This morning a dear friend posted and praised this ad on Facebook. Three reasons it catches people’s attention: vivacious, retro-chic, intelligent. Much like my friend.
The pros–It’s a San Franciscan/New Yorker’s wet dream. Startup boy turn James Bond. Leave the incubator after a hard-working day, never mind shaving, link up with your favorite girl and take her to a Chinatown restaurant, which embodies a mix of old and new, white and asian, luxury and kitch. There’s caberet girls, dragon dancers, and an Indian singer, all added to the mixing pot and making this place feel like nowhere else on earth. Hence, the magic.
Your girl is hot, but not intimidatingly so. Probably because the only thing she does in the whole commercial is look at you like she wants bone then and there. And you keep racking up the points by taking her to a joint that, at least based on appearances, she should probably know more about than you. But you are the one who knows every employee, keeps her out of harm’s way and one-ups the bellhop with a magic trick.
I’m queen of AGP so you know the cons are coming. As much as I didn’t want my angry asian bias to affect my enjoyment of the ad, the initial feelings I had were:
- Another White boy meets Asian girl storyline
- Did they have to make so many subordinate characters Asian?
- The girl can do better. After the climax-like dance scene I seriously can’t watch these two make eyes at each other. My suspension of disbelief has hit its ceiling. Of course, this is a reaction common for most alcohol ads.
I’m not proud of these feelings. They come from a negative place based on personal bias and have very little to do with the ad’s intention and execution. They come from experiences I see from Asians across the board–seeing my mother’s female friends marrying low-lifes for Visas. Being approached by drunk frat bros trying to speak in Chinese. Trying to hide every part of my culture and identity from my peers–my name, my food, my parents, my clothes–when I was a kid in Ohio.
So I guess now, to see the Asian cooks in this ad so madly ecstatic about this dude coming into the restaurant, feels unfair (unless he’s a massive tipper). He gets to play Aladdin, wow the girl, and belong so easily. It’s like a feeling I get from some people’s perceptions of Asian women sometimes…thinking that they are exotic but safe, loyal but sexy, smart but submissive. As far as stereotypes go, we did get some of the better ones. It’s just hard to swallow any prominent representation of your people in the media when there are so few out there. You become so sensitive and afraid of seeing anything that might encourage further stereotypes.
But that’s why it’s a good thing to keep them coming. Different individual stories. Like this ad. I wanna take this ad behind the bleachers and get it pregnant.
I’m ultimately supportive of ads trying to represent different cultures and doing it thoughtfully. (Here’s an exception.) They were conscious of making sure the hotel had both White and Asian staff. That the bell-hop was White, because old Asian men=sage archetypes that can’t be beaten. And that there were other white women who also found the protagonist irresistible. A lot of work was clearly put into keeping it PC and trying to transcend different cultures.
I need to work more on my discomfort with the portrayal of White/Asian relationships. And you’ll definitely hear about it.