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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Maybe we should laugh at the problem (changing hearts and minds)

Axistop1_2Love or hate President Bush, his messaging has undeniably provided a world of fodder for the entertainment industry. Just look at all the parodies over "Axis of Evil," "Patriot Act" and "Shock and Awe."

And lest we not forget how commonly people joke over "evil-doers."

Now clearly racism and discrimination exists and thusly, so do stereotypes (vs. archetypes). Since 9/11 the negative sterotype for people of Arab and Persian descents has hit an all-time high...or perhaps I should say an all-new low.

But prejudice is an issue that we marketers know a thing or two about. What is a prejudice, really? It's a perception. A perception that enough people hold to be true. Even when it's not true. We marketers know that many times, if not most times, perceptions aren't rooted in reality. What else do we marketers know? Just how hard it is to change perceptions.

Speaking from 15 years in this biz I can tell you changing perceptions, behaviors and habits are the toughest assignments. The cards are by and largely stacked against you (or me, if it's my project) because once something is set (positioned) in the mind, it grows stronger...or more "real" over time. For clients looking to change perceptions? I tell them they best have a big budget or a very clever strategy. Or both.

So how the heck do we break through these barriers of prejudice being there's a lot of fear, angst and strong assumptions supporting them? For younger persons, educational programs are important in decreasing hate and learning tolerance. But perhaps we need to take a very different tact with older audiences...

Perhaps, as ironic as it sounds, we need to take stereotypes less seriously in order to make more serious strides. Maybe, in breaking through stereotypes, we should encourage less "you shouldn't laugh at or make fun" and more of "you should laugh with and have fun!"

Why? Because laughing at the problem gives the problem levity and shows prejudices for how very silly they really are. Humor is engaging. Humor breaks through barriers. And believe me when I say if we're going to change perceptions as strong as stereotypes we need to first engage people. If we don't open minds we're not going to change them. Laughter breaks down more walls than it builds or reinforces.

Just look at the most successful ads on TV. They're all funny. Many have changed my mind into buying something or believing something because the humor was both engaging and memorable. Where does all this funny talk bring me? To an interesting troupe of comedians, who've coined "The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour." These American Citizens, spanning Arab and Persian ethnicities, that have brought their show (cause?) on the road. According to the comedians:

"We don't want to be defined any longer by the worst examples in our community, and it's a very small amount of people. There are a few terrorists and they define all of us. You can't hate anybody when you're laughing with them. So it's nice, when we're doing our comedy show, to see the diversity in the crowd and people actually laughing together. You see Arabs and Jews and Mexicans and whites, and they're all sitting together and they're sharing the same laugh."

Yep, that's one thing--regardless of race or religion--that we all have in common: we all love to laugh. Laughter unites while prejudices divide. So while prejudice isn't funny, maybe stereotypes should be--they are so very silly to believe, after all.

Here's a 10-minute clip of one of the comedian's skits (give yourself a 10-minute laugh break!). Lewis Green is featuring more clips over at his place. RSS readers, just go here.


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Great post CK. I flash back to the internment camps during WWII, the anti-Vietnamese sentiments displayed on the Gulf Coast during the Vietnam War, and now Guantanamo and our anti-Arab feelings. I think fear and a lack of connection to these ethnic groups drove our reactions. I was raised to never fear another human being and to always be prepared for the best and the worst. It has stood me well.

I showed these to a Syrian-American older friend of mine last night, he was rolling on the floor.

Lewis: Thank you for sharing your experiences and how you've overcome fear/prejudice. I was so pleased to see all these clips over at your blog as I do think it's time we laughed at what is such a silly perception.

Mario: I've been enjoying these goodies, too. Glad you and your friend got to laugh.

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