Political Advertising Gone Bad

By Wally McElwain, a Spring 2012 intern

The Super Bowl is more than just a football game- it’s an expression and celebration of American culture. I recently made some international friends, and I insisted that they watch the Super Bowl. And no, it wasn’t because I’m a diehard Giants fan. Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was the highest rated television program in American history, and millions of people only tune in and watch the game to catch the commercials. In Michigan, one local commercial caught viewers off guard and sparked the latest Super Bowl controversy.

What’s going on? Why is an Asian American on a bicycle talking in stereotypical broken English about China supposedly exploiting America? Where are the polar bears sipping on Coca Cola or the Clydesdales pulling a wagon full of Budweiser?

Pete Hoekstra is a conservative Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan against Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Hoekstra hired an infamous Republican advertising company, Strategic Perceptions Inc- a firm that previously earned notoriety for successfully branding former Rep. Tom Campbell as a “demon sheep”- to create his Super Bowl commercial. The ad clearly used the similarities between “Spend-It-Now” and “Stabenow” in a clever way. However, there’s nothing clever or comical about the commercial’s content.

Stereotypes continue to hurt the Asian-American community, and they disrespect Asian Americans’ invaluable contributions to this great nation. It’s unacceptable to further the stereotype of Asian Americans speaking broken English for political gain. Discrimination against Asian Americans is one of America’s dirty little secrets. My history books only briefly mentioned the Japanese internment camps during World War II. People who target Asian Americans rationalize their offensive stereotypes because many Asian Americans achieve great success academically and professionally. Or maybe some people legitimately believe the propaganda about China taking over the United States. No matter the reason, stereotypes and ethnic jokes hurt American citizens, and this is intolerable.

Politicians and Asian American activist groups have come down hard against the commercial. The chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, Mark Brewer, described the ad as “shameful” and “deceitful.” The Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote of Michigan (APIA Vote) – a nonpartisan and nonprofit coalition of Asian and Pacific Islander American groups that works to educate and strengthen the voice of Michigan’s Asian American community- said that it’s “very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment. The idea of ‘yellow peril’ has a long, ugly history in the United States, and has no place in today’s society.” In addition, the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Asian American Institute, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus and Asian Pacific American Legal Center are outraged by Mr. Hoekstra’s commercial.

“Mr. Hoekstra’s Super Bowl advertisement is a not very subtle form of race baiting,” said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. “The portrayal of an actress using a fake Asian accent and speaking broken English is highly offensive. It is not sardonic…it is moronic and dangerous. It is out of bounds to frame [competition over global markets] in xenophobic terms…race baiting can lead to serious, unintended consequences.”

The Leadership Conference has previously played a pivotal role in connecting Michigan Asian American organizations during the fight against Proposal 2 — the anti-equal opportunity initiative enacted by voters in 2006 — through the creation of One United Michigan. After the battle over Proposal 2, The Leadership Conference connected One United Michigan with APIA Vote, which further strengthened the Asian-American community’s voice in Michigan.

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