The most-watched televised sporting event in America is the Super Bowl. Known for being a Sunday that annually celebrates watching one of the nation’s favorite pastimes, this year’s Super Bowl commercial entertainment publicized the ugly side of the nation’s history: racism. During one of the locally televised commercial breaks, U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra aired a campaign ad that currently has the Asian American community in heated debate.
The brash ad features a young Asian woman riding a bicycle through what seems to be a rice paddy field. She then speaks about Hoekstra’s opponent, Senator Debbie “Spend-it-Now” Stabenow, and the state of the economy. Controversy sparked over the actress’s monologue — she speaks in completely broken English with phrases like “your economy get very weak, ours get very good.” Worst is the portrayal of Asians in their typically stereotyped role as uneducated peasants who can’t speak proper English.
The sexualized Asian female doesn’t make solid eye contact with the camera, but chooses to avert her gaze while smiling coyly. The dialogue of the ad also doesn’t specify the nationality of the actress, nor which country Hoekstra believes is taking American jobs. The ad just says: “We take your jobs,” with no notion of who constitutes “we,” what jobs are taken or how this is being done. This grouping gives potential voters a central enemy to rally against.
The commercial plays on adverse stereotypes of Asians speaking broken English, and stereotypical Chinese music contributes to the atmosphere of the ad. Hoekstra’s campaign also put up a website that featured a plethora of stereotypical Asian imagery and furthers the negative picture Hoekstra tries to paint about the flow of jobs to Asia. Hoekstra’s campaign has since taken down the website.
The ad emphasizes differences between the perceived stereotypes of Asians and quintessential American life. The rice paddy scene highly contrasts with Hoekstra’s ambiance during his monologue, attempting to mirror a more refined fireside chat with voters. The contrast of a young, unrefined Asian woman with that of an ambitious American politician depicts various forms of racism, sexism and socioeconomic discrimination.
Hoekstra is blatantly attempting to prey on the growing fears of Asian economic dominance. In the state of Michigan, the Asian American community has also been deeply affected by the economic struggles and job losses of the recession. It’s sad to see a politician use campaign tactics reminiscent of the McCarthy era to make a statement. The anti-Asian sentiment that Hoekstra sews is offensive and wrong.
Hoekstra has refused to issue an apology for the ad, and has paid for it to run in Michigan for the next two weeks. He has taken the firestorm of criticism and continues to defend himself against allegations of racism. In an interview with CNN on Monday, he stated, “I don’t think there’s any element of [racism] at all … The only stereotyping is of liberal Democrats and their spending policies.” But the majority of the discussion surrounding the ad focuses on its overtly racist sentiment, not on the policy Hoekstra is proposing. Regardless of the audience, the commercial is racially charged in its setting, message and tone.
This viewpoint has been written with the intent of bringing attention to the importance of fighting racial stereotypes and their portrayal in the mass media. It’s the mission of the United Asian American Organizations to work in unity against instances of racism, discrimination and prejudices. We encourage all students to notice the subtle racist messages in all publicized materials, especially looking out for propaganda from leading politicians during this election year. Regardless of political affiliation, it’s unacceptable for a politician to run for public office by relying on racism and xenophobia. After all, we are a country made up of outsiders.
Caitlyn Knoerr is an LSA sophomore writing on behalf of the United Asian American Organizations.