On the fine line between humour and racism

The supermarkets of Germany are the site of a more sinister example of multilingual diversity marketing. The pictured chip packet leaps off the shelf with its mix of German, English and a caricature with a knife offering you “Hakans Lümütüd Edition”. My first thought was that ‘lümütüd’ is a mockery of an L2 English speaker accent (German has umlauts, but never so many in one word), but in what way does it intersect with the picture? Is the ‘lümütüd’ mocking a German L1 accented English or something else?

The fellow pictured is German comedian Kaya Yanar, who has made a living from comedic characters that consist of exaggerations and stereotypes of various immigrant groups. He’s best known for his show “Was guckst Du?” which translates into English as “What are you looking at?” and refers to staring as a form of passive-aggressive social control in German society. Staring is used as a means to express implicit social disapproval of the looks of another person and foreigners are often the object of “the stare.” The question “Was guckst Du?” is a form of resistance as it forces the silent disapprover to either make their criticism explicit or to respond with a cowardly “oh, nothing, nothing.”

One of the characters in “Was guckst Du?” is the pictured Hakan, a Turkish immigrant to Germany, who works as a nightclub bouncer. Hakan speaks in an exaggerated form of Turkish-German, although Yanar himself is an L1 German speaker. His comedy is of a pretty common ‘ethnic comedy’ variety, drawing on circulating stereotypes to get a laugh. It seems that “Lümütüd Edition”, then, is supposed to be an imitation of Hakan speaking English, and yet, as far as I’ve been able to gather, the character Hakan never speaks English in Yanar’s show and neither does Yanar. So what’s going on?

It is a case of multilingual advertising, with a twist. The English ‘Limited Edition’ is in common usage on German products. Hakan’s cartoonish representation of a Turkish immigrant bouncer is then layered on top, producing a consumable snack of multicultural ‘döner’ meets ‘crisps’. The gratuitous umlauts serve to make the English phrase look like mock Turkish and sound like accented English.

The designation of the chips’ flavor adds to the stereotyped language: “Döner mit alles” translates as “Doner kebab with everything.” The grammatically correct form would be “Döner mit allem” and the form of the expression thus mimics foreigner talk, or, more specifically, a form of uneducated and fossilized “Turkish German.” The Lorenz snack food company takes Yanar’s ready-made caricature: greased-back hair, accentedness, and foreigner talk, and commodifies it, with a sprinkling of contemporary advertising multilingualism (English-as-mock-Turkish) to top it off.

With anti-immigration (specifically anti-Islamic immigration) discourses in political advertising in other parts of German-speaking Europe being unapologetically racist, it’s hard to see past the stereotypes and language mockery to find the humor in Hakan, or the chips.

You can read more about ‘ethno-comedy’ in the German context (in German) in: Keding, K., & Struppert, A. (2006). Ethno-Comedy im deutschen Fernsehen: Inhaltsanalyse und Rezipientenbefragung zu “Was guckst du?!”. Berlin: Frank & Timme.

Author Emily Farrell

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