Interpretation vs. Intention – Which is more important?

I was listening the the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” earlier this year, and they were discussing  a new ad campaign by Australian makeup company, Illamasqua. This image landed with the tagline, “I am not dreaming of a White Christmas.”

“I’m Not Dreaming of a White Christmas”

A company representative on the program insisted that their concept was one of juxtaposition, yin and yang. They make high pigment makeup and they wanted to showcase the intensity of their colors.

Others have taken offense to, what is to them, a blatant reference to the horrendous Blackface practice which began in the  minstrel era of 1830-1890, and mimicked degrading stereotypes of black people at the time.

“Blackface is more than just burnt cork applied as makeup. It is a style of entertainment based on racist Black stereotypes that began in minstrel shows and continues to this day.” – black-face.com

Based on this definition, the ad could be seen as not representing Blackface since the racist, stereotyped entertainment is not present. Others again disagree, saying the large, red lips are a direct reference to the blackface style.

Throughout the program it became clear that no one wanted to agree to disagree. They wanted admission of guilt, and wanted to be right.

So what is more important, Intention or Interpretation?

According to Illamasqua, the idea that this ad could be viewed as racist never even crossed their mind. They were trying to creatively show the deep pigmentation of their make-up which ranges from deep black to shocking white. They went on to say they have a long history of supporting and promoting all types of women, young, old, black, white and everything in between. They stand by their history of promoting the beauty of all women, and don’t think their ad should be viewed as racist at all.

But some do view it as racist.

If they have a long history of supporting all skin colors, is it possible that the interpretation of racism is simply wrong? Or does interpretation trump intention – making this ad a hideous representation of racism and one that should be pulled and apologized for?

And around and around and around we go.

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About Blurb My Enthusiasm
40-something-yrs-old and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. My resume reads like a food court menu: educator, dog walker, product manager, executive director, managing editor - and that's just the notable titles. I entertain all offers and consider myself up for the job until someone tells me I'm not. I've never been fired. What I lack in direction, I make up for in enthusiasm.

One Response to Interpretation vs. Intention – Which is more important?

  1. Kimberly says:

    I think the ad is theatrical and beautiful. Now if they were saying something about the history of theater or performance it may be able to be interpreted that way however this was probably the creation of a 22 year old stylist who has zero historical reference to “black face” and was just playing up the black and white trend that is so popular now. I guess it’s simply and optimist, glass half full, way of looking at the world. Why would a makeup brand blatantly want to hurt people or alienate prospective customers by being outright racist. I think they would Not.:) the race card is always easy to play and impossible to deny. They could remove it out of sensitivity, sure, but like the old adage would imply, you can’t please all the people all the time.

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