Is there any more satisfying indulgence than the sweet nectar of moral social outrage? Far from insulating us from the thrust and parry of debate in the outside world, expat life affords the Shanghai sojourner plenty of opportunity to titillate oneself with perceived right and wrongs and take up arms as a self-appointed Social Justice Warrior when the occasion arises.
The danger is that, in the much smaller and more claustrophobic world of foreigners living in Shanghai, we are far more likely to be friends or colleagues or vaguely related in some way to the individuals at the center of the latest scandal du jour.
Recently a popular long-running temple of Bund-side entertainment began celebrating 13 years of ongoing operations in Shanghai by hosting a series of Country-Western themed party nights. Nicknamed "Bar Rude" in certain circles of established expat wags due to its sometimes brusque service and nouveaux riche clients, the palace of conspicuous consumption managed to ruffle a few feathered head-dresses with its insensitive promotional campaign materials.
There may not be a significant Native American population in Shanghai, but enough of their target market audience was offended by references to "Redskins" and images of cavorting "Cowboys and Indians" for management to pull the campaign for that particular event. References in the promotional materials denouncing "political correctness" while seemingly inviting the controversy (and free publicity) indicate that the whole idea may have been deliberately conceived as a misguided way of provoking interest that would help their event "go viral."
Another social marketing faux pas recently emerged with the appearance of a Canadian-developed mobile video game unimaginatively entitled "Dirty Chinese Restaurant." The game prototype, developed by Big-O-Tree Games out of the city of Toronto, Ontario, includes simulated chefs chasing cats and other pets with over-sized cleavers, with immigration authorities as points-losing obstacles for player to avoid. It's a cacophony of horrid racial stereotypes that could scarcely have expected to be taken seriously at any level.
The proposed game rightly caused expressions of outrage among regulators and government officials as well as media commentators on both sides of the Canada/US border. It also drew negative comments from Chinese diaspora around the world and netizens in the Chinese mainland. Interestingly, the trailers published by its developers mimic closely the same language and stance against political correctness as found in the offending nightclub posters.
In a post-Weinstein scandal world, one must exercise a hefty amount of judgment and media literacy when dealing with these social-media driven situations as they arise. It is right and proper that tactless and insensitive behavior and advertising should be called out. However, one must guard against being used as a pawn in someone's cynical PR campaign or desperate cry for attention.
Those who would manipulate opinion and prey upon the public's sense of justice and fairness have become increasingly sophisticated and skillful at pressing our outrage buttons.
We must carefully measure our response and pick and choose our battles in order to avoid being drawn into trivialities or false-flag campaigns. Otherwise we risk being consumed by the white-hot flame of our misplaced anger.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.