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A Shock to the System

The graphic design of my article on working with the media in the Asia Pacific (June/July) was so arresting that the illustrations communicated loudest to many members arriving at this page in the publication. And for our Chinese members in Asia who reacted, fortune cookies were a problem because they are a foreign creation and to them represent a stereotyping of Chinese culture that they find demeaning. Also, a boomerang is an Aboriginal Australian artefact, and like the North American Indians, the Aboriginal people in Australia have become very sensitive about the use of their artefacts as icons without the appropriate consultation.

One might argue that pictures of fortune cookies and boomerangs abound in promotional literature, but that's because we are still educating our own communicators about these things. There is increasing litigation against the perceived misuse of cultural icons, and consumers are showing their distaste by withholding their patronage. Also we should keep firmly in mind that what might be an icon for one group of people (for example, fortune cookies for the people of the United States might say "Chinese," or as the designer suggested, "Singapore" they might say "lack of knowledge of our culture" to our members in Hong Kong.

I had no idea when I sent the article to Communication World that the visual interpretation would be as it was and I must be honest and say I know enough about Chinese culture to have been given a nasty shock when I opened my advance copy of CW.

To echo the words of a hotel manager who apologised to me for poor service recently, "I am humbled by this experience.

Meryl David


COPYRIGHT 2001 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Communication World
Date:Aug 1, 2001
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