Van Company’s Slogans Insult “Blacks,” “Gays,” “Sluts” and “Japs”

Australia's Wicked Campers has come under fire for spray-painting offensive phrases on its backpacker vans

Forget meat pies and Vegemite, there is nothing more Australian than a backpacker. Hordes of them descend upon the country’s sunny shores, clotting inner-city streets to smoke pot and cook dinner from the backs of campervans. Equally ubiquitous is their ride of choice, Wicked Campers, known nationwide for the eye-catching slogans the company spray-paints on the vans, such as “Fat girls are harder to kidnap” and “Save the whales, harpoon a Jap.”

But while Australians have long railed against the company—the Advertising Standards Board has made seven rulings against Wicked Campers this year alone—a Sydney schoolteacher has turned the controversy into an international issue by launching a successful Change campaign asking the company to “eliminate misogynistic and degrading slogans and imagery.”

Paula Orbea says she created the petition after her 11-year-old daughter complained about a van with the phrase “In every princess, there’s a little slut who wants to try it just once” emblazoned on its back. “My daughter was upset by this because she felt, as a girl, that the slogan was referring to her and it made her fear being perceived that way,” wrote Orbea, “especially by someone she may cross paths with who may agree with that perspective.”

The petition has 83,334 signatures to date, and the Queensland government, where the company is headquartered, will soon rule if Wicked Campers needs to adhere to strict outdoor advertising guidelines. But despite mounting pressure, company spokesperson Leanne Webb—who recently identified as a man named Liam—didn’t seem to take it too seriously and took a reporter’s questions wearing a purple wig. “We don’t try to be controversial. It’s not our goal. We just do what we love and just have fun,” said Webb. “We poke fun at everything more broadly—it’s never specifically targeted at anyone in particular at all.”


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