Of course everyone loves watching the football games and the half time shows during the most anticipated TV broadcast of the year, the Super Bowl. However, the commercials are also something no one wants to miss out on.
Many viewers tend to watch the super bowl just for the commercials (especially the ones who are not particularly interested in football). Since the games garner such high viewer numbers, companies try to catch more people’s attention through unpredictable and humorous advertisements.
Super bowl ads tend to be edgy because shock value gets more peoples attention to buy the product. However, some companies cross the line and their advertisements turn into racial stereotyping. As a society, we have developed the idea that using race as a joke is never ok. So, during the most watched television broadcast in the world, why does racial stereotyping suddenly become acceptable and why do we rely on it to laugh?
In order to look more into this topic, here are some of the most controversial Super Bowl ads.
Firstly, we should talk about the Volkswagen “Get Happy” advertisement.
At first, the advertisement appears to be nothing more than a carefree, happy-go-lucky commercial – you don’t realize that Jamaicans are marginalized and get portrayed as an insignificant social group. This is done through their exclusion from the video and the use of false, oversimplified images of Jamaicans.
The advertisement starts in an elevator, where no one is excited to go to work on a Monday (we all know what that feels like) except for one cheerful man who has adopted a Jamaican accent and is trying to spread happiness among his colleagues. Eventually, once he takes his colleagues on a ride in his new Volkswagen car, they also develop Jamaican accents and optimistic attitudes.
Isn’t it questionable that Jamaicans are physically excluded from the video? Instead, a white male from Minnesota was chosen to portray the Jamaican stereotypes when trying to lighten up the mood at work.
The targeted audience for this advertisement is American males between the ages of 30-50 (the main viewers during the Super Bowl). The commercial racially stereotyped Jamaicans to appeal to this target audience through humor, but was it really necessary? There are definitely other methods of humor appeal that don’t include racially stereotyping a social group.
The upbeat, chill music that plays in the background implies that Jamaicans are carefree and all they do is listen to reggae music. Last time I checked, they appreciate all forms of music, just like everyone else. So, there is no need to create this false assumption on their culture, which leads to an oversimplified generalization about them.
Although some of the assumptions made about Jamaicans are positive, being portrayed as a source of mindless happiness, mindless optimism and laziness isn’t always complimentary and highly favorable.
A second commercial, the Pepsi Max ad, features a black woman forcefully keeping her husbands diet in check by kicking him under the table at a restaurant and replacing a snack by shoving a bar of soap in his mouth. At the end of the commercial, the wife throws her can of Pepsi Max at her husband, who dodges it and the can ends up hitting a blonde, white female in the head instead.
The Pepsi Max commercial promotes the stereotype that black women are negative and controlling. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said that, “it was not humorous. It was demeaning. An African-American woman throwing something at an African-American male and winding up hitting a Caucasian woman” (Kelley, 2011).
The commercial was also aired in February, which is Black History Month. So, it certainly seems ridiculous that Pepsi would utilize this kind of humor at a time when African-American culture should be celebrated.
You think that’s bad? Well, let’s take a look at this Salesgenie commercial from the 2008 super bowl game.
This advertisement features two pandas in a bamboo shop, speaking broken English in a Chinese accent. And if that wasn’t enough, they named the Panda’s “Ching Ching” and “Ling Ling.” It is easy to see why this ad has been criticized for stereotyping ethnic groups.
By the way, the product they are trying to sell has nothing to do with Pandas. So, there seems to be no other purpose to the advertisement, but to just display humor and grab the viewers’ attention.
Although the commercial has been pulled from being shown at the Super Bowl, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans has responded to the ad by saying, “Vin Gupta, the apparent writer of these ads, indicated in an article before the game that what matters is getting people to go to the Salesgenie website” (Zjawinski, 2008).
We all know the saying that “any publicity is good publicity” regardless of whether it is negative or positive. However, racially stereotyping a group of people by giving them accents and Asian names may not be the type of publicity that is suitable during the Super Bowl. Especially since these stereotypes are not true and are just presumptions that marginalize a group of people.
Obviously, we can all appreciate funny Super Bowl commercials. However, it is worth looking into the meaning of these ads rather than carelessly watching them.
When the mass media incorporates racial stereotypes in their humor, this normalizes it and makes it seem acceptable in society. The underlying problem is that a social group, a nationality, is marginalized and stereotyped in each of these adverts.
Since the release of these controversial commercials, The Huffington Post, one of the largest media websites on the Internet, released an article where they talk about the issues of racism and humor. It says that “having power over someone can be addictive, and racist jokes area good way of asserting authority over another race.”