Transphobia is Tasteless: An Open Letter to Hell Pizza

EDIT: (Mon, Dec 5th, 6:45 NZT) Hell Pizza’s webmaster has just remarked on their Facebook page: “We’ve taken what you and others have said onboard and realised we crossed the line with some of our biggest advocates. We apologise.”  Thank you for taking responsibility, Hell Pizza.

EDIT (Mon, Dec 5th, 6:15 NZT): Hell Pizza Admits “Sense of Humour Failure“. 

Hell Pizza is an international food chain that started here in Wellington, New Zealand in 1996. They’ve since expanded within NZ and brought stores to the UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada and Korea. They’re no strangers to controversy. Entirely depending on your perspective, they’ve made some really shocking dick moves in the past, and pulled off some  darkly satisfying campaigns as well.

But the following “Misfortune Cookie” stunt seems especially mean-spirited, even for them:

Photo by Tamsyn Clemerson

Tamsyn Clemerson uploaded the above picture to Teh Book ov Face earlier this weekend. She has since confirmed to me in email, and to NZ NEWSWIRE, that this is a “Misfortune Cookie” she ordered from the Hell Pizza franchise:

I bought [it] on the 26th of November. I just got around to opening the last one last night, 2 December, and that was the “misfortune” that I received. I resized the photo to post it online, but aside from that have not manipulated it at all. I still have the original packaging and the misfortune, though not the cookie as I ate it because it was delicious. Please spread this as much as possible, Hell Pizza need to know that this sort of thing is not okay.

I’ve since made some calls to Hell Pizza. Two days ago, I spoke at length with a Strathmore shop manager, as well as their Wellington division marketing manager. Both employees denied knowing anything about that particular message. The latter, a very professional and lovely fellow named Jason, assured me he’d look into it, and we should keep in touch. Today, he was able to confirm that yes, this is a product Hell Pizza sells, which was signed off on by their marketing department. Apparently, they’re already getting a lot of complaints about it. And they should. Jason tells me Hell Pizza is working on an official press statement which should be out shortly. I’ll update here when it does.

I’m hardly a humorless hardnose. But for many reasons, the thoughtlessness of a product like this, especially placed in context, really fucks me off. So here’s my open letter to Hell Pizza. If, like me, you’re weary of seeing at-risk minorities be treated as the butts of hateful “jokes” (and then often further insulted by “it’s just meant to be funny; lighten up” backlash reactions) please feel free share this letter, and to join me in boycotting irresponsible franchises who stoop to this level of pandering cruelty.

Dear Hell Pizza (NZ),

If you check your Strathmore location’s online order logs, you’ll see that I’ve spent several hundred dollars on your food over the past couple of years. I love it. I love YOU!  I love how yummy your many dishes are. I love that you take chances. I love that you root for underdogs and outcasts. I love your creativity. I love that you hire inked up, pierced up people with funny-colored hair. I love that you’re so irreverent and cheeky, poking fun at overbearing religious traditions and obnoxious public figures. (Granted, those Hitler and “Brownies” billboards were bullshit, but you took ’em down after enough people said “oh HELLS no”, and all was forgiven.)

Which makes this letter a bummer to write: I can’t buy your food anymore.

Photo by Tamyn Clemerson

Even though you’re my favorite delivery joint in New Zealand, I can’t support a business that would make such a nasty, schoolyard bully-level joke at the expense of transgender people. It’s one thing to poke fun at a spiritual or political idea. Quite another to openly sneer at/put down a very real, living and breathing, incredibly vulnerable demographic in this country. (In the world, really.)

Sure, on the one hand, I know that Hell Pizza’s “Misfortune Cookies” are a frivolity. On the other, no matter what angle I come at this from, there’s just nothing frivolous to me about a wildly popular, financially successful chain offering a product that claims that being transgender is somehow wrong or bad, or that being associated with a transgender person is a misfortune.

“It’s just a joke” doesn’t fly with me. Why? Maybe because I know that my gender variant friends in NZ face constant verbal, even physical abuse, for no reason other than their identity, and that some of them actively fear for their lives after being beaten to a pulp. Remember Diksy Jones? You think that was just a fluke? No. And to me, there’s nothing remotely funny about any of that.

Look, I know you’re not personally responsible for the sad, pathetic fact that there’s a lot of dumbass, booze-fueled, intolerant, horrifying machismo fuckhattery in the world. But transphobia IS a huge problem in New Zealand, and you ARE responsible for making the poor choice to reinforce it.

Boiled down to the basics:

You’re condoning ignorance and hate and turning a blind eye to violence with that stupid fortune cookie. It’s not scrappy, it’s not irreverent. It’s a strain of bigotry that’s as base and banal and mainstream as you could possibly get.

You’re not “edgy” anymore. You’re just hateful. You’re bullies. And I don’t buy from bullies, no matter how good their food is.

I’m gonna miss you, Hell Pizza. I remain hopeful that you will withdraw that fortune cookie, maybe even apologize for it, so that I can come back.

Sadly and sincerely,

Meredith Yayanos

Photo by Tamyn Clemerson

15 Responses to “Transphobia is Tasteless: An Open Letter to Hell Pizza”

  1. bunny Says:

    Such a shame that no one in the “Marketing Department” had an empathy light bulb go off over their head in this brainstorm session. I am heartened by the swift and overwhelming response of so many people to this ass-hattery. Great letter Mer! As always, you make a strong point calmly, clearly, and compellingly. I’m interested to read their response.

  2. Meredith Yayanos Says:

    Previous versions of this letter were posted elsewhere online before I’d heard about the “Brownies” campaign (which I also find despicable) and some other details regarding the company. This most recent Coilhouse version has been updated to reflect newer findings.

  3. Viktor Walters Says:

    Really, I think I’m even more pissed off that it’s just plain not funny. It’s not that I’m “too PC”, because whatever about the offensiveness (they can fuck right the hell off with the hate but let’s lay that aside for a second since le Yayanos said it better than I could) but when you try to excuse that kind of offensiveness and say it was FUNNY? IF it had actually been clever, I would have understood to an extent, cause sometimes humor is the best way to disarm hatred… but that “Misfortune” represented an overall lack of wit or any understanding of comedy.

    Not being in NZ, I can only say that even with the withdrawal that had better be some damn good food they’re serving if they think they can try to be edgy with that dim of a sense of humor. Andy Kaufman must be turning in his grave.

  4. Fiona Says:

    aw man
    I’m in + from NZ
    They’ve usually admitted when they’ve been dumbasses, cause they do a vegan gluten free pizza (omg!)
    I’ve bought the cookies a couple of times and they’re all a bit lame. I’m amazed this one got through, there are so many prominent people in NZ who are extremely conscious of LGBT phobia and awareness, and unafraid to speak out loudly against it. I’m proud to say we had the world’s first transgender member of parliament (also a mayor!).

    But we also have an alarming number of phobic, hostile, defensive dipshits, i think the average education level and IQ here would be pretty low… and there must have been a whoooole bunch of these ignorant dipshits between the one who wrote it, who approved it, published it… ugh

    I spent nearly $1200 with them last year, on business, office “it’s someone’s birthday!” lunches, shouting at parties etc (and that’s just what I kept the receipts for). Lots and lots of pizza. AndI’ve always let the driver keep the change.
    Hell, I am disappoint and take my money elsewhere until you apologize and somone gets a rocket up their ass for this.

  5. Fiona Says:

    from the advertizing co’s website, one of their “beliefs”:
    “…We should always try to produce work we can be proud of, our clients will love, our mothers wouldn’t be ashamed of, and our peers will admire.”

    yeah nah

  6. Hellish pizzeria « Jane Fae's Blog Says:

    […] i said: i’m not going to comment further, beyond noting that this has happened and, from NZ boards i’ve been reading, it seems to have been picked up and, hopefully, dealt with very […]

  7. Marion Hounsome Says:

    I’m totally behind the stuff about how it is completely inacceptable to poke fun at transgender people. But I was disappointed to read that you find it acceptable to poke fun at people’s spiritual beliefs.

  8. Meredith Yayanos Says:

    Marion, forgive me. :( But I did specify “overbearing”, didn’t I? For me, joking around about well-established systems of belief (meaning, specifically, those that tend to throw their elbows into other people’s lives on a political level, trying to force non-believers to adhere to narrow spiritual presets of sin/purity) is quite different from mocking vulnerable flesh-and-blood human beings who get marginalized and stomped on just for existing. Does that make sense?

  9. Me Says:

    I agree with Marion. I am happy to see your explanation, it is just disheartening to think that when someone mentions a certain spiritual belief they become less flesh-and-blood then their peers, all because of their predecessors.

    It’s not the same thing though. Everyone wants their body to represent who they are. It’s normal, there is nothing even odd about it. So there shouldn’t be anything to make fun of.

  10. Viktor Walters Says:

    @Marion + Me, I believe she also specified “traditions”, not actual beliefs- much less the people that practice them. Considering the typical level of well-meaning sensitivity and sympathy here, I think you’re reaching just a bit to claim disappointment over something that was clearly said in good humor and in the sense of fair play. Admittedly, disappointment is all within your own sensibility and all that.

    But still, I mean, if the well-established powers-that-be AREN’T acceptable targets for mild humor and a little irreverence, what would be left? Airplane food?

  11. Sinéad Says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m a queer trans woman, and I love Coilhouse. I’m so glad I can call this a safe space.

    Much love to you Meredith!

  12. The Weekend of HELL, and its aftermath | Overseas Experiments Says:

    […] (myself included) responded on HELL’s Facebook page (and other blogs, like the fantastic Coilhouse) that we didn’t think it was funny, it was in fact tantamount to bullying, which transgender […]

  13. Angela Says:

    I felt like saying more, in response to the FB tools who think they personally have been insulted by NOT being able to insult trans folks:

  14. Fluff Says:

    This nasty little cookie makes me cry, not just for the slogan we can see but the whole thought process behind it that we can’t. I have to guess because I wasn’t there but I’m picturing bullies of the worst kind from the brainstormers at the bottom of the marketing department all the way up to whoever needed to sign this off. My greatest hope has to be that some of those people just didn’t bother to read what was put in front of them.

    Over the last month or so we had a great tv programme here in the UK (My Transgender Summer) which I hope opened people’s eyes and marked a step forward in understanding. Days like today just cancel out all my positive thoughts on where we are with this.

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