A recent advertising campaign mounted by Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) has provoked a firestorm of controversy in the mainland.
The online video ad, which features a Chinese woman struggling to eat spaghetti, pizza and other Italian food with chopsticks, has come under fire from mainland netizens and celebrities who called it racist and insulting.
Amid mounting calls for a boycott of its products in the mainland, D&G removed the video clips from its official Weibo account.
The “chopsticks ad” was in keeping with D&G’s long-standing style of exaggeration and flamboyance.
One would probably be justified in assailing the ad for being kitschy and superficial, and it might also be true that the ad was full of western ignorance and bias against Chinese culture, but I just don’t buy the notion that it was intended to offend or insult the Chinese people.
Frankly, mainland netizens could have retaliated in kind by, say, making their own video satirizing the Italian cuisine and mocking western silverware as being inferior to the Oriental chopsticks in terms of convenience.
They could have cited findings of scientific studies which suggest that using chopsticks can help train the human brain, and mocked D&G top executives by arguing that they probably would never have launched such a lousy ad if they had learned how to use chopsticks and stayed smart.
However, Chinese netizens appeared to have misplaced their sense of humor and attacked D&G with rancor instead.
And the situation turned worse after D&G designer Stefano Gabbana engaged a netizen in a bitter feud on Instagram, reportedly referring to China at one point as a “country of [poop emojis]”.
Details of the online row went viral, and public fury against the brand erupted across the mainland.
As a result, D&G was forced to cancel its Shanghai fashion show initially scheduled for Nov. 21 and its products were removed from leading online shopping platforms in the mainland.
Chinese showbiz celebrities jumped into the fray and dissociated themselves from the Italian label while outraged citizens stared a protest outside D&G’s flagship store in Shanghai, chanting “D&G, get out of China!”
Amid the uproar, the two co-founders of the fashion house issued a short video offering their “sincerest apologies to Chinese people worldwide” in an attempt to quiet the storm.
But somehow some people detected insincerity in their apology as they said they wanted to seek the forgiveness of Chinese people around the world because of their sheer number.
This is not the first time that the luxury brand got involved in such a controversy. Stefano Gabbana is notorious for making inflammatory and provocative remarks in public.
For example, he once called American singer-actress Selena Gomez “ugly”, and asserted during a media interview that sexual harassment was “not violence”.
Still, I believe there is no need for mainlanders to take a “cultural thug” like Gabbana seriously.
The Chinese market now accounts for a third of the total global spending on luxury products, and no high fashion brand, including the two highly arrogant and biased D&G co-founders, would dare to earn the wrath of Chinese customers.
After the two D&G co-founders publicly apologized for the controversial ad, Italian TV channel Nove rode on the saga and ridiculed China. The station even made a parody of the Gabbana apology and mocked Chinese for spitting, plagiarizing, eating dog meat, etc.
Most Italian viewers would probably never take these parody TV shows seriously. They would just laugh for a while and get on with other things.
However, if mainland netizens let the chip on their shoulder get the better of them, they would only be feeding the fire. They might win the battle, but in the end, they might lose the war.
Perhaps it is time for the Chinese people to pick up a little sense of humor rather than rattle their saber everytime when dealing with foreign criticism or ridicule.
We might also get back at the Italians by mocking them for having pickpockets, thieves and the Mafia …
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 1
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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