asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Two Ads About China

So by now you've probably heard about the controversy around Pete Hoekstra's Super Bowl ad.

You might have been reminded of the famous "Chinese Professor" ad; I know I was.
A number of liberals complained about each of these ads being "racist". Here's what I think: The Chinese Professor ad isn't racist, but the Hoekstra ad is. Here's why.

"Chinese Professor" makes it explicitly clear that the ad's message is about politics, not race. It opens with the heading, "Beijing, China - 2030 A.D.". Notice that the mention of the city - the capital of Communist China, and not (for example) Taiwan - excludes any other possible interpretation. The setting is an educated, technologically advanced society. The students are attractive and bright-looking; the professor commands respect. He speaks what I assume is perfect Mandarin Chinese. Into his mouth the writers have put their critique of contemporary American policy. (The substance of the critique is of course another matter; overlook, if you can, the peculiar notion of a Communist apparatchik condemning "government takeovers of private industries".) The sinister closing line is augured by the image of the flag of the People's Republic of China eclipsing the White House on the professor's presentation screen.

Is this a nationalistic ad? Well, yes, of course it is - that's the point. It is directed at a specific country - Communist China - which is an economic rival and political adversary of the United States. The people are speaking Chinese because that's what they speak in China; they are Chinese because that's who lives in China. (Although the young man at 0:12 looks almost African to me.) The ad's message is anti-China, not anti-Chinese. The students are bright, decent young folks - who belong to a country that will happily kick our butts if we give them half a chance. That's the message of "Chinese Professor".

Pete Hoekstra's sloppy, amateurish video is titled simply, "Now." Everything that "Chinese Professor" does right, "Now" does wrong.

The scene opens in an unspecified location, with a landscape of rice paddies. A young woman rides a bicycle along a dirt road, then stops to address the camera. Already the video manages to be offensive (mostly, offensive to viewers' intelligence) while undercutting its own message: if you are trying to play up a grave threat from a foreign nation, portraying that nation as a land of bicycle-riding peasants probably isn't the way to go.

And then there's the young woman's delivery: disingenuously cheery and a little snide. I think they were actually trying to copy "Chinese Professor" here, where the are students laughing (at our expense) at the end. But the eponymous professor actually turns scary and sinister-looking in the final shot; this gal just tosses her hair and rides her bicycle off-camera.

Finally, there's the language. She's speaking English, with carefully crafted grammatical errors like "your economy get very weak". OK, so she's supposed to be somebody who can't speak proper English; but who? Who is the "us" that she's supposed to represent? Hoekstra's campaign is so intent on identifying this woman as the beneficiary of Hoekstra's profligate opponent ("Debbie Spenditnow") that they never bother to tell us what country she represents.

We can guess easily enough, of course - it's someplace with rice and bicycles, where people have those slanty little eyes and don't speak proper American. But the country is never named - only hinted at through these stereotypical images.

It is the ad's very obliquity that makes it racist.
Tags: china

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.