What’s the difference between a “joke” and something rampantly sexist or homophobic? In Australia, says Cal Wilson, when it comes to slogans on camper vans, there seems to be some debate.
If you’ve backpacked or camped around Australia and New Zealand, chances are you’ve encountered a Wicked Camper.
For those of you who haven’t, they’re dear little Kombi vans full of green-tinted people singing the hits from Wicked, the musical. OK, so that’s what they are in my ideal world; in this one, they’re the polarising graffiti-covered rental rustbuckets beloved by backpackers who don’t mind driving round with slogans on them like “Fat chicks are harder to kidnap” or “I wouldn’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.”
Before you get all huffy and offended, chill out – it’s just jokes, see? Nothing wrong with good old jokes about how awful ladies are, because let’s face it, we’re terrible. We insist on having opinions, getting all uppity when dudes do stuff we don’t like, and acting like we should be respected. I mean, what are we on about? What’s wrong with a van sporting, “I’ve often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can’t get my wife to go swimming”? Violence against women is hilarious.
“Why is it when people shout about Freedom of Speech, it’s never because they want to say something positive? It’s never ‘Teachers and nurses should be paid more’ or ‘I demand the right to remind everyone how brilliant Rebecca Front was in The Thick of It.‘”
Of course, not everyone is so marvellously open-minded. A petition in 2014 to ban the Wicked slogan “In every princess there’s a little slut who wants to try it just once” gathered more than 127,000 signatures. and resulted in the slogan being removed. The recent Splendour in the Grass music festival on the Gold Coast made it clear vans with sexist slogans on were not welcome at the event, and camp grounds in New Zealand are refusing entry to vehicles with offensive pictures or text.
Over the past couple of years there have been myriad complaints to the Advertising Standards Board in Australia and the Advertising Standards Authority in NZ, although even when they’re upheld, Wicked seems to have a policy of not responding and revelling in the free publicity.
The company has been back in the news recently after an Australian council banned vehicles with offensive slogans from council-owned caravan parks. This annoyed Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who’s a big fan of free speech and having extra consonants in your name. He thinks WC’s slogans are fine. In fact he said, “You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person not to find them funny.” Or maybe a woman. Or just not a Neanderthal.
Why is it when people shout about Freedom of Speech, it’s never because they want to say something positive? It’s never “Teachers and nurses should be paid more” or “I demand the right to remind everyone how brilliant Rebecca Front was in The Thick of It.“
Zoe Norton Lodge and Kirsten Drysdale, from excellent satirical comedy group The Chaser, made a brilliant riposte to Senator Leyonhjelm by rewriting him into some of the riper WC slogans. Weirdly, he didn’t love it.
You might think it’s a bit full-on to make it so personal, but it’s a strategy WC has employed itself. In 2008, when journalist Lucy Clark wrote a story critical of them, Wicked Campers drove a van around with this sentence on it: “Dear Lucy, I can already imagine the gaffa tape on your mouth.” See? Hilarious.
The owner subsequently apologised in an email, claiming an employee sprayed it on the van without his knowledge. This is still a step up from his statement on the company website about other people’s complaints, which reads in part:
“We employed a team of highly intelligent, socially conscious super monkeys to closely monitor the subject matter featured on our vehicles and scream loudly when offended.”
The company’s “edgy” slogans and attitude make me feel simultaneously furious and exhausted; it’s like the worst parts of Twitter doing a road trip in real life.
Perhaps the problem will ultimately take care of itself, by backpackers just not wanting to rent from them. Perusing WC’s online reviews, common complaints are vehicles in terrible condition, trouble getting your bond back, bad attitudes from staff, and that if your van is deliberately damaged by someone offended by the slogans on it, you have to pay for the repairs. I have to say that while I don’t condone violence, a part of me is pleased that when someone attacks a van, it is quite literally van-dalism.
Of course, not all of WC vehicles have misogynistic, or homophobic, or racist slogans on them, but that’s a bit like saying not all sharks bite people. Sure, but it’s the ones that do you have to worry about.
I don’t want to go all “think of the children” on you, but I’m damned if I want to end up in traffic behind a Wicked Camper, and have to explain to my seven year old the subtle nuances of “A vagina is like the weather… once it’s wet, it’s time to go inside.” Especially since I reckon what they really mean is “A vagina is like the weather… I’m terrified of both.”8538 Views
Cal Wilson is a Kiwi who calls Australia home. Comedian, Writer, amateur Cat Lady.