So, for reasons that I honestly cannot fathom, Ted Nugent has been in the news lately. A man who has not had a certified album since 1980 (i.e., 4 years before I was born) is suddenly being solicited for his political “opinions” – a more accurate term would be lunatic ravings. It’s kind of like asking MC Hammer for his opinion on the state of contemporary French cuisine – why on Earth would anyone care what a ridiculously out-of-fashion rock “star” thinks about the political process? Is partial name recognition and possible clinical psychosis all that is required to become a political player? If that’s the case, much of the mystery surrounding the morass of American politics has been rendered much clearer.
I feel more or less the same about Ashton Kutcher. I didn’t understand why anyone cared that Kelso from The 70s Show was on Twitter, I couldn’t fathom why the douche who “Punk’d” half of Hollywood was appointed to the lofty position of “less funny Charlie Sheen”*, and I was baffled by the fact that anyone would want him to be the face of their snack food. But whatever, that’s modern celebrity for you, right? At least he can’t fuck up a chip, right?
An online advert for crisps featuring Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher has been removed after viewer complaints that it was racist, reports say. The Popchips advert showed the 34-year-old actor in brown make-up portraying a Bollywood film producer. It was removed from YouTube and Facebook after it was criticised.
The crisp manufacturer said the advert was “created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone”. A spokeswoman for Popchips was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency that the company hopes that “people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended”. The pictures and images featured Kutcher playing a Bollywood producer named Raj who is “looking for love”.
Yeah. Racist chip advertisement. That happened.
I get it though, because a) who knew that brownface was a thing, right? and b) Indian people are just fucking hilarious! With their… accents, and their… spicy food… and… um… different culture… stuff. Totes hilarious. Let’s see the ad!
Oh. My sides. They hurt from all the laughter.
So besides my anger and frustration at the extremely stupid (and howlingly unfunny) ads themselves, I had an immediate question: why didn’t Popchips just get an Indian actor to play this role? Why not get Aziz Ansari or Kal Pen or Mindy Kaling to be “Raj”? Hell, get Russel Peters – nobody does the ‘Indian stereotype guy’ like Russel. The joke still would have worked, you could have involved another celebrity in your ad campaign, and best of all it wouldn’t have been totally fucking racist.
The response from the company was so typically clueless, you probably could have written it without knowing anything about the product, the ad, or the controversy. ‘We didn’t mean for anyone to get offended, and hopefully everyone can just ignore all the exploitative/erasing aspects and laugh about how silly Indian people are like we intended!’ I can feel my heart warming to their marketing team already. It’s not rocket science, folks – if you get caught doing something racist, and you didn’t mean it, you say “I messed up. I see why people are upset, and while I didn’t mean it in the way it’s being taken, I definitely should have known better. I have learned why this kind of thing isn’t appropriate, and I will be reaching out to the community I have harmed to see if there’s any restitution I can make.” Simple, clean, elegant, and at least believable.
Anil Dash puts it best, I think:
I think this company doesn’t want its culture to be racist, and they can best demonstrate that by showing how they learn from examples where it happens despite their best efforts. It’s like if rat droppings were found in a bag of Popchips: You wouldn’t solve it by saying “We threw away that bag of chips!” You’d solve it by saying “Here’s what we’re doing to clean up things at the factory.”
The problem is, of course, a Catch 22. A response like that requires you to have the type of racial sensitivity that necessarily precludes you from making an ad like this in the first place. It is the very cluelessness that Ashton Kutcher and the Popchips marketing team demonstrate in their ad that virtually ensures that they’re going to fuck up the apology as well.
In case you yourself, or someone you know, is tempted to try and use ‘____face’ in an ‘ironic’ and ‘funny’ way, consider consulting this chart:
If you have to race-bend in order to make a joke work, you just might want to find a different way to make the joke. Then again, if you’re Ashton Kutcher, you’ve been desperately seeking a way to be funny since somewhere around 2003, and clearly creativity isn’t your strong suit.
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*Let’s be clear here – Charlie Sheen is about as funny as an ovarian cyst.