Thursday, September 26, 2013

A response from Asda, after a surreal day

Just after 5pm, I received a reply to the email that I sent to Andy Clarke, CEO of Asda. Rather than replying himself, the message had been forwarded to Lisa Sutcliffe in the Directorate or Executive Relations dept. 

I don't have her permission to paste her email here. However it does not differ in any substance from the tweets sent by Asda last night, even including the same phrases: "unacceptable error"; "withdrawn immediately"; we "will be making a sizeable donation" to Mind

So I've replied to request that the specific points I made in my email be addressed:

"Dear Ms Sutcliffe,

Thank you for apologising. If I missed the part of the email where you explained how you will be launching an investigation into the culture of your institution that allowed this product to reach the shelves, could you draw my attention to it now? If you are not launching such an investigation, please give me your reasons for this failure to respond to very real concerns about how an organisation can have a prejudicial attitude so embedded within it that it took outsiders to point out how dreadfully stigmatising the costume was. 

You may be aware that I posted my original email to Mr Clarke on my blog. This has today been reposted by Mind. 

I've promised to keep readers up to date with any responses that I get. Unfortunately there isn't much in your message that is worth repeating since it regurgitates the statements that your company has been making all day."

This follows a day that has been rather overwhelming. My twitter "interactions/mentions" section has been kept very busy, new people have followed me and, as the email states, Mind asked whether I'd be happy for them to put last night's post on their blog.
Personally, I've received a lot of wonderful support from friends online. It's been disheartening to read some of the comments, for example on Rethink's FB page or directed towards Stan Collymore. These comments have the opposite effect to their intentions: telling us that "it's just a joke", we "need to get over ourselves"; "you absolute nutjob"; "the world has officially went [sic] PC mad" simply proves that stigma is real, prejudice against people with mental illness is everywhere and we need to carry on fighting these incidents when they arise.

Some people have criticised the charities involved in the debate for fighting something "trivial" when there are so many other mental health scandals that need attention. I think that this misses the point: there are very few MH stories that make it onto the news. And this one has. Therefore Mind, Rethink, TimetoChange, etc., had a duty to get their voices heard. And the wonderful response to the #mentalpatient photos that have been shared on Twitter throughout the day has been an inspiring counterpoint to the outdated stereotype. 

On Monday, my therapist was commenting on how I can usually find humour even in bleak situations. The book I've written about anorexia apparently manages to make people laugh as well as cry. So I feel that my response to that costume had nothing to do with me not having a sense of humour. The charities haven't lost their sense of humour. The thousands of people complaining on Twitter aren't devoid of humour. The truth is that the costume isn't funny. Because, as we all know, the comedians who get the most laughs use observational humour, i.e. comedy based in truth. 

Given that the blood-dripping, straitjacket wearing, cleaver-wielding "mental patient" has only ever existed in bad horror films, it's fair to say that only characters in bad horror films have the association of this stereotype with truth to find it funny.

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