I recall reading an interesting tale from an old, crusty book a couple of years ago. The author was an Icelandic man who was lamenting the fact that he had seen Icelanders on display along with natives from Greenland. He was disgusted that Iceland’s colonial masters had put them next to such wretched, destitute and backward creatures, although in the eyes of the Danish people I am quite sure that they were all the same.
This tale sprung to mind when I saw a recent sushi advertisement made by the Krónan grocery store. It featured the typical anthropomorphised króna figure, except this time he was also a crass, hybrid Oriental figure with an insidious Fu Manchu moustache that has cultural connotations to stereotypical portrayals of Chinese men, but most notably villains or as foils to white heroes. The fact should not come as a surprise to any well-read person or individual with some knowledge of pop culture.
So being curious by nature and quite frankly a bit disgusted by this advertisement, especially since this was the second Krónan advertisement that I had seen with obvious racist undertones towards Asians, I decided to contact their customer service department. I received a courteous reply from a Krónan representative who relayed an explanation from the hired ad firm regarding the usage of the katana, pagoda and kasa—along with the Icelandic turf house in the background.
Apparently to Krónan these elements codified together represent Japan and thus are synonymous with sushi. Except for one problem: the Fu Manchu moustache. This according to their explanation, or brush off, signifies Atsumu Watanabe. Interestingly enough, if you Google him you will notice his moustache, when he has one, is more akin to a dandy or hipsteresque moustache.
To clarify my point I sent Krónan a photo that I took of one of their ads in 2010. Lo and behold, it features Mr. Chink or Mr Jap, or excuse me, Mr Króna, with narrow eyes as opposed to his “traditional” round, cute eyes that are quite common in Western anthropomorphised figures.
Furthermore, in this advertisement from 2010, Mr Króna is carrying chopsticks and you can debate whether or not he is wearing a kasa on his head, but he certainly does have a Fu-Manchu moustache. Surprise! I never received a reply regarding the advertisement so I wonder if the Króna man is just an Atsumu Watanabe with freakishly narrow eyes and stereotypical Asian tropes. Or perhaps this could just be the result of a generation reared on Laddi repeatedly giving his impression of a Chinese man? YouTube search “Laddi Kokkur” and try not to cringe.
Of course many Icelanders become quite antsy when you point out racist connations and imagery. A very common response is: “This is not racist; we are just playing around” or the more classic “This is political correctness gone mad!” Essentially, what this kind of thinking does is numb the mind and deter critical thinking, which is also the reason why I asked Krónan why it doesn’t exhibit stereotypical images of Danish people when they have “Danish days”? And why doesn’t Hagkaup have stereotypical images of Americans when they advertise “American days” in their stores? Perhaps it is just easier to mock others and stereotype the “otherness” of people if they look different from the Western concept of what a human should look like. All I know is that I am buying my sushi from people with more cultural sensitivity.