Yellow Ribbon Campaign Ad

Currently in Singapore the annual “Yellow Ribbon Campaign” [] is getting underway. The campaign’s awareness program is based on the ad above, which can be seen on many bus stops, trains and other public ad boards.

The problem with the ad is the man in the picture is completely covered with tattoos. On first glance it appears the ad is trying to say, “just because I have tattoos does not mean I am a criminal.” But that’s not what the Yellow Ribbon Campaign is about. The Yellow Ribbon Campaign is about helping people who are, in-fact, ex-convicts re-integrate into society, the main goal is to remove the stigma that everyone who has been to prison is a bad person to be shunned.

But the ad is re-enforcing one prejudice while trying to change another. The fact that they chose to show a man with a large amount of tattoos to represent an ex-con is confirming the prejudice that anyone with tattoos must be a criminal. I know in many Asian societies the idea that anyone with tattoos is a member of the Yakuza or Triad is deep seeded, but I find it appalling that it is so deep seeded that the people in charge of the Yellow Ribbon Campaign failed to realize their ad was re-enforcing the stereotype.

Stereotypes are often (though not always) based in part on reality and many hardcore criminals who have been to jail have a large number of tattoos. In Russia the tattoos tell a history of your violence, in the US they tell your gang membership and beliefs—and often a history of your violence. So maybe I’m being too PC and the use of the tattooed guy in the ad is justified or harmless, but I think it is either funny or tragic that a group charged with helping to eradicate one prejudice is using another in their ads.

3 replies on “Prejudice”

My own ink is not so obvious — of course if I was dressed as the man in the photo it would be. I think today in the US, Canada or Western Europe the connection between tattoos and being a criminal or hooligan is must less than it was 50, 25 or even just 10 years ago. The number of 20 and 30 somethings that have tattoos in these places has skyrocketed. But Asia is behind the curve in this sense.

I remember when I first went to Japan and my friend told me we would have to be careful about which Onsen (hot spring spa) we went to as many of them would not allow a person with tattoos to use the spa. The connection between tattoos and the Yahuza in Japan is very strong. It’s doubly interesting that the art of tattooing started in Southeast Asia, many Polynesians have elaborate tattoos, a good number of them on their faces and lower arms. These people would be shocked by the attitudes of the Japanese or Chinese to their ‘art’ and culture. Yet more evidence that bigotry is the default for humans.

exactly what i thought when i first saw the ad in the train. it is indeed “funny or tragic that a group charged with helping to eradicate one prejudice is using another in their ads”.

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