That Oompa Loompa message on Revue

Screenshot of Revue status message and a confectionery factory conveyor belt on a colorful background

As I'm moving my newsletter subscribers from Revue to a self-hosted platform I requested an export of my subscribers. The message on screen from Revue I got was this:

We'll set our Oompa Loompas to work on exporting your subscribers and they'll send you an email once they're finished.
We'll set our Oompa Loompas to work on exporting your subscribers and they'll send you an email once they're finished.
Screenshot of the status message on Revue.

I do understand how this can get churned out in a brainstorming session as humorous, harmless copy. After all, the Oompa Loompas in the films are such jovial, odd and funny little beings. But before making it all the way to production I would have hoped for some more due diligence.

As soon as you personify robotic agents by jokingly having them do your labor for you there is a whole world of history to unpack when it comes to labor exploitation.

The reason this message made me wince is because in the original Roald Dahl book, the Oompa Loompas were black slave laborers smuggled into England from Africa. Here is an illustration of the Oompa Loompas from the 1964 edition:

Joseph Schindelman’s images of the Oomp-Loompas in the book showed them as animal-skin clad jovial Sambos who just loved their labor.
Oompa-Loompa illustration by Joseph Schindelman, copyright © 1964 and renewed 1992 by Joseph Schindelman

If you weren't aware of this, I'm going to assume that the status message feels less appropriate now.

Cultural references need cultural understanding, and this serves as a good reminder of why it's important to go beyond the quick laughs before you push to publish.

Update June 2

Revue have let me know that this status message has now been changed. It now instead reads:

"We'll start working on exporting your subscribers. We will send you an email once it's finished."

Happy to see companies listening and responding in a quick and efficient manner on these types of issues.

Email from Revue: "Hi Per,  I wanted to let you know we changed this copy. Thank you for educating us on the history of the Oompa Loompas, we were not aware 🙏"
Screenshot from Revue's email to Per

More background on obfuscating the history of the Oompa Loompas through new editions and films:

Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers
<p>They were slaves made to look like Sambo stereotypes.</p>
Politically Correct Oompa–Loompa Evolution
Roald Dahl suffered many attacks on his books by conservative literary critics, but one of the worst and most damaging skirmishes arose over the “Oompa-Loompas” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “In the version first published, [the Oompa-Loompas were] a tribe of 3,000 amiable black pygmi
The Oompa Loompas Were African Slaves In The 1964 Book
The Oompa Loompas from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which starred Gene Wilder, bring back fond memories for many of us But author Roald Dahl’s original concept for them -- as African tribespeople imported to work in a London factory-- wasn’t ready for the big screen, or any s…

Reactions

Comments

Irith on July 25, 2022:

Thanks for raising this. And educating us all. I have to say, when I read the 'Oompa Loompa' message what came to my mind was the Hollywood movie, where little people play the orange-skinned characters. I actually thought this in itself was pretty disturbing. Insinuating a team of little people is somehow intrinsically funny was shocking to me.

Per on July 25, 2022: Thank you for sharing Irith. Yes, I’ve always marveled at the many ways throughout history that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has managed to replace one colonial injury with another affront again and again, checking all the boxes for abuse against the disempowered and historically mistreated.

Get Per's newsletter

The Edge of Digital Ethics is a monthly newsletter that highlights examples of harmful tech and teaches online creators how to build for universal wellbeing.

Enter email