Oh Ashton Kutcher. If it's not one douche-y thing with that guy, it's another. The Two and a Half Men star (I was going to make a douchebag joke there but "Two and a Half Men star" is a pretty good zinger on its own) is back in the news for all the wrong reasons again this week, this time for doing brownface in a Popchips ad. Here's the short trailer for the "looking for love" series, which features Kutcher doing four different characters in an inexplicably dating-themed spot:
It's not just racist, this ad also makes no sense. What does this dating site have to do with Popchips?
The full-length "Raj" ad was pulled yesterday, but as you can see in the clip above, Kutcher's Indian "impression" was schlocky and offensive. Though many Kutch supporters are predictably crying that "it was just a joke," the entire point of the bit is Kutcher pretending to be Indian—there's no other punchline to be found. Sorry folks, but when the humor comes from a white person mocking a person of color, it's not "just a joke"—it's racist. Why did he, and delicious Popchips, think this was a good idea?
This ad went live on Wednesday afternoon, and since then Popchips has pulled it from YouTube and the CEO, Keith Belling, issued this non-apology-apology (choice to not capitalize anything his):
we received a lot of feedback about the dating campaign parody we launched today and appreciate everyone who took the time to share their point of view.
our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs. we did not intend to offend anyone. i take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended.
Here's the thing: I don't care much about Ashton Kutcher, but I love Popchips. I eat them all the time! They are non-greasy and delicious and I felt good about them as a chip choice until I learned that they consider crappy racist comedy to be "light-hearted parody." How could "Raj" be considered parody? A parody of what, Indian people? It's been done, and it wasn't funny then either.
Salt & Pepper & Racism-flavored
As Margaret Lyons points out at Vulture, part of what's troubling about this campaign is how many people don't see what's troubling about this campaign. The New York Times didn't take issue with it (though they've since covered the response), nor did People. And not only did US Weekly not have a problem with Kutcher's "Raj" character, they published a shirtless photo of him getting into brownface. I know US Weekly isn't a hard-hitting news organization (like, say, the New York Times), but they took the time to source and publish a photo of a white man using makeup to pretend to be Indian and no one thought to mention that it was racist? COME ON.
And the fault here isn't just with Popchips. Ashton Kutcher is an established celebrity with a massive following and lots of influence. Though part of the joke of this weird "dating chips" campaign obviously hinges on his recent divorce, he could easily have turned down this gig. He can't need the money or exposure, and he clearly knew what he was in for when he donned brown makeup and a phony accent—this wasn't a post-production decision. That the Punk'd host (again, no need to change his real-life title to make a douchebag joke) went for this anyway, and tweeted the video to his 10.5 million Twitter followers, means he found the "Raj" character to be "light-hearted parody" as well.
As Anil Dash says in this must-read post about the campaign, "if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad 'funny' accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course. Make some different decisions."
Now I'm off to find a tasty baked snack that isn't in such poor taste.