons uploaded an official statement on their Facebook and frankly, it sounds like ‘someone’ doesn’t want to put their foot down properly and admit their mistake.
Watsons Malaysia is aware of the post that has been made viral on social media. A post on 7th June 2017 regarding a…
Writing this, I still wonder what went through their heads when they decided to produce this. Did the ones who approve it sleep on the job, or did they just not care or realise that Watsons serves people of all colors? I can somehow imagine a possible scenario where this ‘brilliant’ idea came to mind: ‘Boss, hear me out because I have a great idea. What if we take an old forgotten folk story, that portrays black skin as a curse and white skin as the ultimate idea of beauty and give it our own twist? At the same time, we should gather women from a number of cultures, pit them against each other and champion only one woman who represents the culture of the majority? Everyone would love it!’
Well that didn’t work so well.
The video has been a lightning rod for hate comments, leading to it being taken down. Watsons tried to defend it, but to me, they didn’t look sincere in handling the situation and according to the hundreds of comments they received just on the comment section below the post, the public felt the same way too.
We all know Watsons messed up this time. In hindsight, the decision to upload such a video to a highly critical audience was a horrible one. But the blame isn’t just on Watsons. The company wouldn’t pull something as bold if there wasn’t an audience for them to cater to. Why would a brand as big as Watsons, invest a huge chunk out of their marketing moolah to smear it’s own name alongside some of the most prominent Malaysian stars all over social media?
The thing is, like it or not, looking down on someone with a darker skin tone is acceptable in Malaysia.
If you’re not a Malaysian and you’re reading this, you would definitely be shocked to know that a country as diverse as Malaysia faces this problem. The thing is, it wasn’t considered a problem in the eyes of the majority just a decade ago. Not until the social media scene bloomed and what the conservatives call ‘meddling liberals’, started to touch on issues like these. Most of us weren’t even aware about the ‘Unfair and Lovely’ campaign in India, or even if it did pass our timeline at some point, we would let it pass and quickly turn into much more important news, like which mega actress is getting a divorce this time.
I mean, why should it come as a surprise? This is a mentality we’ve been dealing with for decades. This idea has given birth to so many ‘jutawan kosmetik kampung’ and other related entrepreneurs with a knack for selling whitening products to women. On top of that, one of them even dipped her foot into the Malaysian football scene and caused glorious pink mayhem – but why? Because she knows she is rich, powerful and influential, because she knows that in every other God-fearing woman’s dressing table, lies a bottle of her whitening product, standing proudly beside a bottle of lube.
Watsons is just the tip of the iceberg and frankly, the Titanic of the Malaysian internet mob rage won’t be able to bring it down. This idea has been embedded into our minds since our Sunday morning cartoon days, and it’s too big for internet keyboard warriors to take down. Who sponsored popular award shows? What kind of ads do you see in between dramas? Who kept a state football team alive? Yeah, the money that came from this horrible idea.
Once upon a time, most of us were taught that dark skin equals not beautiful. It was a common ‘fact’ back then. But like the folklore that inspired Watsons’ sad ‘festive’ video, this idea belongs in the past. It’s going to take some time, a huge amount of passionate noise and a government who actually gives a f*ck about what’s going on down here to put this all behind us, to change how people think and to redefine what beauty is.
But until then, let’s hope no other brands decide to self-destruct and pull a Watsons, yeah?