Pete Jenson: It is Alf Garnett humour, and Spanish still think it's funny
It's Benny Hill with a play on the fact that Reina's name means queen in Spanish
Thursday 01 March 2012
In 2004, when Spanish club Getafe's supporters were accused of racist abuse, their president, Angel Torres, offered to make his players black up for a game to prove the club was not racist. He was being serious.
It should be pointed out that Torres also proposed that any supporter found making racially abusive comments be banned for life. His intentions were good but, seen through the eyes of people with a different cultural and socio-political history, his idea was hideous.
Pepe Reina's advert for insurance is the kind of thing that would have been screened on British television about 20 years ago, probably while the Alf Garnett series In Sickness and In Health was airing on the other channel. Today anyone coming up with the idea at a brainstorming session would have been getting their coat before you could say "crude racial stereotype".
The question is: should the Spanish be allowed to define and redefine their own perimeters of what is and is not acceptable, taking on board the opinions and complaints of their own ethnic minorities, or do groups from outside the country's borders have a duty to tell them what is and is not acceptable?
In the advert the Liverpool goalkeeper Reina is introduced to the king of an African tribe. The person presenting him to the king says: "Great white man – Pepe Reina." Then the king says something which is translated to Reina as: "The boss says 'you Reina [meaning queen in Spanish], he Rey'" (king in Spanish). The king then says something else and when Reina asks: "And what does that mean?" the interpreter shakes his head worryingly and a spearholding tribesman puts a crown on to Reina's head and shuffles him forward towards the king – the inference being that he will have to marry the king. Reina utters the advert's catchphrase: "Me siento seguro", which translates as: "I feel secure".' The word seguro also means insurance.
Whether the ad for the multi-national insurance firm Groupama really depicts black people as "animalistic homosexuals", as Operation Black Vote suggests, is highly debatable. It's Benny Hill humour with a silly play on the fact that Reina's name means queen in Spanish. The tribal king is the fool in the story – in another of the adverts from the same series the joke is on the Spanish, with Reina sat on a coach being asked for his autograph by a fan, who turns out to be the coach driver who has left his mother at the wheel – Reina utters his "I feel secure" catchphrase as the coach veers across the road. Women drivers could take offence at that one.
Of course, women drivers have never been enslaved and persecuted, and that maybe is the part that Spanish culture still does not get. Should Reina have got it, with his years of playing in England? The behind-the-scenes shots of him filming the advert have him joking with the black actors as he struggles to say his lines without laughing. He will be as surprised as the Spanish TV audience that the commercial has caused so much outrage beyond the country's borders.
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