Sometimes the difference between an affliction and a gift is all a matter of perspective. There are times when I think my pale, white skin makes me look vapid and vampiric, the latest in a series of teen heart-throbs. Other days, I can think only of the ways the hue of my hair makes me a little bit more like Ron Howard, wishing he had the other-worldly coolness required to prompt hip tunes from an unresponsive jukebox. But these are things I cannot change. Like 1 in 50 children, I was born a redhead; lacking in pigment and teased in classrooms everywhere. I’m not going to even attempt to make the foolish case that it’s a hard life to be like this; you don’t need to be redheaded to be sensitive to sunlight and hair colour doesn’t, to my knowledge, cause any kind of socioeconomic segregation. To me, it seems the hardest thing about being a redhead, is being labelled a red head.
Ginger, fanta-pants, match stick, ranga… The terms are endless, anything that could be related to the colour orange can be primed by adolescent minds, chiselled into sharp monikers ready to hurl. Though we may argue that ‘carrot tops are green’ and ‘It’s not red hair, it’s orange,’ these feeble responses get us nowhere because somewhere along the line, we found ourselves demoted in the social hierarchy. But this piece is not about being a redhead, or about hoping that our fiery locks can be spun into gold. It is simply about the power of creating a social vernacular, and its effects.
Last week, the Victorian government released their latest advertising campaign to stop reckless driving. Many of you will remember the last such campaign: Speeding – No one thinks big of you. The slogan was designed to be mimicked by its audience. The hope was that people would take up the waving pinkie as a means of denigrating reckless drivers, wounding their egos and curbing the production of over-flowing testosterone. What’s important to note is that the slogan was a pun, a double entendre built on sexual innuendo. For those who haven’t seen the latest VicRoads campaign, the government body has decided that the ham-fisted approach is cleaner and more affective. The tagline pretty much sums up the approach: Don’t be a dickhead. And why shouldn’t they? It’s easy to write a joke which appeals to low-brow humour. Why waste time with a message when you can make a joke about it. That’s what kids like, isn’t it? Tactless Jokes?
Yes, they do. In fact, I’m not so much worried about the fact that seventeen year olds on their P-plates will laugh at the crass statement, and then go on their hooning merry way. I’m more concerned about the thirteen year old watching television, turning and calling his younger sister, eight and having trouble with her spelling lists, a dickhead. (For those who might argue that dickhead is also part of the cultural vernacular, try using it in a formal setting with someone you respect.) I’m concerned about the child I once was, sitting in class, minding his own business. I’m worried about the way he feels when his chair is repeatedly kicked in time to the rhythmic chanting: What are you gonna do about it, ginger? You know what ranga means? It’s short for orangutan. I’m worried about the way that the child, who for some reasons or another already feels socially unacceptable, now has all of his fears distilled into one term, one word which describes something genetic he can’t control. It’s not just about painting redheads and Emos poorly; it’s also about condoning their segregation, and providing a vernacular with which to do so.
Why must VicRoads take the new campaign (closely following a campaign designed to create social habits) as a lowbrow regurgitation of the things which we, as social human beings, would be best to avoid? Why integrate dickhead into the cultural vernacular? Why paint red-headed children as reprehensible. As young adult novelist Foz Meadows argued on her blog, it is a blunt attempt to reflect the perceived values of youth, but are we so blind as a culture to believe that a governing body, and their incredibly widespread campaigns, do not affect the way we, and our children, think and speak?
Edit: HERE is a much better alternative by Sussex Safer Roads. It is poignant, beautifully made and makes the point.
Also, the VicRoads advertisement ‘Gingas get fresh’ on YouTube is more ‘disliked’ than liked, and comments have been closed…