GM’s “Racist” Ad Just the Latest in Long Line of Asian Mockery

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For its ad stereotyping Asians, GM has offered the standard ‘we’re sorry you’re so easily offended’ apology, with a brand spokesperson saying, “Our intent was not to offend anyone and we’re deeply sorry if anyone was offended.”

In fact, it really is not a surprise that GM wouldn’t immediately recognize the ad as offensive. While brands now go out their way to avoid racism targeting many groups, Asians are still typically not on the vigilance radar. Heck, even Iron Man 3, a film that has been criticized for pandering to Chinese interests, couldn’t resist throwing a little barb in about how poor the Chinese are at English. (see above; “Man Iron”).

GM added that it would make sure “this never happened again.” Maybe not at GM, but this will happen again. It was just in 2002 that popular youth clothing line Abercrombie & Fitch was slammed for a line of Asian-themed shirts including one reading, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White.” The brand’s response? “It’s never been our intention to offend anyone.” Sound familiar?[more]

GM’s ad, which ran only in Canada and online in Europe, follows a swinging dude as he dances to a hip new tune with the lyrics “Now, in the land of Fu Manchu / The girls all now do the Suzie-Q / Clap their hands in the center of the floor / Saying ching-ching chop suey swing some more.” The song’s offensive lyrics have been credited to Austrian “electroswing” musician Parov Stelar’s song “Booty Swing.” But, not surprisingly when it comes to deeply entrenched Asian stereotypes, the lyrics are actually sampled from the 1938 song “Oriental Swing” by Louis Armstrong’s wife Lil Hardon Armstrong.

In China, the ad has yet to cause much of a stir. On Weibo, a few who had seen the original South China Morning Post report voiced their disapproval. But the scandal is a comparative dud for a population that saves its outrage for French hoteliers talking about banning Chinese guests, American fashion designers who charge Chinese customers fees just to try on dresses, and Japanese brands that are Japanese. Wild claims or even mild insinuations that controversy over the ad could somehow hurt or in any way impact Chevrolet sales in China, where it, like every other auto brand has staked its future, are baseless and overreaching.

As for this never happening again? Don’t count on it.

A decade after Abercrombie’s “Two Wongs” fiasco, the brand’s Hollister arm could be found releasing a statement saying, in part, “we sincerely apologize for the offense caused by these unauthorized, ill-considered actions.” That came after some of its models were found tweeting pictures of themselves doing “slanty eyes.”

Just two years ago, Red Bull ran an ad with a Asian character comedian Jerry Lewis would be proud of. The Angry Asian Man blog called it “a buck-toothed, slanted-eyed caricature.” And it was. But also was it hardly unique. Red Bull’s “slanted-eyed caricature” came a year before a Michigan Republican candidate for Senate ran a Super Bowl ad featuring an Asian woman in a rice paddy speaking broken “Chinglish.” 

Back in 2007, a Nike ad featuring LeBron James facing off in a game of one-on-one with an Asian god was banned in China after viewers found it disrespectful to Chinese dieties. 

The rebooted Red Dawn film featured a premier party with a host wearing Kim Jung-il-mocking “slanty eyes” glasses. Nobody appeared upset about this in the slightest. In fact, in an incredible act of they-all-look-the-same revision, the film’s producers—to show respect for the Chinese, mind you—digitally changed the invading Chinese Asians into invading North Korean Asians because, to Western audiences, just how different could they be?

By no means are racial stereotypes in advertising solely directed at Asians. Mountain Dew may be rethinking its much ballyhooed branded entertainment platform “Green Label” after it recently produced an ad featuring African Americans that one writer called “Arguably the most racist commercial in history.” The creative’s response? “It was never Tylers intention to offend…”

While the ad has been pulled from Chevrolet’s sites, it can be seen in a Parov Stelar commercial compilation on Youtube (above). It’s at the end, following a spot for the Cosmopolitan Hotel Las Vegas’ “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” campaign which also used the song and its lyrics a year ago, at which time nobody appeared to have had the least bit of a problem with the hotel. We recommend you watch the compilation in style, say, by ordering one of the numerous “Fu Manchu” mustaches for sale on Amazon.

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