I hesitated writing this for fear of being dismissed as just another person taking offence with the little details. However, between the sheer apathy of businesses and the negligence of enabling platforms, there is little else one can do with this frustration.
Over the course of history, a great deal of resources have been put into the advancement of ethical practices. Yet, the volume of ill-considered, profit-motivated decisions taken by enterprises do not seem to have abated.
My intention here is to raise awareness of the unethical business practices shrouded in questionable ignorance, and the dubious oversight of enabling platforms.
Don’t look away.
Trigger warnings for the rest of this post include mental illness, ethics, cultural appropriation, and mention of racism.
In 2017, Oxford Dictionaries worked the phrase ‘cultural appropriation‘ into their official lexicon with the following definition:
“The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society” Oxford Dictionary, n.d.
A wealth of testimony is available that attests to the appropriation prevalent in commercial advertisements — from racism in beauty product endorsements to the glorification of mental illness in the media. Such incidences are not unheard of.
Case in point: mobile game advertisers glamorizing mental illness.
For a while, the ads presented above were showing up on my social media timelines. Needless to say, I was unnerved.
Once upon a time, they might not have raised any eyebrows. Now, following a shift in social consciousness towards a heightened acknowledgement of marginalized identities, cultures, and conditions, they have been denounced, and rightly so. Surely, there is a need to call this out.
While it remains debatable whether putting out an insensitive ad was an honest mistake or an intentional decision to draw upon controversy, it has been proven, a posteriori, to not do anyone any good.
Granted, the people behind the ad are not the masterminds of this dark side of modern humanity. Depictions of mental illness across popular culture and social media have made it a trend to be depressed, anxious, or claim a mental health condition of any kind. It’s the next big thing that gets traffic, raises engagement rates, and thus increases the probability of higher sale numbers.
While mental illness constitutes subject matter that makes for addictive digital product, error lies in the act of adopting an element of a condition with nothing but an assumed understanding of its circumstances and potential impact.
When businesses choose to adopt such narratives in their ads and broadcasts, they glorify elements of the mental health condition that afflict those who actually suffer with it, whether consciously or not. These same elements are also used to subjugate the afflicted as ‘others’ of society. In turn, they contribute to the permanence of stigmas. These businesses aren’t just turning a blind eye to the precise characteristics and experiences of a condition. They also trivialise and thin its severity. Consequently, it becomes more possible that each time someone who struggles with a condition chances upon such a narrative, on top of feeling less about themselves, they risk triggering an attack.
There is a particular power dynamic present in these profit-motivated business decisions that screams torment, whether intentional or not. It is present in the downplaying of a condition and all its incommunicable pain. It is present in the silent enabling of othering those afflicted with mental illness by normalising judgment based on insufficient knowledge and assumed understanding. It is present in the entitlement to purport ill-informed narratives, then claim ignorance upon backlash, sweeping the hurt and frustration they have caused under the carpet. All this while the individual is left to deal with the distress in their own capacity.
Unfortunately, the harm is further authorised by social media administrators who fail to deplatform the businesses that refuse to stop promoting these inconsiderate narratives.
I have, before, reported a similar ad only for them to come back to me with an explanation as to why the content does not go against the platform’s policies. One is left to speculate whether or not the platform has chosen to safeguard their ad revenue over upholding ethical practice.
The choice to close an eye is a silent nod to the narratives purporting stigma. It is then also a choice to be compliant in its normalisation. This then becomes an attempt to disaffect those who take issue with said narratives – now the new normal.
The onus is not on the vulnerable to “control their content consumption”. In many cases such as advertisements, they are targetted and disseminated without consent from or prior notification of the receiving end. It is not enough to have people within the system who care enough to become aware of these transgressions and report them. Realistically, the power to exact tangible change lies in those administrators and policy makers who have the ability to ensure that narratives purporting stigma do not have a platform to impact the most vulnerable in society.
Until such time that our social consciousness evolves to a truly humane state, should a fear of backlash and its impacts on revenue be the only motivator for action from businesses and enterprises, then so it must be.