Enter Heathrow Airport’s latest ad campaign, released on the 3rd April. It’s doesn’t fall into the racist or culturally appropriative categories; rather, it seems to have picked an entirely different, rather antiquated category; ye olde colonialism. It’s doesn’t point fun or imitate one particularly minority; instead, it decides to anglify the whole world, something which is equally offensive and equally stupid.
At first sight, it doesn’t exactly incur some sort of ethical apoplexy, but it certainly raises an eyebrow – the kind of facial expression where you don’t know whether a comedian’s joke goes beyond the line of what’s appropriate, and you wonder if you’re meant to laugh.
The advert shows us a map of the world, with various countries, cities and seas renamed as UK counties and cities. Saudi Arabia is now Warwickshire; Europe from Spain to the Russian border is Gloucestershire; India is Clwyd and most of North Africa is South Yorkshire. China has been divided into Derbyshire, Grampian, The M4 Corridor (also the name of the West Coast of Mexico, because who would want to waste such a great name on just one part of the globe?) and Lancashire, among others.
The advert shows us a map of the world, with various countries, cities and seas renamed as UK counties and cities.
It’s supposed to symbolise Heathrow’s belief that “If we want growth for the future, we need to keep Britain firmly on the map” (not Northern Ireland though, apparently, even though there’s a County Fermanagh in Russia, China and Peru).
Instead, however, it looks like an artistic impression of Imperialism Revisited; “British Empire 2.0”. It’s exactly what happened when Britain first expanded its empire, naming some of Australia’s territories New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria and littering the colonies with its own names, the most famous arguably being the change from New Amsterdam to New York.
Heathrow does its own version of this, tugging on the patriotic heartstrings to make us think that they can help us relive the glory days, when we ruled the world.
Several comments on Twitter on this to the effect that: ” #BritainsHeathrow out of touch in their latest advert, using names of counties on their map that were abolished in 1996! “
But the empire wasn’t glorious it all; it was bloody and brutal. If you weren’t being oppressed or exploited, it’s probably because you were a victim of the latest genocide. For that reason, looking at Heathrow’s map of Africa doesn’t inspire patriotism within me, nor a desire to use their airport. Instead, it makes me think of what the poster would be for a futuristic sequel of Roots. This time, we’re not supposed to sing the National Anthem on ships; now we’re supposed to tweet #BritainsHeathrow on planes.
The advert comes under a month after the Air France ad campaign which was slammed as being borderline racist, in which French models dress in Japanese, Chinese and West African garb. It spawned a huge outcry on twitter and numerous social media websites, lambasting its perversion of multiculturalism and fetishization of other cultures.
For that reason, looking at Heathrow’s map of Africa doesn’t inspire patriotism within me, nor a desire to use their airport.
Both Air France and Heathrow are prime failures of an attempt to define themselves as pioneers of globalism whilst simultaneously priding their own national identities to arouse its native audiences.
The former tried to achieve this harmony by making French models sexy citizens of the world, the latter by imagining citizens of the world as belonging to Crown dependencies. You simply can’t expect to reach a symbiosis between globalism and patriotism; the two completely juxtapose each other. So, if you’re an airport or airline advertising executive, your work’s cut out for you.
Surely, though, it’s possible to release an ad campaign which isn’t so plain dumb. Something which doesn’t offend people of other nations as they see their home countries emblazoned with Strathclyde or Canary Wharf. Something which doesn’t try to trick you into wanting to paint the Union Flag on each cheek and walk down The Mall singing Rule Brittania as it implicitly suggests that we conquer the world and reclaim the lands we deserve in the name of His Royal Airport the Heathrow of Hillingdon.
It’s obviously accidental, and I’m sure all they wanted to do was create a quirky advert with a patriotic theme. Basically, they missed the mark.
But what it shows is that when it comes to topics such as ethnicity and multiculturalism, today’s atmosphere is a particularly fraught one. When one engages in discourse concerning these matters, one walks a particularly thin tightrope, and the bigger your name, the higher the odds are that you’ll fall off.