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May 11 2012

Movie Friday: RCA, Sony, and big black cocks

Name three stereo types…

Animated gif of a young man shaking his head 'no'

No? Not even a little? All right then, let’s move on.

One of the things that stuck out for me when I was studying cognitive psychology is the extent to which our brains are happiest when they have the least amount of work to do. We have a wide variety of mechanisms evolved specifically to let our brains ‘coast’ and do as little work as possible. Stereotypes, whether about people or groups or behaviours (or anything, really) are one very popular and powerful way of classifying information without having to put a lot of thought into it. Of course, the downside of stereotypes is that they often lead us to make erroneous conclusions based on bad information.

Those stereotypes propagate, and we come to see the entire world through the lens of our own lazy ignorance. For example:

The brilliance of this video is that it repeatedly hammers you with the contrast of the reality with the stereotype. In so doing, it forces your brain into a state of cognitive dissonance – it must reconcile these images that do not go together. Those happy, smiling, fun-loving guys do not conform to the pictures we’re shown in the movie clips. It drives that wedge in there and forces us to confront our programming.

Of course, some people don’t care to challenge lazy stereotypes. Some people are lazy themselves, and would rather kowtow to our baser instincts for a cheap laugh. The problem is, sometimes they just aren’t funny:

First of all, Ashton Kutcher is seriously… seriously… not funny. I’m not hilarious, but I know funny. That’s not it. It’s not even just a question of taste – there wasn’t anything funny about that commercial, except maybe the premise of having a ‘normal’ guy mixed in with a bunch of ‘abnormal’ guys. Second, the Raj character was completely unnecessary. Why did he have to be Indian? Aside from the fact that Kelso can’t do an Indian accent for shit, it didn’t make any sense. The rest of the characters were white and silly (except Swordfish, who seemed kind of deep), why throw in obligatory brownface?

Anyway, Mr. Punk’d is an idiot. This guy knows what’s up:

Once again, smart is better than stupid.

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13 comments

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  1. 1
    longstreet63

    I stand corrected.
    My previous view being that all African males were pretty much involved in avoiding mercenaries and getting along like normal folks, I now realize that they are mostly soccer playing medical students.
    Education is never a waste.

  2. 2
    David

    “Why did he have to be Indian?”
    He didn’t have to be Indian, but I think he did need to be identifiably not-white. It is worldwidelovers.com after all, they want their viewers to recognize they really mean world wide: not just America, not America and Europe, not America and Europe and maybe Australia, but everyone from anywhere. It had to be a non-white character to emphasize their product. It had to be Ashton because that was part of the joke they were making: all these characters, the same actor. It doesn’t seem to me that simply using a white actor in brown face is necessarily racist in this case: remove the Indian character and the message in the advertisement is reduced; use a different actor for the one character (or even all characters) and the joke they’re using no longer exists. I didn’t consider Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal in Tropical Thunder as necessarily racist either because that was the joke they were going for. Of course, I’m an idiot that is frequently wrong when it comes to these things, so I’m likely missing something very important and I apologize for that, but I won’t learn anything if I don’t put my thoughts on the line to be corrected.

    That being said, while I can logic my way to an understanding of why the worldwidelovers.com commercial had to do what it did to make sense, I can’t do the same for the PopChips commercial. I can see nothing in the commercial that was enhanced by using a stereotypical Indian (perhaps for a tandoori or other classically considered Indian flavour, but not BBQ), nor can I see any reason that it couldn’t have been a different actor.

    If I were to guess, I would say that the advertising company hired Ashton to do two shots in the same day (or over a couple of days). First was for worldwidelovers.com, second was for PopChips. “We’re doing all this work for the worldwidelovers commercial, is there any way that can be used in the PopChips commercial?”: half the work, all the money, and that’s how a PopChips commercial gets a quick rewrite to use footage from a dating site commercial.

  3. 3
    m5

    That commercial is just obscenely unfunny holy shit.

  4. 4
    abeille

    I laughed at the “We are fantastic role models” combined with the clip they showed. I like tongue-in-cheek.

    That was a good video- I’ll definitely be passing that along.

    I guess the thing I don’t understand about the Indian Kutcher is exactly what he is suppose to be representing beyond an ethnicity. The other characters represent an ideology of some sort… and then the Bollywood producer? Thats not a viewpoint, its a profession.

  5. 5
    jamessweet

    Heh, so I have to say, that video didn’t really do anything to dispel my stereotype of your typical African 18-35 y.o…. then again, my stereotype of that demographic is “waaaaaaay into soccer…”

  6. 6
    Don Cates

    Your unwarranted stereotype is showing. (B-)
    They’re playing rugby.

  7. 7
    david73

    As a teen growing up in SW England in the 50s, my only exposure to black folk was in the movies. In particular I remember Paul Robeson, my impression: they were smart and had beautiful singing voices. On white people playing a part I thought Peter Sellers did a credible Indian doctor in “The Millionairess” and Olivier was amazing as Othello. James Earl Jones was a great King Lear (but he did not have to change color for that part)

  8. 8
    hall-of-rage

    …You are somewhere here…
    .
    . with your destructive sarcasm
    .
    . being defensive
    .
    . denying media misrepresentation and its effects
    .
    .
    .
    .
    ……………………………………………the point is here
    .
    . deconstructing the stereotype of angry black men
    .
    . making fun of Hollywood
    .
    . a group of friends being approachable and witty
    .
    .
    .
    .

    I guess the video inspired me to be artistic. Better than a thousand-word rant I hope.

  9. 9
    outeast

    I don’t have the facts to back this up(tm) but my impression has long been that encountering individuals that do not fit stereotypes does nothing whatsoever to dispel faith in said stereotypes – especially if those individuals are apparently (meaning ‘presumed to be’, whether truthfully or otherwise) exceptional in some way.

    It’s not by chance that ‘I have xxxxxx friends…’ is the classic bigot’s defence.

  10. 10
    Lotharloo

    The Ashton Kutcher commercial was so not funny and I cannot believe how they could make an unfunny ad about a dating website.

  11. 11
    Marvin

    Also looks a lot more like they play rugby to me.

  12. 12
    Salmo

    Is it, though?

  13. 13
    josh

    http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
    I thought that this was relevant.

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