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European Commission's ‘Clash of Civilizations’ Video Blunder

A video parodying the film Kill Bill and building on a “clash of civilizations” theme has been made by the European Commission (EC) to promote enlargement of the European Union to young adults. However, the video was pulled on March 6, 2012, after it made the rounds online and was subject to virulent accusations of racism.

The removal did not prevent the controversy from inflaming blogs and social networks.  At the time of writing, the clip is still available for viewing on Daily Motion [fr] and YouTube:

News website 24heures.ch [fr] described the scenario of the video in detail:

Une jeune femme blanche de peau dans une combinaison qui fait penser à celle d’Uma Turman dans le film Kill Bill de Tarantino, fait face à chaque adversaire mâle arrivant dans l’entrepôt où elle se trouve. L’un est visiblement originaire d’Asie, l’autre d’Inde et le dernier, du Brésil. L’Europe face aux puissances émergentes? Leur attitude est agressive quand la jeune femme ferme les yeux et se dédouble plusieurs fois pour former un cercle autour des combattants, tout à coup doux comme des agneaux.

La symbolique lourdingue du clip se termine par un slogan affirmant: «Plus nous serons nombreux, plus nous serons forts». Juste avant, le cercle de femmes vu d’en haut s’est transformé en un drapeau étoilé de l’UE.

A young Caucasian woman wearing a bright yellow outfit similar to that worn by Uma Thurman in the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill stands up to each male adversary who enters the warehouse she is in. One man is clearly of Oriental origin, another seems to be either Arabic or Indian, and the last appears to be a dreadlocked kickboxer. Is this supposed to represent Europe's opposing emerging powers? The body language of the men is aggressive until the young woman closes her eyes and multiplies herself several times, creating a circle around the fighters, who are all of a sudden docile as lambs.The clumsy symbolism of the video ends with a slogan declaring: “The more we are, the stronger we are”. Just before this statement, the circle of women viewed from above has transformed into the starred flag of the EU.

The website comments:

L’incroyable de cette histoire, c’est qu’il y a eu probablement plusieurs hauts-fonctionnaires bruxellois qui n’ont simplement rien vu d’offensant dans ces images. En ligne hier sur quelques sites d’information, ce clip-vidéo a été retiré en début d’après-midi et la campagne annulée.

The incredible thing about this story is that there have probably been several senior officials in Brussels who simply didn't see anything offensive in these images. This video was online yesterday on several news websites, but it was taken down early afternoon and the campaign cancelled.

The Facebook [fr] page of the Parti des Indigènes de la République quotes an article from Regards.fr [fr], the “anti-capitalist monthly”:

Ce stupéfiant petit film, bourré de stéréotypes racistes et essentialistes a été pensé, réalisé puis mis en ligne le vendredi 2 mars par les communicants de la délégation générale de l’élargissement de l’Union européenne de la Commission de Bruxelles. Face au tollé soulevé, il en a été retiré le mardi suivant, 6 mars. Le temps de faire un petit buzz sur Internet mais sans que la presse, en tout cas française, n’en fasse vraiment ses choux gras.

This astounding little film, full of racist stereotypes and clichéd characters, was conceived, created, then put online, on Friday 2 March, by representatives of the EC general delegation for the Enlargement of the European Union. Faced with growing public indignation, it was taken down the following Tuesday 6 March. Time enough to create a little buzz on the Internet but without the press, in any case, the French press, really making the most of it.

At the other end of the political spectrum the interpretation is different. Jean-Patrick Grumberg, for dreuz.info [fr] states:

Je trouve cette vidéo mensongère, mais pas raciste. Mensongère car je ne vois pas ce que l’Europe fait pour se protéger de l’invasion islamiste, mais je vois, au contraire, ce qu’elle fait pour la favoriser. Je ne vois pas ce que l’Europe fait pour se protéger contre l’immigration d’Africains, mais je vois ce qu’elle fait pour la favoriser, et je ne vois pas en quoi la Chine, que les dirigeants Européens ne cessent d’appeler au secours pour renflouer leurs caisses, représente un danger.

I find this video dishonest, but not racist. Dishonest because I do not see what Europe is doing to protect itself from the Islamic invasion. On the contrary, I see what Europe is doing to encourage it. I do not see what Europe is doing to guard against African immigration, but I see what it is doing to encourage it, and I do not see in what way China, who European leaders incessantly call on for help to bail themselves out, represents a danger.
A still from the offending European Commission video

A still from the offending European Commission video

On Twitter reactions have been varied and often impassioned:

@LauraLardy: L'UE fait la promotion de la guerre des civilisations et du racisme…

@LauraLardy: The EU is promoting a war of civilizations and racism….

@sergiomarx: La video de la Commission est-elle vraiment raciste ? Ou est-ce que le racisme ne serait pas plutôt dans l'oeil du spectateur ?

@sergiomarx: Is the video by the European Commission actually racist? Or could the racism instead be in the eye of the beholder?

Could this affair become a textbook example for EC trainees? The blog Décrypter la communication européenne [fr] explains the key points of this “conflict of interpretation” while listing the press articles covering this story:

Le communiqué officiel signé par le Directeur général de la DG Élargissement justifie la diffusion de la vidéo en expliquant que la cible a laquelle la vidéo était destinée avait réagi positivement lors des tests de pré-lancement :
C’était un clip viral, ciblant à travers les réseaux sociaux, un public jeune (16-24) qui comprend l’intrigue et les thèmes des films d’arts martiaux et de jeux vidéo. Les réactions de ces publics ciblés ont en effet été positives, tout comme celles des focus groupes sur lesquels le concept avait été testé.

The official communication signed by the Directorate General for Enlargement justifies the distribution of the video while explaining that the target audience of this video had reacted positively during pre-launch test screenings:
“It was a viral clip targeting, through social networks and new media, a young audience (16-24) who understand the plots and themes of martial arts films and video games. The reactions of these target audiences to the clip have in fact been positive, as had those of the focus groups on whom the concept had been tested.”

The conclusion of the blog agrees with the opinions of most Internet users [fr]:

Quoique la Commission européenne ait reconnu qu’il y avait un problème avec la vidéo controversée en choisissant de la retirer ; la divergence d’interprétation avec les médias sur la raison du retrait montre que la Commission reste sourde à l’accusation d’absence de clairvoyance quant à la potentielle lecture raciste de la vidéo.

The European Commission has acknowledged that there was a problem with this controversial video by choosing to take it down. However, the differing interpretations by the media on the reason for its withdrawal show that the Commission is turning a deaf ear to accusations of lack of foresight regarding the potential for a racist interpretation.

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