KFC and the image factory

Corporate guilt is a lucky bitch. KFC has ended up with a halo instead of egg on its face. An apology, a little money, and glory follows.

When Victoria Wilcher went to the outlet in Mississipi, her grandma Kelly Mullins did not know they'd turn her out. As she said:

"They just told us, they said, 'We have to ask you to leave because her face is disrupting our customers.'"

This made a deep impact on the three-year-old whose face has been scarred in a pit bull attack. "She won't even look in the mirror anymore."

KFC's apology states:

"As soon as we were notified of this report on Friday, we immediately began an investigation, as this kind of hurtful and disrespectful action would not be tolerated by KFC. Regardless of the outcome of our investigation, we have apologized to Victoria's family and are committed to assisting them. The company is making a $30,000 donation to assist with her medical bills. The entire KFC family is behind Victoria."

With this, KFC becomes part of the 'Victoria's Victories' campaign. They have apologised and offered a donation despite investigations being under way. Implicit in this is a magnanimity that affords the organisation an exit from responsibility for the act of an errant employee.

This is how large corporations that rather obviously promote the smiling avuncular mascot and the happy meal not only lure customers (and none of us can deny stepping into their standard franchises), but also cover up for what is really an expectation that their clientele will be as uniform in image as their seating and ketchup sachets. We are soothed by the fast-food familiarity and in the rush probably have no time to "stand and stare". Except when what we face is a face not like ours.

The dogs broke her nose, both jaws, cheekbones and right eye socket; the right side of her face is paralyzed and she lost that eye. Her bottom jaw was reconstructed but she needs a feeding tube and must grow more bone in her face before more surgery is possible.

The moot point is this. Victoria's Facebook page posted her picture with a cartoon eyepatch:

"Does this look scary to you? Last week at KFC in Jackson MS this precious face was asked to leave because her face scared the other diners."

Is this a question of an image affecting others? Diners do get "disrupted" by stunning looks, titillating clothes, and what might seem to be unusual behaviour. I fully sympathise with the little girl, but the message plays into the importance of a "precious face". What happens to those who may have naturally disfigured faces or caused by accidents, and cannot be camouflaged?

It is intriguing that we will watch web images of people being maimed and disfigured in the most violent manner, yet cannot accept them in a social setting where the image is an immediate reality.


Update: June 25, 2 pm IST

Is it a hoax?

That is what they are asking about Victoria Wilcher being turned away from the KFC outlet.

Following the story, people donated money, doctors offers their services free of cost, and KFC pledged $30,000. A few days ago, a website stated that nothing of the kind happened, although KFC's investigations were not complete.

Now, apparently, they are and neither the camera footage nor the inquisitions of the staff reveal such an incident taking place, or even of the kid and her grandma visiting the franchise. Her aunt maintains they did.

This is truly unfortunate, not because of who we must believe but why anybody would have to resort to such a lie at all. Clearly, the family is needy. It is not the girl's fault.

KFC's statement closing the investigations ends with:

"We are honoring our commitment to make a $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria’s medical bills. We hope everyone keeps Victoria in their thoughts and prayers. She will certainly be in ours.”

Either way, its patrons will not ditch them. Nobody had spoken of boycotting KFC, but now it will also be respected for contributing to Victoria's healing despite being accused.

Why are the donors feeling cheated? Victoria's condition is the same, whether the incident took place or not. It would seem that donors need a 'hook' before they shell out money. Good has to be pitted against evil. Perhaps it is a purging of guilt, for whether we like to admit it or not the image matters as we turn away from what is uncomfortable for us.

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© Farzana Versey