If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Lucky Beer

By the way, the beer that bullied Laughing Buddha into forsaking their name is an industrial Australian company whose product is pretty culturally insensitive. Behold:
"It’s an Asian influenced lager style, but it was born in Australia (the ‘Lucky Country’). It is at home in city bars, but lives all over the world. It also offers a truly unique proposition to everyone who comes into contact with it – share the good fortune.

"Rubbing Buddha’s tummy brings Good Luck!"
Buddha images are regularly appropriated for all kinds of things. For the most part, the appropriations are well-intentioned, as I took Laughing Buddha's to be. This, however, is a modern incarnation of Sambo's. It's a crass attempt to cash in on the ignorant misappropriation of a cultural/religious symbol. In substantial sections of the world, it will be held as offensive. The brewery couldn't care less about the Buddha except as a vaguely-transgressive marketing tool that tested well with young urban professionals who frequent night clubs. Pinheads.

17 comments:

Ralph said...

Who is being racist...wait...culturally insensitive? The brewery in Australia or the brewery in Seattle?

Jeff Alworth said...

I did do a double-take when I first heard of Laughing Buddha, but I see no evidence of anything but admiration for the East and Buddhism in their approach. It's a touchy subject, and I don't doubt that some folks might object.

The Aussie company, however, has plucked an ignorant stereotype from their pool of cultural bigotry and run with it to sell beer. That's why I compare it to the Sambo's restaurant chain.

Whenever you're considering insensitivity or bigotry, context and intention is everything.

Jeff Alworth said...

I suppose I should add to my "ignorant stereotype" comment. The whole "rub the buddha's belly for luck" stuff has nothing to do with Buddhism. It's the equivalent of blackface--ridiculing one's own bigoted misunderstanding of something. It may not be malicious, but it's destructive. Add commercialism to that, and I see no reason to pull my punches. They're over the line.

Ralph said...

Short history of the Laughing Buddha

So to be fair to the Aussies here, they are drawing upon the "legend" of the laughing Buddha's belly. You'll notice you see this Laughing Buddha in many Asian restaurants as well. You'll also notice that many Asian cultures will greet their friends with "Have you eaten yet?". But I digress.

You seem most bothered that a small brewery that was apparently infringing upon a trademark is changing its name. I think your claims of bigotry are misplaced at best.

Commercialized? Without a doubt.

Just curious, how do you feel about Shmaltz Brewing?

Jeff Alworth said...

You seem most bothered that a small brewery that was apparently infringing upon a trademark is changing its name. I think your claims of bigotry are misplaced at best.

The two comments aren't related. If the Lucky Beer weren't bigoted, I'd still find their infringement case weak and stupid. (Trademark law has gone way too far in my view, but now I digress.)

Just curious, how do you feel about Shmaltz Brewing?

Great example to demonstrate that it's all in the context. Jews marketing Jewish beer? Kosher!

Ralph said...

If the Lucky Beer weren't bigoted...

I'm sorry Jeff, but I still don't understand how using the symbol of the Laughing Buddha is bigotry. You've yet to explain and have only repeated a defaming statement to back up your position.

I have a Buddha in my garden and I am not a Buddhist. I hope that isn't a problem.

Jews marketing Jewish beer? Kosher!

I see, so it is just like black people using N-word.

Jeff Alworth said...

I'm sorry Jeff, but I still don't understand how using the symbol of the Laughing Buddha is bigotry.

I think you understand my argument, you just disagree. I don't know how to be clearer. Disagreement's okay.

I see, so it is just like black people using N-word.

Does this mean you argue that the context of language is irrelevant? Do words have absolute meaning? Do images? If we understand langauge and image as communication, then there really isn't anything but context. My guess is you hew to a more literalist view, which may be why we disagree on the main point.

But yeah, when a black person calls another black person "nigger," the meaning is different than when a white person does. That's the context. Is it an exact analogue? Hardly. In this case, the object in question isn't pejorative, but sacred. The N-word and the buddha are categorical opposites.

Ralph said...

I think you understand my argument, you just disagree.

To be quite honest Jeff I do not understand your argument. So to get back into the context, what is the difference in the Australian company making a beer called "Lucky Buddha" and the Seattle company using "Laughing Buddha" as the name of the company?

Does the bottle offend you?
Does the gross profit of one offend you?

Maybe I'm unclear, is "Laughing Buddha" made by Buddhists?

Nurse Trub said...

I'd like to hear from the HB people in Oz about what possessed them to develop the bottle. Jeff maintains that he's OK with LB, so perhaps speaking with the other brewery might tamp down these embers a bit.
I wonder, Ralph, if Jeff could explain things better using something that you find sacred and using it as an example. Care to reach out, here?

Ralph said...

Nurse Tab,

I'm simply trying to understand what line this Australian brewery crossed that makes Jeff use such vicious words. And how that evoking of Buddha is different than "Laughing Buddha" in Seattle.

Jeff went whole hog here calling people bigots, crass, ignorant. And he also implied that it is systematic by suggesting a "pool of cultural bigotry" exists within this Company.

As to being Buddha being sacred, I was unaware that Jeff was a Buddhist.

Maybe I can just refer to what can best be described as pop-anthropology for a humorous analogy:
SWPL #101 Being Offended

Jeff Alworth said...

Ralph, we disagree. I am personally not offended by the Lucky Beer campaign and have never said I was. I said: "in substantial sections of the world, it will be held as offensive." This is a beer blog, so I didn't go into a cultural/religious analysis of why that is. I could go into it here, but I think the value is limited--I doubt anyone's reading this or cares, and I actually don't have the time to do a long exegesis on cultural mores regarding the treatment of the Buddha image.

Nurse Trub, the issue isn't important enough to try to make a bunch of international calls to resolve. If noting that this product would be offensive to many Asian Buddhists is itself the cause of offense, I guess we'll just have to leave it at that.

scott p said...

The "buddhists" I know would find humor in the very discussion of whether this product offends or does not offend. I think we might be missing the point here.

leek said...

Wow, all this arguing over which beer company used the Buddha properly.

I'm more I interested in why Laughing Buddha capitulated.

Most Seattle-area beer lovers I talk to think this will kill Laughing Buddha.

Were they advised by lawyers to change their name rather than fight?

This is a perfect example of trademarks hurting innovation instead of protecting it.

Maybe they should change their name to Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse Mango Weizen sounds great!

Jeff Alworth said...

Scott p, I think this is a cultural more than religious thing.

Leek, I actually think Trade Route is a better name. What they're doing is fusion brewing, and they may well like to experiment with other, non-Asian influences. I predict a smooth transition.

Anonymous said...

"Mickey Mouse beer?" That sounds pretty derogatory to me… kinda like a Watermelon Wheat or something. :P

-anónimo

Anonymous said...

Not sure who is offended by this b/c I just bought a bottle at a huge Asian grocery store in Phoenix. Very traditional fare at this Asian grocery including an entirely Asian staff. This beer was sitting right next to Sapporo and Kirin, so I thought it was actually Japanese. Wasn't until I got it home that I realized it was Australian. So, I'm not sure how offensive this is to those who would supposedly be offended.

Seems like there are a bunch of beers that play off "religion" in marketing (Polygomy Porter and most of Schmaltz line come to mind)and most people don't get too offended. Just my 2cents.

Anonymous said...

Rumour has it that lucky has gone under. Read it in the paper on the wekeend. For spicy foods, I love Firefly...

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