Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Advertising to Die For

One of the most shocking events of the late 20th century was the Jonestown massacre, when more than 900 men, women and children -- many of them from the San Francisco Bay area -- were made to ingest cyanide by People's Temple cult leader Jim Jones. News photos showing rows of bodies bloating in the Guyanese sun etched an indelible image on the collective consciousness, a testament to the horror and waste a delusional theocrat can inflict on impressionable people seeking meaning in their lives.

The incident was so impactful that to this day people in corporate America make reference to whether or not someone has "drunk the Kool-Aid" -- in other words, whether they've appropriately aligned themselves with the ethos of their particular corporate "cult." Never mind that the cyanide dosages were delivered in a fruit drink called Flavoraid, it's always been remembered as the more popular Kool-Aid brand.

So when the Hacienda Mexican food chain recently put up billboards in its hometown of South Bend, Indiana that claimed "WE'RE LIKE A CULT WITH BETTER KOOL-AID," some people were understandably outraged (and not because of the inexpertly-applied punctuation). You could argue that in the 33 years since the horrifying event -- the single-largest loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster event until 9/11 -- the sands of time have eroded the specifics of the event to the point that Hacienda was referencing only the general concept of the cult, just as we now speak of drinking Kool-Aid in a general way without full awareness of the phrase's origin. But that extra "TO DIE FOR" shatters that argument. There's absolutely no way this outdoor advertising references anything but the Jonestown massacre. That makes it one of the most shockingly insensitive and irresponsible ads I've ever seen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'll Pass on the Edamame, Thanks

I've written before about my inexplicable nausea at the sight of apes in human clothing, a condition that dates back to the Red Rose Tea commercials of my youth. Since medical punditry has yet to name this condition, I've decided to christen it Simian Sartoriosis. Well, the Kayabuki sushi restaurant, located in a town north of Tokyo, has significantly upped the ante by tossing another of my phobias into the mix. They've hired two monkeys as waiters -- is there no Board of Health in Japan? -- and not only dressed them in women's clothes but made them wear scary female masks. Welcome to Simian Sartoriosis Chuckyanus.