A few of these visitors have taken a moment to deposit invective in my comment box, mostly along the lines of how I'm (guess what) "overreacting" or "reading way too much into it," etc. A few people have linked to me and described my position as, "This guy says the commercial is racist." That word, of course, never appeared in my posts. It's remarkable to me that, in an online and media world where venom and epithets flow so freely, the one thing you are not allowed to call someone is "racist": the label is so fearsome that people imagine you're saying it even when you're not.
I haven't seen much need to respond to these comments, although thanks to the magic of Blogger's comment notification they land in my inbox every couple of days. And to be fair, people have made positive comments as well. But this comment, which appeared yesterday, did seem worthy of response:
I was involved in producing the commericial. I wanna say that everyone turns into MB, not just the asian man. and he was supposed to be fashionable--not nerdy. the asian man just happened to outperform the rest of the auditioners and got the bigger role.Well. Since the comment was posted anonymously (I say again: who the heck are all you anons hiding from?) I have no way of confirming if this person was really involved in the making of the commercial. But let's take this at face value for the moment.
it's sad that we fought to get a racially balanced cast and because of comments like yours big companies are actually more hypersensitive about casting so-called "minorities." now companies will just be more likely to avoid the issue by avoiding casting non- caucasians. no joke. that's the fallout from this kind of stuff.
The idea that multinational corporations and their advertising agencies make decisions based on what I, a blogger with maybe a hundred readers per day, and maybe one or two other bloggers, say, would be laughable if this person didn't seem to take it so seriously. I've seen no great tidal wave of protest against the ad: it's continued to run (indeed, you can now view it at the Starbucks website), and people are still obviously watching it with such relish they are coming to my site in droves looking for "Starbucks commercial hot blonde woman."
What's more interesting, though, is that what I would think of as a progressive position (a critique of racial stereotypes in the media) is being attacked in the name of another progressive position (the desire to have a "racially balanced" cast). In the producer's view, my remarks will actually have a reactionary effect; they will make advertisers afraid to put any people of color on TV at all, lest they be attacked by Asian American militants like myself. Really, I'm setting back the cause of racial equality.
Did you follow that? I think the logic here is worth untangling, because it's a perfect example of the way corporate "diversity" gets used as a cudgel against the "diverse" themselves.
1. The producer is proud of his/her efforts to create a "racially balanced" cast. Where on earth did the idea that this is a good thing come from, if not from remarks like mine--remarks that point out the way race is, or is not, represented in the media? You can't have it both ways: you can't take credit for putting people of color on TV and then turn around and say race on TV doesn't mean anything.
2. All representations are not created equal; mere inclusion is not enough. Would it be a good thing for Asian Americans if every show on television included an Asian playing the role of Charlie Chan, Suzie Wong, or Long Duk Dong?
3. Pardon me, but I don't think the producer understands his/her own commercial. The whole point of the bottled Frappuccino campaign--and the commercials' locations in offices--is the way the drink (surreally) transforms an otherwise dull environment. In other commercials that's taken the form of bands trailing an employee around and pushing away harassing coworkers; in this commercial it takes the form of nondescript coworkers being replaced by an ostensibly romantic figure (Buble). If the coworkers were all meant to be fashionable and appealing, the commerical just wouldn't make any sense. The commercial depends on the contrast between Buble and workaday dullness, whose racial representative would seem to be the Asian.
The producer also claims (as do several other commenters) that "everyone turns into Buble" in the commercial. Not true: only the Asian man is shown directly transformed into Buble (we see the Asian guy, he's hidden behind a door, then Buble appears wearing his clothes and glasses). The woman then proceeds through the office, which is now completely populated by Bubles, but no one else is shown directly turning into him. At the end, Buble is replaced by a white delivery guy.
4. If Starbucks advertising places such a premium on racial diversity, why is every single protagonist in every vignette that makes up the bottled-coffee campaign white? To put it differently: if the Asian American actor was really that good in the audition--if the commercial's casting was really purely meritocratic, as the producer suggests--why wasn't he chosen to be the star?
The simple answer is that it's still unthinkable for an Asian American--in particular, an Asian American man--to appear in the media as an object of identification or desire. Some of the bottled-coffee ads have starred a young white man urged on by a band or cheering section as he begins to climb the corporate ladder; others feature a young white woman whose drinking of a Frappuccino insulates her from the pressures of her workplace (often depicted as sexual: in the "Stacey" ad the protagonist is shown spurning the advances of a coworker, while the current ad does the reverse--infuses a desexualized workplace with romance). These are the people viewers are supposed to identify with (the young male striver) or desire (the woman in the current commerical variously described as "blonde chick" and "hot librarian" throughout cyberspace).
But not the Asian. Nor, for that matter, people of other races. The "racially balanced" cast, in practice, merely means creating a "colorful" background. Think again of the "Stacey" ad: the white female protagonist is followed around her office by a doo-wop group composed of four black men. So don't tell me the producers of these ads aren't thinking very, very carefully about how race signifies.
In looking at the Frappuccino commercial again--the first time I've seen it since my initial viewing--I have noticed one other detail: Just before he disappears, the Asian man is also drinking a Frappuccino. You've been warned.