PETE HOEKSTRA’S POLITICAL CAMPAIGN AD: RACIST?
The advertisement of Michigan Republican Senator candidate Pete Hoekstra challenging his opponent, Debbie Stabenow, has raised a significant amount of criticism over the past few days. On behalf of Hoekstra and his campaign, an Asian American actress was hired to act, speaking in broken English, with some words for Hoekstra’s opponent of not-so-friendly cheer:
Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spend so much American money. You borrow more and more - from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you Debbie Spenditnow.
The advertisement, which was aired during the Superbowl this past Sunday. has prompted many to inquire whether Hoekstra had stepped over the line for using an Asian American actress acting in the Asian stereotype, to challenge Stabenow. On his Monday night show on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell, who himself is a former actor, criticized the unknown actress for “playing a character in a political ad that cast her as a racial stereotype,” saying that he’d like to know “what she was just thinking” (Huffington Post).
It’s one thing for Pete Hoekstra to buy 30 seconds of television time to tell us, if he can in clear English… what troubles him about this country’s relationship to China. But it is quite another for him to hire an actor to do his dirty work for him.
In an effort to raise the issue of actors’ struggles to find casting jobs, O’Donnell then called on actors, including members of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) as well as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to “make a pledge of simple decency… [to] not play dirty politics.”
Directed towards the actress in Hoekstra’s ad, O’Donnell ended, “I’ve done things in show business… that I’m not proud of. But I’ve never done anything that I’m ashamed of,” he said.
For those of us who understand and are familiar with what it is like to hear one speaking broken English with an Asian accent, you may watch this advertisement and, like me, may not be able to take this advertisement seriously. The actress clearly is able to speak perfect English, and fails to accurately mimic the broken-English speaking Asian character. The act continues to be rather insulting, with the scriptwriter’s attempt to simplify this so-called grateful message to Stabenow into short, grammatically incorrect sentences.
But the sentences were all too clear. The actress failed to personify the stereotypical Asian caricature, but provided just enough for us viewers to conclude that she was supposed to embody the character in a way that makes us forget about the campaign’s poor attempt to justify her role with the rice field and Asian music.
All this in itself sparks current reactions and criticisms that claim this ad to be racist. In an interview on FOX news, Hoekstra tries to justify himself and the ad, saying,
The only group of people that this ad is anti to… it’s anti-Debbie Stabenow, it’s anti-Barack Obama, the spending policies… the ad points to the spending opportunities that America’s dumb economic policies create… opportunities for countries like China and others to take advantage of our weakness, which weakens the US economy, and it strengthens our competitors.
The ad is irking, racially offensive, and silly, for a political campaign ad. Is this what political ads have come to? Whether it’s anti-Debbie Stabenow or not, the fact that Hoekstra and his team were comfortable with portraying this racialized Asian caricature and aired this during one of American television’s most popular hour of the year is stubbornly brave, and perhaps evident of just how much they didn’t realize this would perhaps cause more reaction against Hoekstra and his campaign than for him. Yet at the same time, with just how much popularity this video in itself has gained over this past week, it is also a bit troubling to me to also think that perhaps this controversial advertisement might very well work in favor of Hoekstra and his campaign.
So goes the art of politics.
Courtesy of Huffington Post and YouTube.
Check out Jeff Yang’s piece on his reaction to this video here, on CNN.