August 14, 2020

To better understand the era we are living through, it might help to first understand the nature of the ‘wokescreen’. Like those billowy emissions of dry-ice in a 1980s pop video, this device is useful if you want to hide bad and egregious behaviour from public view.

It is, essentially, a new iteration of an old rule: the one stating that the person commonly to be found complaining most vociferously about a particular vice is the one disproportionately likely to be guilty of said vice.

Through decades past, this rule applied to people who were literally in the clerical class. It was, for instance (see the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien), the priest or bishop who denounced homosexuality in the most vociferous terms who would turn out to have their own peculiar interpretation of ‘the laying on of hands’, tending to revolve around the knees of young male seminarians.

And there is sense in this of course. Through overt displays of moral opprobrium, the petitioner imagines that everyone’s attention will be diverted. Through stressing their virtue overmuch, however, such people raise a perceptible flag to anyone with an eye for human hypocrisy.

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Ben & Jerry's pitiful 'wokescreen'

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Today, of course, the clerical class is not the clergy. It is generally a rich, massively protected, metropolitan and often corporate or corporate-backed class which poses as the defender and then enforcer of all the easiest, least-controversial causes of the time. These shift, naturally, but today a person who wishes to cloak themselves in virtue will talk up their ‘anti-racism’ credentials; will talk about ‘feminism’ as though women’s rights have only just occurred to them; they will stress their green credentials; and of course they will rush to the defence of anyone who claims to identify as a tree or a hedgerow and assert that said person’s right to so identify is not just ancient and long-established but biologically incontrovertible. All give off immense warning-signs.

Among individuals who have recently come a cropper of this tendency has been the (to my mind) gratingly fake American talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen got a certain amount of credit at the woke bank years before anyone else, by coming out as a lesbian. Back then, it was claimed that she risked her whole career by doing this, though happily her career only went even higher into the stratosphere. After all the publicity, 42 million people watched the episode of her sitcom in which she came out.

From lesbian Ellen, she became a sort of Saint Ellen. As though being lesbian and chirpy makes you not just like everyone else, but distinctly better — indeed almost magical. A pixie-like fairy-dust spreader. Distributing prizes to the common people with a wave of her fabulous lesbian wand. On every easy issue of the day, Ellen could be reliably found.

So perhaps it was inevitable that while Ellen was urging the rest of to ‘be kind’ (as though the idea might never otherwise have occurred to us) she was presiding over a workplace which former colleagues have now described as ‘toxic’. There have been allegations that the magical one herself was ‘mean’ and ‘rude’ to the staff. Former colleagues also allege that harassment, abuse, sexism and racism were commonplace on the set of the show. Well knock me down with your fairy wand.

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Ben & Jerry's pitiful 'wokescreen'

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Then, this week, a corporate was caught out in similar manner. On Tuesday, the social media geniuses at Ben & Jerry’s UK sent out a long thread addressed to the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

The thread was a reaction to the Home Secretary’s efforts to clamp down on the illegal migration route which has seen a thousand people illegally enter the UK across the English Channel in the last week.

Ben & Jerry’s UK addressed the Home Secretary as though she were a particularly dim underling. “Hey Priti Patel,” they started off, “we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. We pulled together a thread for you…”

If you are wondering why on earth the PR wing of an ice-cream company was “pulling together a thread” for the Home Secretary, then said thread soon made everything clear. The crew had “pulled together” a couple of articles from the Guardian and the Huffington Post to make the case that “strong borders” risk more lives. However, all the fruits of their Google searching were easily debunked. None of what had been “pulled together” constituted original research. But the junk food purveyors continued their thread in bumptious fashion, finishing by saying “Let’s remember we’re all human” as though this also wouldn’t otherwise have occurred either to the Home Secretary or the wider public.  And then “And once more for the back: PEOPLE CANNOT BE ILLEGAL.”

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Ben & Jerry's pitiful 'wokescreen'

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A fair number of observers were unhappy with the tone, as well as nature of the Ben & Jerry’s intervention. And so it was that the Twittersphere unravelled the otherwise inexplicable behaviour of an ice cream company as the wokescreen that it was.

Far from being some homespun company, with products made by a couple of hippies on their farm, Ben & Jerry’s is of course owned by Unilever. In March this year, Unilever was accused of underpaying £550 million in tax. The company’s defence appeared to be that it had been underpaying tax in the UK for years, and so expected to get away with it this year as ever. But tax-dodging is not the only sin of which Unilever could be accused.

One of this woke, ‘anti-racist’ corporation’s big-sellers across Asia is their recently renamed ‘fair and lovely’ skin cream, a skin-lightening product, sold on the premise that whiter skin is more appealing than darker skin.How convenient that the Priti-attack wokescreen is distracting attention from the fact that Unilever won’t quit this multi-billion dollar industry.

The more you dig in to Ben & Jerry’s corporate practices, the more apparent this wokescreen seems. Only three years ago, Ben & Jerry’s — not the parent company, but the ice cream company itself — was taken to court in the US. Specifically, it was taken to court by migrant workers who complained that they were being exploited through underpayment. The migrant workers won their case. I wonder if the PR whizz-kid who rustled up the Priti thread, with Ben & Jerry’s now riding to the defence of illegal migrants, was aware of this case?

If I were a boss at Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever, I might suggest that the company stop mucking around on Twitter, and return to doing what it says it does best, making humanely produced and environmentally friendly puddings. Except that they’re not even very good at that: the ingredients are sourced from factory dairy farms and some of the products contain traces of glysophate, a weed killer. Although, to be fair, when this was exposed, Ben & Jerry’s did promise that they would try to weed out the weed-killer from their  ice-cream. So Ben & Jerry’s little wokescreen didn’t stay up for long. 

They tried to pose as a great protector of the poor and dispossessed. In fact, they showed themselves to be dim and patronising, and in the process reminded us that they are run by a corporation which is dishonest about its taxes, sells racist beauty products, has exploited migrant workers to maximise profits, and produces an icecream which contains an environmental poison. Don’t be fooled by these wokescreens. This week one company’s was well and truly rumbled. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Join the discussion


  • November 27, 2020
    PR works (or would/should work) only if people involved go out of their echo chamber. Please watch the brilliant TV series Twenty Twelve and W1A, and the look for scenes involved the PR company "Perfect Curves". Read more

  • September 25, 2020
    plenty of good, locally produced, ice creams in the UK..... Read more

  • September 3, 2020
    People are waking up to that, albeit slowly. Read more

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