By Alain Brossat
If you are an institution, academic or other, you might have already used Mailchimp or will have to use it some day – it’s easy to use, reliable. It is, as you probably know, an app through which groups of emails can be arranged, sent at a specific time, scheduled, it is flexible and multitasking – whence its success. It comes, of course, from the US.
So, bravo Mailchimp and good speed ?
Not exactly, for several reasons. The first, not the main one, is that when you receive a message that has been processed through Mailchimp, you simultaneously get an advertisement for it, which is set-in in the message: the Mailchimp logo appears right in the middle of the message you are the recipient of, and if you click on it (which you do automatically), you come across an animated add praising all the merits of this wonderful device – a very unfair act of parasitism and sly capture of your attention. If you work in the academic field, a blatant intrusion of the market, of business, in the realm of research and teaching.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. What definitely doesn’t do and won’t do is the combination of the name of the company (Mailchimp) with the logo. « Chimp » is an abbreviation of chimpanzee, a common variety of ape. What the logo is made of, is, in effect, a monkey-like face but very much anthropomorphic: the character that appears on the logo is, actually, a mixture of an ape and a human – a dark, black human – , the proof of it being that this creature bears a cap (monkeys don’t bear caps) and that his-her-its ear as it is drawn is rather human than ape-like.
In sum, and this is where this logo makes you sick, what you watch when you look at it is a creature which is without distinction human and animal, or, more precisely indistinctly a monkey or a black fellow. This is what you detect when you X-ray what this logo conveys at a subliminal level. Subliminal, because, of course, it doesn’t intend to be racist, on the opposite, it intends to be nice and attractive – but that is what makes things worse: as he tried to imagine something appealing, the designer has bumped into the most vulgar and primitive racial/racist stereotype that was buried in his reptilian brain (subconscious) – the black man as halfway between ape and human.
We in the West are used to these advertisement which have been progressively banned from the billboards where African bodies and faces were used for promoting more or less exotic goods like chocolate, powder cocoa, shoe polish, etc. All this derived from the European colonial past, a manufacture of racial/racist stereotypes according to which African people invariably have to be depicted as beaming childish adults. On these adds and pictures, some of them extremely popular for decades, the African man appears outrageously caricatured – but as a human.
What is irreparably disastrous in the Mailchimp logo is the overlapping of the human and the animal. It is of the same brand as these WWII propaganda cartoons published in the US and intended in particular for the US soldiers engaged in the Pacific War; pictures where the Japanese soldiers were depicted as sly apes hidden in palm trees – « only shoot down those who wear helmets ! », one of these cartoons said, stressing that way the difficult distinction between « Japs » and monkeys.
The Mailchimp logo is different, as it is benign and benevolent… but to some extent, it’s worse – the mixture of ingenuousness and stupidity that leads to this sort of boo-boo is maybe worse than the deliberate depreciation of an archfoe depicted as a savage animal.
We all know that the issues related to « blackface » and the use of some derogatory and offensive terms like « the n- word » in the US has become extremely sensitive, in North America and Western Europe, notably. It is disconcerting to note that in this very context this horrid combination of these two very dubious items – Mailchimp + logo can continue to prosper as though nothing had happened, this in particular in Taiwan where the elites are so eager to stick to the US moods (from same sex marriage to customized Sinophobia).
If you look at this combination from, let’s say, a European-African angle, it is about as repulsive as this variant would be for you, East Asian friends: Mailchink + a logo picturing an Asian face with slant eyes and a convex straw-hat – would it appeal to you?
Ps: if you take a look at Mailchimp’s site, you will discover that « Mailchimp offers price relief to groups fighting racism in the US » – no kidding ? Why don’t you first put your house in order…?
COMMENTS of our readers:
J.R.: I think the article expresses very good your point. For me, the problem I see is that Mailchimp definitely tries to humanize the chimp (instead of drawing a more real-looking chimp with a hat), but the question is whether a humanized chimp necessarily has to look like a Black person. From my point of view, the humanization of this chimp, the ears, the big smile, are not exclusively Black. And I guess that it opens the window for people critizing the article by claiming that you see a Black in what others just see a humanized chimp. I certainly believe in what you say, that the designer unconsciously designed it in a way that fits the stereotypes we culturally have developed during centuries. However, I think it is not self-evident and there is a lot of room for interpretation regarding this logo.
J.C.: I think your text is ok. However, I agree with J.R. in some way: there are many layers of interpretation. What then justifies your point of view. I think, as you show it, even if the design of the logo as such is unconscious, however it reveals how our subconscient is polluted with all sort of stereotypes inherited from the West. And how they have enriched those of elsewhere.
If the logo suggests the (natural) bound between chimp and human, it exposes also:
1) the cult of the anthropocene, then the myth of the so-called human superiority
2) keeping the black color suggests the idea of the app as “our nigger”.
So, the app is following the trend and mainstream according to the technology will set us free by becoming our nigger (slave)
L.H.: I think each to his own on this one. Personally, I’ve seen the Mailchimp logo before, but it never made me feel somehow. However, I will not deny the blatant “logofication” of blackness that was particularly popular in the heydays of the colonialism and slavery. I’m not saying that such “logofication” does not happen today. All I’m saying is that as people, our offense levels are tuned differently. While some may see a racist logo, some may see a cute monkey. I do not agree with his immediate diagnose of the logo designer as being subconsciously racist. I sometimes feel like blackness has been boxed and packaged into a neat box. All black people should be offended by the same thing.