Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Finally, a wacky foreigner that is an American!

Jen over at Disgrasian blogs about the above image:

Meet "Mr. James," new face of a McDonald's ad campaign in Japan. Mr. James is a Wacky Foreigner in Japan who speaks broken Japanese, wears the archetypal nerd uniform of glasses, a short-sleeved shirt with a tie, and ill-fitting khaki pants, has bad teeth, and--we're only guessing here--is probably someone who's never gotten laid. Sound familiar?
In Jen's post, she also discusses how some Americans are all offended by Mr. James, saying it would be inappropriate if we invoked the stereotypical Asian foreigner in ads. Except, uh, we have. Repeatedly.

My first reaction to Mr. James was to laugh. Seriously, I laughed in a manner I can only describe as triumphant--not for me, but for what Jen refers to as "karma." Despite being "post-racial" (note my use of ironic scare quotes), the U.S. is obsessed with race, and t.v. shows, movies, and ads are rampant with stereotypical non-white behavior. Need I remind you of the Chicago Lake Liquors ads? And Asians are typically portrayed with excessive wackiness.

So yeah, when I saw this Mr. James, I laughed because it's nice to see the tables turned on this sort of thing.

But I also have the luxury of not being offended, and as I think about why, I am reminded of another Macon D post (sorry, but his posts totally apply to this--just bear with me):
Why is it that such words as “honky” and “cracker” lack the bite of “nigger,” or “wetback,” or “gook”? Why is it that as I typed that last sentence, I was tempted to censor the latter words (with such euphemisms as “the n-word” or “the g-word”), but not the former? We never say “the h-word” for “honky,” and if we ever do say or write “the c-word,” the word we’re referring to is not “cracker.”
For one thing, American English contains far more negative words for non-white people than it does for white people (notice how, by the end of the skit, Richard Pryor’s character runs out of anti-white slurs). More importantly, non-white people tend to have a stronger memory of the legally sanctioned abuse and violence that used to accompany non-white slurs, and sometimes still do. [view video at the above link].
It's easy for me as a white person to shrug off these things--because I haven't had to endure the brunt of systemic racism my entire life.

Also, I might have found some lady-privilege after all--Mr. James doesn't offend me because I'm not a man. His doofish whiteness seems quite reminiscent of our own home-grown portrayals of doofy white men:

I do have to admit, though: Mr. James is certainly a lot less creepy than Ronald McDonald. But only by a little.

H/T: Racialicious


Anonymous said...

Hey, if I got cross every time someone in the USA depicted my countrymen as bumbling bowler-hatted birdbrains with bad teeth, I'd never have a calm moment!

I think the thing is the intersection of power and prejudice - it's relatively okay to mock men, or white folks, because we have institutional power to protect us. A non-white person being mocked is instantly exposed to more danger because of it.

stufflikemikans said...

haha! Mr. James! I had a good laugh when I first saw this guy too. I really don't find him offensive.

However, I definitely know some foreigners here in Japan that are really offended by this ad campaign. Not surprisingly, they're all white men who are offended. Most of them are American, but not all of them. But my feeling is, I'm glad they're offended. Maybe it will cause them to think about it more when they see a minority portrayed in our own culture.

Unknown said...

I am a Japanese/Asian Studies major who has lived in Japan briefly before. And I find this Mr. James to be absolutely hilarious.
He looks to be the perfect caricature of every pathetic, wincing, snobbish misogynist in Japanese 101 classes who learns the language and travels to Japan because he thinks it will help him land a Japanese wife. I've had enough experiences with them both in and out of Japan, and this is a way for them to get their just desserts.
On the other hand, the dynamics of privilege in Japan regarding race. But the white foreigners from the US and UK don't have it that bad off, compared to Koreans (Who are not allowed to be Japanese citizens even though they are usually three generation residents of Japan) the Ainu, Okinawans, or Brazilians in Japan. They are still privileged above these other foreigners.

Nentuaby said...

Hmmm. This would be perfectly funny to me in another context, but Japan does happen to be severely racially homogenous and strongly privilege Nihonjin. There is the element of power here that does make it, if karmic and not overwhelmingly problematic, still not harmless.

FilthyGrandeur said...

i'm not saying it's not harmless or problematic--i can see how it is. There's a really great article over at "stuff white people do" in response to this ad, which I highly recommend: