Superbowl Special! My Nominee for Most Revolting Ad

By James Fallows

During the 2010 midterm-election campaign, I said that the "Chinese Professor" ad was the bit of political persuasion/propaganda most likely to be remembered long after the campaign. Of course, that was before I knew about "I'm Not a Witch."

I considered the "Chinese professor" ad skillfully done. It was ominous but just short of race-baiting (since the "villains" were not Chinese but Americans collectively, and its triumphalism was incidental, as an ending touch, rather than central); and it was in the long-standing American tradition of using external threat as a vehicle for addressing internal concerns. If you'd like to see how the same approach looks when carried out by people who don't worry for a second about what lines they cross, consider one that lucky viewers in Michigan will see later today.

It's for this year's campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, now held by Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat. Her Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, works a "clever" play on her name to show how she's actually advancing the interests of the wily Chinese.
 

Let's not even get into the logic of the ad -- eg, the fact that China's formula for creating jobs has involved more public spending and more public "guidance" of industry than America's. Let's skip to the bonus points for racial imagery in the ad, apart from the obvious.
 
1) The "Chinese" woman speaks in American-accented English, and I would bet she is actually an Asian-American. But the script has her make pidgin grammar errors, "Me likee!!"-style.

2) The ad's words are about trade, budgets, and jobs, but its images are about -- 'Nam!!  Of course some parts of southern China look the way this ad does, with rice paddies, palm trees, no big buildings, people wearing conical straw hats and bicycling along dike tops. But this is nothing like how the typical big-factory zone looks in China, or the huge cities that would exemplify Chinese wealth and the country's rise -- ie, the subjects of this ad. So why this rural setting? I think it's because it offers a kind of visual dog-whistle, for those Americans who, either through experience or through Apocalypse Now-style imagery, associate smiling-but-deceptive Asians in a rice-paddy setting with previous American sorrow.

This ad is embarrassing for America! Regardless of party, I hope it loses Hoekstra more votes than it wins him. For an earlier illustration of a comparable approach, see this one from Nevada Arizona. [Apologies to Arizonans.]  Update: Politico has more on the ad. (And thanks to YA for the tip.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/02/superbowl-special-my-nominee-for-most-revolting-ad/252593/