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© 2004 The Beast

We have to admit, we don’t often get to read the Challenger, Buffalo’s black-owned and oriented newspaper. But there was a hell of a story in their July 28th issue, and we might have missed it had the good folks at Spot Coffee not alerted us. Entitled “Spot Racism,” the article excoriated Spot Coffee for its use of an ugly black man in its ad “in a recent weekly alternative newspaper” (that’s us), and asserted that no right-minded black person should ever go to Spot for their java again.

According to “A.B.,” the ad was “historically stereotypical, offensive, and racist. It’s bad enough that Black people who live and work here have to endure this kind of ignorance on a regular basis. But can you imagine how a professional African American from out of town might feel?”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? For some reason, black people from out of town are more racially sensitive. Or perhaps the message is that there are no “professional” black people in Buffalo?

Let’s get one thing straight: we designed the ad. No one at Spot Coffee had anything to do with it, except to tell us to “make it funny” or something like that. So if anyone’s racist, it’s us.

Maybe we really are, because frankly, we don’t get it. Here’s the offending ad:

Sure, this guy isn’t the prettiest dude walking around, but that’s not the point. The point is, he looks like he’s going nuts! The humor here is all about madness. Race, we’re quite sure, had absolutely nothing to do with our selection.

Here’s how it went down: our editor, Al Uthman, was typically swamped with work when we got the request for the ad. At that time, the tentative special for the cutout coupon was “caffeine enhancement hour.” Al told an intern to make the ad, suggesting he find or make a picture of someone who looked “bugged out” on caffeine, “you know, with bug eyes, like they’re about to freak,” or something to that effect. In fact, Uthman himself looked for a good picture of Marty Feldman, the hyperthyroidic star of such comedy classics as Young Frankenstein, but could only find tiny, low-res images (of course, this might have led to some other problem, such as a copyright infringement suit). Eventually he gave up, and left it to the intern, who shall remain nameless.

Upon further review, our intern didn’t search too far: run a Google image search for “bugeyed” and this guy comes up on the first page. Nonetheless, Al thought the picture was funny enough. Spot called at the last minute to switch the coupon to “20% off blended drinks,” so we changed the line to accommodate the cold drink special, while still fitting the context of the image.

In other words, we didn’t pick the guy because he fit some archaic stereotype we’ve never even heard of (what the Challenger referred to as the “buck-eyed Negro”), we picked him because his eyes looked really, really crazy. It’s really that simple.

We think the Challenger is being a bit silly here. It’s a defensive, whiny, knee-jerk reaction; a telling manifestation of deep-seated insecurities. Frankly, the article says more about the paranoid mind of its author than the social attitudes of The BEAST or Spot Coffee.

The Challenger attacked a locally owned business, basically calling for a boycott, without doing any homework whatsoever, or even calling someone at Spot or The BEAST. What do they want, anyway? Are we to run each African American image we wish to use past them for a beauty check? Should we avoid black people altogether, for fear of further controversy?

Hey Challenger, you know how this advertising game works. So don’t screw up a good thing for us, OK? We need the clients we have, and we need those free coffee coupons, too. And Spot Coffee doesn’t need you screwing with their public image on a bogus racism charge. If you’re going to screw with anyone, screw with us; we’re ready. Or maybe you should just go back to your usual churchy irrelevance.

Will we change the ad? Well, we already had. Spot decided they wanted something a little less gruesome, and we happily obliged them, making some silly thing with penguins on it. Now they want something else. Man, they’re picky.

The point is this: Spot Coffee is cool. Spot has the best damn selection of free papers we’ve seen in town. They make good sandwiches, and the girls are cuter than the corporate drones at Starbucks. They employ local artists when they build, and local artist-wannabes when they serve. If they’re racists, we’re Olympic gold medallists. If you’re going to boycott a coffee shop, boycott the evilly ubiquitous Starbucks. Starbucks is the McDonald’s of coffee, saturating our landscape with sameness. We’ve had both, and we can honestly say that anyone of any race who chooses Starbucks over the fine selection of local cafes is drinking inferior coffee, supporting the wrong company, and hanging out with lame suburban dweebs who fear new experiences.

Nobody’s “doing the right thing” by not going to Spot, and the Challenger is irresponsible for saying otherwise.



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