UDPATE 17/7/14: Chalk one up for people power – yesterday the Senate in Canberra unanimously voted that Wicked Campers must remove sexist, misogynistic, and racist slogans, and the company has concurred.
After a petition launched by Sydney mother Paula Orbea on Sunday gathered over 125,000 signatures in three days, the wave of anti-Wicked sentiment was ridden by Greens Senator Larissa Waters, who put the motion to the upper house yesterday, saying: “The Senate is sending a strong message that promoting violence against women is completely unacceptable in Australian society.”
A statement from Wicked Campers said: “Wicked Campers Owner, John Webb wishes to acknowledge the prevailing community opinion by removing the slogan in question and making a commitment over the coming six months to changing slogans of an insensitive nature.”
Webb said: “As is often quoted: ‘A sense of humour is a sense of proportion’. And in this instance, we admit that we have taken things out of proportion and out of the realms of what is considered to be ‘socially acceptable’.
“It is impossible for us to conceive that a throw-away message written on a van could have such far-reaching implications for the community at large.”
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson also weighed into the debate yesterday, defending the right of the company to use offensive slogans on its vans, and that people who disapproved should protest by not using the business.
“Government shouldn’t be going around telling people what they can and cannot say, unless it leads to direct and explicit harm,” he said.
“Just removing things that are offensive, while it may seem attractive, is a very dangerous precedent at least because people always have very different views about what is offensive and therefore should be limited.”
Here’s the story that Lucy Clark wrote on Tuesday about her experiences with Wicked Campers.
In 2008 when I wrote a story for the Brisbane Sunday Mail criticising Wicked Campers for the base and offensive sexist “jokes” scrawled on the sides of those clapped out vans that spew excessive carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, this is what the company did.
They painted a van with a special slogan, just for me, and sent it touring down to Byron Bay where I was living at the time. I never saw the van myself, just saw the photo a friend sent me.
It said: “Dear Lucy, I can already imagine the gaffa tape on your mouth.”
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
Yep, someone at Wicked Campers devised a message for me, threatening harm, and gave the go ahead for it to be painted it on the side of a van and then sent that van in my direction. Because I had taken exception to messages like these being read by my kids:
“Men would like women’s brains more if they jiggled when they walked.”
“A woman is like a bank, once you withdraw, you lose interest.”
“If god was a woman, sperm would taste like chocolate.”
“Women only fake orgasms because they think men care.”
Ha ha, geddit? Did you get those jokes? In my 2008 story I did make a reference to the quality of the ‘humour’ and idly wondered if Benny Hill was alive and well and working in a Brisbane camper van company, and maybe that’s why Wicked Campers took such offence at the time – being told their so-called jokes are really crap. I’m sure they think a lot of careful thought and nous goes into them.
I was called a wowser, a prude, humourless, stupid… and a colourful array of other lovely epithets by readers, and that’s no big deal. It tends to happen when you write opinions one way or the other. But I do like to draw the line at orchestrated, menacing personal threats.
I went to the police to make a complaint and established that there was a criminal charge that could be laid if I wanted to – threaten to harm. The police outlined the process and while I was sorely tempted, I ultimately decided not to sully my life with Wicked Campers any further. Eventually I received an emailed apology from the owner of the company, who alleged that somebody in the workshop, unbeknownst to him, didn’t like my article and took it upon themselves to paint the message to me, and the van went out without him knowing. Yeah, right.
I took some pleasure in not replying, and in using my time making complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau.
This is the same company that painted the then Queensland Premier Anna Bligh naked and with her legs apart on a van after she took exception to their racist “Save a Whale, Harpoon a Jap” slogan. They “decided at the last minute” not to let the van out on the streets… but released photo of it to the press, which duly obliged with a story.
These guys just love the free publicity, even when it’s bad.
Surely it’s now past bad, with 87,000-odd signatures on a change.org.au petition (update: 108,000 at last count) set up by Sydney mother Paula Orbea who, like me, didn’t see why she should have to explain misogynistic tropes to her 11 year-old daughter.
The slogan she objected to was this: “Inside every princess is a little slut who wants to try it just once.”
In her protest she writes: “This business (amongst many others) thrives on pleasing a small demographic of people, who find it funny to mock those who may be living the horrible realities perspectives such as these manifest.
“But we are the majority, not them.
“Enough. It is time to say enough – with calm, intelligent but firm resolve.”
If only that were enough.
The signatures are growing – there were 12,000 signatures on Sunday night, 86,000 this morning. In the time it took to write this story, 15,000 people expressed their displeasure.
John Webb, the company’s owner, told SBS yesterday that bad publicity was better and easier to get, and he was “happy to see” Wicked get marketed around the world because of the online petition.
His particular brand of arrogance is arguably more offensive and disturbing than the slogans he perpetuates. He doesn’t care if he offends a large proportion of the population, he’s turning that offence into dollars. He knows he’s working a loophole in outdoor advertising laws, and thinks he is immune. According to Mumbrella, the company doesn’t even respond to ASB complaints anymore.
If such complaints over many many years can’t put Wicked Campers out of business or pull them into line, then maybe the fact that they run dodgy vans out of a state with lax mechanical rego checks will. The cars that pass rego muster in Queensland have to be seen to be believed. Take a tour of tripadvisor to see the many complaints about Wicked vans breaking down with great frequency, and renters unable to get their bond back.
Maybe all this palaver about sexist slogans is a smokescreen, a diversion from a truly dodgy product. Because surely if backpackers don’t care about driving around in such vile vehicles, they might care about breaking down in one. We can only hope.