Half-Baked: Popchips And Ashton Kutcher’s Brownface Fiasco

By Arturo R. García

Courtesy: New York Times

Yes, that’s Ashton Kutcher as “Raj” in the photo above. But besides being offensive, the ad–which was pulled from YouTube and Facebook Wednesday night–was misleading.

Courtesy: thefw.com

Kutcher’s ad, which was part a series of sketches where he played members of “World Wide Lovers,” led viewers to a Facebook app sponsored by Popchips,a potato chip brand based out of San Francisco. The connection is made clearest in another ad where Kutcher plays the equally problematic “Darl” and helps himself to some chips.

Kutcher isn’t just the company’s “president of pop,” as he’s listed on the company’s site – as Brandchannel’s Shirley Brady reported, he also owns a minority stock in Popchips, which also trumpets endorsements by the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Hope Solo and Jillian Michaels. And for most of the day Wednesday, the company was equally as bold in trumpeting Kutcher’s kooky quartet; they had been shown in the cover photo for Popchips’ Facebook page.

Rappers Das Racist came at Kutcher full-force on Twitter not long after the video gained traction, while entrepeneur Anil Dash had some pointed questions for the rest of the team behind the campaign:

Courtesy Brandchannel.com

According to Emily Banks at Mashable, Kutcher’s campaign “will include outdoor ads in Denver, LA, New York, Phoenix, Seattle, and San Francisco,” as well as a heavy presence on social media. But after watching Kutcher’s “performance,” why would anybody want to visit any site he was shilling for? In a rather kind gesture, Dash also penned a column offering Popchips and Kutcher advice on how to more forward after this debacle. One of his tips was that they not pull the campaign.

“I think this company doesn’t want its culture to be racist, and they can best demonstrate that by showing how they learn from examples where it happens despite their best efforts,” Dash wrote. “It’s like if rat droppings were found in a bag of Popchips: You wouldn’t solve it by saying ‘We threw away that bag of chips!’ You’d solve it by saying ‘Here’s what we’re doing to clean up things at the factory.’”

A rep for Popchips told the Associated Press the World Wide Lovers campaign was  “created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone,” adding that the company hoped “people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended.”

Meanwhile, Kutcher, or whoever is tweeting for him these days–remember, this isn’t his first social media mistake–kept quiet on the issue all day Wednesday. But later in the day, Dash reported that he’d gotten a call from the company’s founder, Keith Bolling, who he said was “sincere and contrite” in apologizing.

“I’m cautiously optimistic to see the company’s response, and willing to give them time to do it properly,” Dash wrote. “Maybe we can get a good result.”

While Dash’s advice for Popchips was certainly magnanimous, it should also be said: you can’t clean up the rat droppings without throwing away the first bag in which you found them. So maybe it’s best for the public and “Raj” to break up: it’s really not us in this case. It’s him.

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharelle.d.lowery Sharelle D. Lowery

    this is disgusting and I cant believe that somebody thought that this was a good idea??

  • Anonymous

    I just want to say, Racialicious, your comment boards always give me hope. I see so many other depressing comments throughout message boards on other sites, and hear so many stupid uninformed things fly out of people’s mouths generally every other day that it’s enough to make a concerned person lose all hope for change. But then I come to Racialicious’ message boards, and I realize that not everyone is asleep. Thank you for such a wonderful site and open space. And, thanks to all the wonderful commenters, who speak truth.

  • Anonymous

    I just want to say, Racialicious, your comment boards always give me hope. I see so many other depressing comments throughout message boards on other sites, and hear so many stupid uninformed things fly out of people’s mouths generally every other day that it’s enough to make a concerned person lose all hope for change. But then I come to Racialicious’ message boards, and I realize that not everyone is asleep. Thank you for such a wonderful site and open space. And, thanks to all the wonderful commenters, who speak truth.

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  • Anonymous

    So now that that guy’s gone, it’s just white dudes being “World Wide Lovers.” How in the  wide world of lovers did any of this make sense in the first place?

    Also, I can’t get over how awful the “These are the Bombay” ad is. I admit I’m fond of puns and wordplay, but that one’s awkward and unnatural. Plus, “Haha, it’s an Indian city and I’m Indian!” isn’t remotely clever.

    But maybe I’m just annoyed that I didn’t get it right away.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

     A rep for Popchips told the Associated Press the World Wide Lovers
    campaign was  “created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to
    stereotype or offend anyone”…how willfully blind do you have to be to not regard this Raj character as being a racist caricature?

  • Mr. Oyibo

    If the PR team had any conception of what is appropriate and appropriation. This conversation should have occurred regarding not just Raj but the other 3 which can still be found online.

    Person 1. So the brown-face … yeah there is no defense that needs to be cut.

    Person 2. However if we look at the biker character who is trying to claim attachment to native culture … wait the character is culturally appropriating native culture, scrap it. 

    Person 1. The Aussie with whitey dreads … shit that needs to be cut too.

    Person 2. At least we have this androgenous man left where the comedy is entirely based on a stereotype of gays and the entire comedic value is based on his being gay as the joke. 

    This entire campaign is horrible.  Brownface may be the worst part of it but the other characters don’t do anything to redeem. 

  • v.dot

    The fact it didn’t occur to them how racist and unacceptable is, is quite shocking and I somehow doubt they’ll handle this with the right decorum. Ad agencies/companies who make these kinds of mistakes rarely own up to them in a satisfying manner. 

    Also? That pun is nonsensical and bad.

  • http://twitter.com/callmepartario Osama Larara

    “Are you kidding me with this script?  I’m Ashton Kutcher!  I don’t need
    your fucking money, reruns of “That 70′s Show” are gonna keep me set for a good long while, so re-write this racist shite, or you can find
    someone else to hawk your horrible little olestra nuggets.  Oh, and
    while you’re at it, maybe adjust this advertainment so you can, you know,
    tell what the fuck it’s for.  No one has heard of your product yet, and I don’t want to be the only recognizable part of the inevitable and totally justified shitstorm this is going to create, literally flushing everything you’re spending on this campaign down the toilet, like so many half-digested corn-puffs.”

    WAS THAT SO FUCKING HARD?

    • Linneax23

      I hated Phez on that seventies show. He was a horrible caricature or the most offensive sort Kutcher is a talent less idiot. He should’ve stuck to modelling. 

      The love guru was also a terrible “brownface” impersonation

  • http://twitter.com/callmepartario Osama Larara

    “Are you kidding me with this script?  I’m Ashton Kutcher!  I don’t need
    your fucking money, reruns of “That 70′s Show” are gonna keep me set for a good long while, so re-write this racist shite, or you can find
    someone else to hawk your horrible little olestra nuggets.  Oh, and
    while you’re at it, maybe adjust this advertainment so you can, you know,
    tell what the fuck it’s for.  No one has heard of your product yet, and I don’t want to be the only recognizable part of the inevitable and totally justified shitstorm this is going to create, literally flushing everything you’re spending on this campaign down the toilet, like so many half-digested corn-puffs.”

    WAS THAT SO FUCKING HARD?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    A rep for Popchips told the Associated Press the World Wide Lovers campaign was “created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone,” adding that the company hoped “people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended.”

    That comment is absolutely unacceptable. It’s 2012. That company should know better than using brownface and then responding to criticism with a statement that they “never intended to stereotype or offend anyone”. Regardless of your intentions, you did stereotype, and your ad is offensive.

    Your company should really apologize and mean it- the proof is in your actions and what you do with this ad campaign and with future ad campaigns.   

  • Anonymous

    The comments on HuffPo are depressing but predictable. There are the “nobody complains when black people do it” (personally, I wasn’t offended by White Chicks on a racial level but because the Wayans looked freakish); there are the “I’m Indian and I’m not offended” comments; and, of course “political correctness has gone too far!” comments. (I wonder about the “too far” part; it sounds a little like the person doesn’t mind PC when it comes to something that offends *them*.)

    I was skeptical about “hipster racism,” but if anything counts as that it would be this. FFS racism is not rebellious or anti-establishment!

    • Jose Rivera

       I was just on TMZ and they had a post about this. The comments there were just as bad. My favorite comment was, “If we don’t make fun of each other we will never get past racism”. So if we don’t laugh at racist humor, racism will continue to persist. That makes sense.

    • Anonymous

      I wish black, brown, and yellow people would come to understand that excusing systemic or casual racism does not get the an honorary white person card.

      And it is unhelpful since racists will trot out their “one black/brown/yellow friend” argument as a reason why they can do whatever racist thing they are attempting to justify…

      • Anonymous

         Yes, yes, and yes, at your first sentence! I’m so tired of seeing non-white people excuse bullsh*t because they think it gains them points with whites. It’s pathetic.

    • akelapun

       Man, thanks for saying this. I thought I was the only one reading the HuffPo comments and feeling depressed. I’m especially perplexed by how many articles about this shitstorm end with, “So: do YOU think this ad was racist? Leave your opinion in the comments!” What the hell? I didn’t realize the presence or absence of racism was determined by a vote?? I guess in such a vote, the “I’m Indian, but I’m not offended” comments would count for extra…

      It’s just a crappy way to have a discussion about race. I’m not going to tell Indian people whether or not to feel offended (OK, maybe I am…), but it’s depressing because when these commenters say that, they intend it as a conversation-stopper. “I’m Indian, and I’m not offended; therefore, nothing to see here, let’s move along.”

      It just further suppresses the voices and opinions of all of us who are offended. It encourages monolithic expectations about “THE Indian view” on this or that issue. And it feeds this myth of a post-racial America, of “model minorities” who don’t “whine” about racism.

      Ugh. What a disaster all around.

    • jvansteppes

      My other favorite is ‘The only people I’ve met who complained about [insert racist incident] were white people’. You can link to dozens of articles by POC (Girls fans do this too) written by POC about the topic and white trolls still act like these people don’t exist.