With the rapid progress of commercialism in the modern world, businessmen tend to endow more and more meanings while publishing advertisements. As a result, advertisements not only show the quality of goods explicitly but also express certain popular values implicitly. In one of Popchips’ advertisements, a role played by the actor Ashton Kutcher was accused of racial discrimination by a number of the audiences of this advertisement. The central issue from this advertisement focuses on how the characters of American advertisements derive a sense of belonging which signifies or values in the advertisement. Similarly, with the majority in the current society, I claim the standpoint that American commercials may always try hard to remove any potential ambiguity on racist behavior, although racism would not be eliminated by commercials or any other method in the United States.
In that particular series of Popchips’ advertisements, the actor Ashton Kutcher played several different roles all by himself in a video less than five minutes. However, one of those roles was criticized vigorously by most of the audience whoever viewed this advertisement. Since the company called Popchips was selling potato chips in sweet and sour flavor, this actor originally with white skin dressed up in an Indian costume in the video. The most exaggerated point about this advertisement was Ashton Kutcher’s oral English with a “fake” Indian accent. However, other roles played by him were all white. They represented a variety of occupations in society: a fashionista who “cared nobody else,” a hippie who sought a higher level of consciousness, and a southern biker(see video 1). Therefore, Ashton Kutcher in brown makeup pretending to be a Hollywood producer looking for love was so “outstanding” among these fake characters. After this advertisement was broadcasted, it was suspected of racism and taken down following an online outcry. Undoubtedly, the main group who felt furious about this commercial was the Indian community in the United States because they were offended by being described as a stereotype and put under a “bad light” (see video 1). The “performance” of potential racist behavior was solid—instead of making the audiences believe, this advertisement is, in reality, making the belief of a deviated stereotype. The video was removed from their Facebook page and YouTube channel, although unofficial versions can still be seen.
To analyze how the Indian character of this advertisement derives a sense of belonging which signifies in the advertisement, one must look closely at the specific role, who is an Indian-American, a Hollywood producer looking for love, with an exaggerated Indian accent speaking English. The stereotype behind this character was the source enraging its audiences. Indian American, in this advertisement, was depicted as an awkward “Hollywood producer,” dancing in an overplayed gesture, talking in a “pure Indian” accent, and looking for love (see video 1). The actor under this Indian costume was a white man, and the fact was that he pretended to be an Indian to make all of these effects in the video. However, other characters in this video did not reflect any distorted feature— they all wore decently and talked naturally. The expressions of several characters can be related to the meaning of representation from class materials. The word “representation” conventionally means to present, image, and depict something that exists already, and it has be “re-presented” through the media. However, the new meaning of “representation” is giving meaning, refers to how the meaning is somehow given to the things which are depicted through images or books which stand for what we are talking about. Representation is how meaning is given to the things depicted. In this case, the representation of the pretending Indian delivers some information to its audiences.
Nobody is willing to be criticized by their born feature, especially when they are at a lower level than some other races in this society. Yet, the company of Popcorns intentionally distorted the nature of a white man, converted him into an Indian to enlarge the stereotype, and made this thing as a selling point in this particular advertisement. Indian-Americans quickly bashed the commercial and Ashton Kutcher, who served as the brand’s “president of pop culture” and developed the $1.5 million ad campaign with Popchips' CEO, the advertisement agency Zambezi, and Alison Brod. On his blog, tech entrepreneur Anil Dash called the advertisement “a hackneyed, unfunny advertisement featuring Kutcher in brownface talking about his romantic options, with the entire punchline being that he's doing it in a fake-Indian outfit and voice. That's it, there's seriously no other gag.” He added, "if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad ‘funny’ accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course. Make some different decisions.”
Compared with the advertisement from Popchips, another commercial from a tanning salon called Club Sun was also accused of racist behavior. During one year’s Thanksgiving Day, Club Sun offered a brand new color of lipstick, and it named the color “Indian.” Moreover, the advertisement said, “[h]ave a colorful Thanksgiving! The Indians brought more than just corn to the first Thanksgiving…they brought sexy color!” The most satirical thing was that the chief market inspector of this advertisement turned out to be a native American while everyone was criticizing the company of having a stereotype of races. This advertisement also enraged many people, because of not only the name of this lipstick but also the indicative meaning in the words. From the comparison of similarities between two advertisements, one could easily understand that enlarging the different of a certain race is the source of being potentially racist. As a result, the advertisements which may expose racial discrimination are unable to help sale products efficiently or create a favorable reputation among a myriad of commercials.