Cutesy Racism and Why I'm Not Eating Popchips Anymore.

If you are going to be racist, you better be saying the funniest thing anyone has ever heard.
Publish date:
May 3, 2012
racism, advertising, ads, ashton kutcher, pop chips


Well, that was fast. Less than a few hours after PopChips released its new ad campaign, World Wide Lovers, onto the Internet, several of the ads have mysteriously disappeared off their YouTube page. The videos were all of master thespian Ashton Kutcher playing different characters who are each recording those dating profile videos that don't really exist anymore because of the Internet, and one of them featured an "Indian" man named Raj. Raj is Ashton in BROWNFACE, doing a terrible Indian accent, and saying sexually naive things. To say the ad is both racist and excruciatingly unfunny is probably not news to you. Somehow, South Asians have been passed over by the cultural awareness (read: comprehension that it's shitty to oversimplify an entire people) that most other ethnicities enjoy -- you know, the expectation that someone won't parody your entire ethnic group by painting their faces like you and doing a shitty impression of your accent. If Ashton were in blackface, or pretending to be some Asian ninja character, this would have never made it out of the drawing room, but don't worry, the lovable pervert Indian guy is harmless! Some people say that the evolution of acceptance of having "minority" characters on screen goes like this: no representation --> racist depiction --> no real defining characteristics except for the one that makes you a minority --> many years in this holding pattern, in which there are caricatures of that minority done by the majority that are "all in good fun" --> characters that just happen to be that minority, but thank god, actual humans as well. If that's the case, South Asians have come a long way, but holy shit, at what cost? So that some shitty actor can make a shitty meal out of their culture and pass it off as humor? The harmless South Asian pervert trope that pop culture has been using for lo these many years was once novel, but these days is getting as old and stale as PopChips. (See "Big Bang Theory," "40 Year Old Virgin," "Outsourced," etc) Please, let's let Ashton's impression be the shark-jumping this trope needs.

Sad-face is right.

My husband, who is a Pakistani comedian, is constantly going out for roles in which they want him to garble his words (he's been speaking English since he was six), put on a thick accent, or just talk about boobs and computers the whole time.

"Just be more ethnic!" they tell him, as if he is ashamed of his heritage and needs encouragement to be more "himself." He's is himself -- he's just ashamed at how you've written the part, dudes. So as a girl who appreciates both cultural sensitivity, and maybe even more importantly, comedy, let me tell you this: If you are going to be racist, you better be saying the funniest thing anyone has ever heard. And if you're not sure if it's the funniest thing you've ever heard, but it features Ashton Kutcher, that's a pretty good clue that it is not. Good comedy has the ability to erase years of hurt, evoke understanding, normalize what was once bizarre and bring us all together. Bad comedy only invokes sputtering rage, and a desire to never eat PopChips again.