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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The New Zealand/Colorado War

Craft beer and racial tensions.

Wow, that did not sound right.  That’s probably because those two concepts were not meant to be uttered in the same breath.  They were not meant to be uttered in the same galaxy.  They occupy different ends of the Serious-O-Meter.  One is a social lubricant that allows people to kick back, laugh, and banter with friends and the other causes people to fight, enslave, and kill their fellow humans.  Yet, through some cruel twist of fate, these two worlds collided when the indigenous people of New Zealand heard about Funkwerks and their beer known as Māori King.
The crux of controversy is as follows:  Māori King’s name and logo—that of a moko face—was deemed insensitive by the native New Zealand population.  You can find more details in this article for I seek not to report the facts but rather to play devil’s advocate for each side and try to gain a deeper understanding of this very complicated situation. 

The Plaintiff
I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that you should never, ever, ever assume you understand the viewpoints, beliefs, and taboos of a culture you do not belong to.  I don’t know the folks at Funkwerks but I can say with some certainty that they are not members of the Māori community thus they should not have appropriated Māori imagery for the sake of marketing (even if they were of the same culture it would still be wrong because then they’d be exploiting their own people).  Using a moko face as a logo is as offensive to the Māori people as a Muhammad logo would be to Muslims, as a MLK Jr. logo would be to African-Americans, or as a Dale Earnhardt logo would be to the NASCAR nation.  Some things are just too sacred to be used in advertising.
The Defendant

As uninformed as Funkwerks is concerning Māori culture, the folks in New Zealand probably know even less about the culture of Colorado craft beer.  They do, however, probably think they have a good bead on American culture i.e. fat, Big Mac-eatin’, wife-beatin’, Bible-thumpin’, pollution-dumpin’, money-hungry, uncultured, bigoted jackwads.  If you’ve ever travelled internationally then you know this is true; this is what the world thinks of us.  We need a new PR guy stat. 

The truth is that there are so many diverse and intermingling cultures in this country that you couldn’t count them; we’re as different from state to state as the world is from country to country.  Some Americans are disgraces but most are decent and if you wanted to grab a handful of the least evil and most open-minded people in the nation then you’d need to include the Colorado craft beer community because their liberal mindset is rivaled by few.  Racism just does not flow in their veins.  Naming a beer “Māori King” was not meant to get you all in a tizzy, New Zealand; it was a way to draw attention to the fact that your beautiful country supplied some of the main ingredients in this delicious concoction.

Speaking of tiny, Funkwerks is, indeed, a small operation.  I know because I’ve been there.  I think that some people have it in their heads that Funkwerks is a giant, faceless corporation hell-bent on whitewashing the world.  This aint exactly Budweiser, people.  This is a small, respectable endeavor that seeks to bring great-tasting beer to the masses.  Their intentions are good and their stress level from living in the shadows of big brewery giants is high.  Cut them a break because they’re not the true enemy; they’re just trying to make their way through the world.  I’ve read the downright nasty comments that some people have left on the Funkwerks Facebook page and it left a bitter taste in my mouth because the righteous rage embodied in these people would have been better spent elsewhere.

There is also a question of proximity.  How much damage could a small brewery—which does not distribute outside of Colorado—located on the other side of the world do especially when you consider that the Warriors rugby team is located within New Zealand’s borders?  This team features a logo that is not unlike the one found on Māori King and it would seem like a likely target since we have a similar controversy in America concerning teams like the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, and Kansas City Chiefs.  Alas, it hasn’t been raked over the coals quite the same way as Funkwerks. 

The world of craft beer is anything but serious.  Brewers like to play with words and poke gentle fun at the expense of others.  This is never done in a mean-spirited way; it is all done in good humor.  See, for example, Polygamy Porter and He’Brew.  While there are factions that get their panties in a twist, the population as a whole simply giggles at the clever wordplay and enjoys the beer.  However, when it comes to this issue, the name “Māori King” wasn’t even used in jest; it was used in an honorific way.  Besides that point, we’re talking about New Zealand: a country where cursing on network TV is allowed and people throw around the C-word like they’re saying “hello.”  How the hell could Funkwerks have known this would have been considered offensive?

While I did write a lot more in defense of Funkwerks than I did for the Māori community that should not be interpreted as “Chris is 100% behind Funkwerks and thinks that the Māori community is a bunch of whiners.”  This is patently false.  I believe that the case for the plaintiff is powerful enough to be summed up succinctly unlike the defendant’s case which is so unfocused that defending it results in so many tangents.  The truth is that if I were on the jury I’d be totally baffled as to which way I’d vote.  Yes, I’m copping out but not because I’m a coward but because I truly do not know the answer.

If you’d like to try Māori King, look for the bottles labeled “Southern Tropic”: same beer, different name.  If you are lucky enough to come in possession of a bottle labeled “Māori King” then I suggest you put it in a safe place; it may be a collector’s item some day.  I’m sitting on a bomber of Dry Dock Brewing Co.’s Seven Seas for the very same reason.

Kia ora,


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