Monday, February 06, 2012

Why I hate Hoekstra's ad

I didn't actually see this ad when it aired during the Superbowl on Sunday night. However, when I saw it pop up on the Dish, I watched it, read the commentary that Bodenner collected, and decided to add my own. First, the video a screen capture from the video (now removed from YouTube):
(Source ABC)

Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spend so much American money. You borrow more and more -- from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you Debbie Spenditnow.

And now the two pieces of commentary from the page at the Dish:
The ad is predictably pissing people off:
The spot has already invited a barrage of negative reactions, from a coalition of black ministers in Detroit ("The Asian woman speaking in this video would be no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect") and an Asian-American voting group ("It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra's campaign chose to use harmful negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment") to Republican strategist Mike Murphy ("Pete Hoekstra Superbowl TV ad in MI Senate race really, really dumb. I mean really.")
Of all the representations of a Chinese person to make an enemy of the American worker, Hoekstra had to pick a peasant girl? Not a financial tycoon in Shanghai, or a factory owner in Guangzhou? Damn those peasants for trying to escape abject poverty! Fallows provides a keen analysis along those lines:
The ad's words are about trade, budgets, and jobs, but its images are about -- 'Nam!!  Of course some parts of southern China look the way this ad does, with rice paddies, palm trees, no big buildings, people wearing conical straw hats and bicycling along dike tops. But this is nothing like how the typical big-factory zone looks in China, or the huge cities that would exemplify Chinese wealth and the country's rise -- ie, the subjects of this ad. So why this rural setting? I think it's because it offers a kind of visual dog-whistle, for those Americans who, either through experience or through Apocalypse Now-style imagery, associate smiling-but-deceptive Asians in a rice-paddy setting with previous American sorrow.
The point that makes me mad about this ad overlaps with these two reasons, but is also distinct. I am really offended that they used an obviously Asian American (listen to the accent) speaking in an obviously fake Asian patois of English. Seriously, who wrote that copy? Who did that casting?

What angers me most about the ad is that I'm supposed to swallow this racialized bullshit that goes beyond the message and the messenger (but extends to the expectation that Americans are EXPECTED to have a knee-jerk reaction to "Asians" who act in a stilted manner that is more akin to the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto movies of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s than what an actual Asian from what is apparently northern Vietnam or southern China actually sounds like).

It's only steps away from the nonsensical, highly offensive, all-East-Asians-sound-speak-like "Ching-chong ching-chong" or the "you-likey-very-muchy". Seriously? Hadn't we gotten over that already? Who does this really appeal to? Obviously not to any Asian Americans. Obviously not to any American who has traveled to Asia (or even to a China town). Obviously not to anyone who can see through the not-at-all-veiled historical White American racial stereotypes of a few generations ago -- like when Hoekstra was growing up...

Even if I were to agree with the message of the ad - the Sen. Debbie Stabenow spends tons of money in South East Asia or China - the manner in which Hoekstra's ad fails on so many levels to actually make even a half-way decent portrayal of East/Southeast Asians in favor of thinly hidden stereotypes of Asians taken from Americanized depictions drawn from his childhood makes me want to barf. And this is one of his ads: it's posted on his YouTube page and ends with, "I'm Pete Hoekstra, and I approve this message" only says to me, "I'm Pete Hoekstra, and I approve of shallow, horribly out-moded racial stereotypes."


UPDATE (2012-02-06): In the IHT Rendezvous blog, Mark MacDonald has an additional few comments about the video.
Mr. Hoekstra told The Detroit Free Press, “There’s nothing racist in this ad,” and he noted that there was no specific mention of China.

“The Chinese benefit from the recklessness of U.S. spending,” he said. “It doesn’t criticize the Chinese at all.”
Did he just make a comment that was critical of the Chinese and then say that it doesn't criticize the Chinese? Yes. Yes he did. Also, it looks like he's suffering from the typical "But I'm not a bigot" mentality: since he isn't affiliated with a racist organization (or an organization that he considers to be racist), he cannot - by definition - be a racist. (Am I the only one who sees a logical fallacy there?) However, let's continue with MacDonald's post:
Cweezy, a commenter on the 8Asians blog, said the “message of the ad isn’t ‘anti-Asian,’ but it does weirdly reinforce stereotypes/ignorance/xenophobia to make a point about the national debt. I got very uncomfortable watching it.’’
I'm with Cweezy: it isn't (obviously) "anti-Asian" ... in the sense that it doesn't say things like, "Asians suck," or the like. However, it is weird. It does reinforce stereotypes. It is uncomfortable to watch. (Partly because of the cringe factor, partly because you know that there are people who agree with it... and that in some places they may be a majority of the local population.)

However, MacDonald also doesn't catch on to the fact that the actress is obviously Asian American, and that if you met her on the street, she would probably sound like any other second (or more) generation Asian American. (You know: having a local accent that would match with most everyone around her.) However, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell did apparently figure that obvious point out, and called out the actress for doing such a stupid gig, saying:
"I've done things in show business...that I'm not proud of. But I've never done anything that I'm ashamed of."

UPDATE (2012-02-17): The actress, Lisa Chan, offered what appears to be a sincere apology, posting the following message publicly on her Facebook wall:

"I am deeply sorry for any pain that the character I portrayed brought to my communities. As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation and I am determined to resolve my actions."
In the political outfall of this, Hoekstra looks to have dropped severely in the polls, now trailing Stabenow by 30+%. In other news, the Hoekstra campaign took down the video (although some mirrored versions still seem to exist online) and they also took down the website that it showed. I can only hope that this proves a point, but with 16% of Republicans saying that they saw the ad and it made them more likely to vote for Hoekstra, I think that it's a faint hope for a sizable minority.

1 comment:

uzza said...

I wondered that too about the actress. She must have been pretty hungry.

I'd say you're overanalyzing; this thing is aimed at people far less intelligent than you seem to be. For them, Asia = rice paddies, Vietnam, hot chicks, talk funny, bad.