Metro PCS – Hipster Racism or Just Plain Racism?

December 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

I don’t know if any of you have seen the recent Metro PCS commercials starring “Ranjit and Chad,” a heavily accented South Asian tech expert duo, but I was absolutely shocked when I first saw one of them. The commercials open with generic South Asian music, and run the gamut from showcasing some caricature-ly bad 80’s-style dancing from Chad, to comparing wireless providers to donkeys, to scantily clad bellydancers, to such gems of dialogue as “You are now like my uncle’s cow Godi: tied to a post and milked at regular intervals.”

This only compounds on the issue of stereotyping Indians as call center tech workers. Says Jim Edwards of the CBS Interactive Business Network, “There are seven ads in total, and the jokes within them revolve around cows, donkeys, cobras, mongooses, snake charmers and other things that Westerners think you can see a lot of in India. One of the new ads can’t even get its racism right: At one point, Ranjit exclaims “Holy shishkabob!” Kebabs are, of course, a Middle Eastern, not Indian, food.”
Here is one of the videos:

Edwards, a detractor of the ad, also says in an earlier article, “The problem here is that MetroPCS is getting ahead of its audience. You could argue that the ad is funny because it’s actually an ironic satire about Indian sterotypes, and is thus critiquing the racism within itself. But for viewers without sociology degrees, it looks a lot more like “look at the funny Indians!””

However, neither circumstance is removed from racism. The only difference is that one is the typical stereotyping racism, while the other is a more newly minted form of racism, aptly coined “hipster racism” by Carmen Van Kerckhove at the popular blog, Racialicious.

Hipster racism is defined as the following: “Hipster racism involves making derogatory comments with a racial basis in an attempt to seem witty and above it all. Specifically, the idea is to sound ironic, as in “I’m allowed to say this because of course I’m not racist, so it’s funny.” It’s an aspect of a larger part of the hipster culture, which wants to seem jaded and urbane and oh-so-witty. Using language which is viewed as inflammatory or not appropriate is supposed to push the boundaries and make someone look edgy, but it only really comes across that way to people who buy into that system. To everyone else, it’s just racist.”

Sorry Metro PCS. You can’t win this one.

(Unfortunately, the ads seem to be working. Sales were up 22% in the period when the ads began airing (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1283699/000119312510114607/d10q.htm#toc20540_4). That seems to dampen hope of the ads being discontinued anytime soon)

PS: The only ads I’ve seen of late have been during Lakers games, as I don’t watch TV (with commercials) otherwise. This ad, as well as the potentially offensive Ken Jeong Adidas ads (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJLmiU9y8_g) airs a LOT. Does this have to do something with the assumed audience? Do advertisement marketing execs believe that sports fans will respond better to racism, in whatever form it takes? Can someone who watched non-sports TV give some insight/input?

Ken Jeong ad:

Sophie Wang

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