OMG, We Killed Kenny!

Guest Blogger: Bianca Howard, City of Raleigh Solid Waste Services Department

Kenny is the first name of the college student who acted in a RE3.org TV commercial back in 2004. Few people outside recycling-coordinator circles know his name, but his likeness has been widely viewed in the “Find a Bin” image. That image adorned several trucks in the City of Raleigh sanitation fleet until July 19 of this year when the posters were removed.

Why? Earlier this summer, a resident of a nearby town—not the City of Raleigh—emailed our Public Affairs Department to express concern that the “Find a Bin” image reflected gang culture. The letter writer was disturbed and wanted to know why Raleigh would promote gun violence.

I was floored. To me, “Find a Bin” is a hip-hop spin on recycling. The chain and sequined belt of Kenny’s costume remind me of rappers, not gangbangers. In my professional response to the concerned citizen, I explained how the edgy pictures and words of the RE3.org campaign are used to encourage recycling among the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. My emailed arguments weren’t enough. Some city authorities worried that keeping Kenny’s “Find a Bin” image on our trucks could cause “painful stereotyping” for many of our customers.

After five years of riding with our crew, Kenny’s “Find a Bin” image was snuffed out by one objection. It’s too late to save Kenny for our fleet, but it’s a good time to start talking about how to handle criticism of an educational campaign. Should a single complaint cause the elimination of an image? Can one non-resident speak for the more than 110,000 households where we provide recycling service? As an environmental educator, am I responsible for how people interpret my message even if they are not part of my targeted audience?

Maybe I’m not a good judge of taste. I adore the satirical humor of “The Boondocks” and I still wish I could get my hands on one of the “Voting Is for Old People” shirts that got Urban Outfitters in so much trouble back in 2004. I know that I don’t have all the answers. But there is one thing I do know—we censored Kenny!

1 comment:

J. Corbett Warren said...

Ms. Howard's commentary is spot on! In the days where free speech and the power of a public forum are quickly dwindling, it is disheartening the message was censored. We must be careful-what goes around almost always comes right back around.